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Do You Know How To Love?

Do You Know How To Love?

Do you really know how to love?  For Jesus, loving others is what it’s all about.  But do we, as a people, really know how to love?  Or are those who profess to be the modern-day followers of Jesus more like the Pharisees, who outwardly drew near to God but had hearts that were far, far away from him?  Are we merely whiting our social media sepulchers when we present an image to the world designed to manipulate how others perceive us?  In our effort to be perceived as good are we really being bad?  In our effort to project and convey righteousness are we really just putting on a bad disguise?

Are we really just putting on a bad disguise?

Nothing frustrated Jesus more than people who did the “right” things for the wrong reasons. Jesus abhorred pretense (Matthew 23:14) and hypocrisy (Matthew 6:2, 6, 16; 23:13-15).  While piousness and adherence to religious rules was something Jesus did not want to be left “undone,” he placed religious behavior on a hierarchy where there were some matters that were “weightier” than others.  (Matthew 23:23.)  Of course, the weightiest of all matters was to feel and then show love to others.

The path to true discipleship … requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.

He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you ….”  (John 13:34.)  Of course, Jesus loves not just in deed.  His very essence is filled with compassion and love for us.  So, to love as Jesus loved requires the right actions and the right motives.  Doing good when you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42) is ultimately unacceptable.  To love others as you were loved by Jesus Christ requires more.

Paul explains it this way:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”

(1 Corinthians 13:1-3.)

Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in.

The state of your heart is so important to the Lord that you could give all you have to the poor or die as a martyr, but if you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42), it “profiteth you nothing.”  (1 Corinthians 13:3.)  Nothing.  Those are strong words.  The bar is set.  It’s quite high.  Your motives for doing what you do—even if those things are “charitable” and good—matter to the Lord.

Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in.  (See Matthew 15:17-20.)  To him, this was the order of priorities: “cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.”  (Matthew 23:26.)  He wants your heart first.  Then, Jesus taught, “[a] good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.”  (Matthew 12:35.)  Hence, discipleship works from the inside out, forcing you to examine your motives; to examine the state of your heart.

Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions.

Because this aspect of Christianity is so vital to discipleship I developed a tool that helps me evaluate the state of my heart.  This tool can be used in every single human interaction.  The more you use it, the more your focus will change.  Hopefully, it can help you find the path to true discipleship, which requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.

Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions, which are depicted in the following graphic:

Chambers of the HeartTo give you an example of how the four chambers works, think, for a moment, to the last time you were at a gathering of family or friends.  Most likely there were people there that you love.  And, most likely, there were people there that you struggle with and that you find hard to love.  For those for whom you have deep and genuine feelings of love, expressing that love probably flowed naturally for you.  It was easy to give compliments and hugs.  It was easy for you to listen to them.  Your behavior and your feelings were congruent with the highest in you and would put you in Chamber Four, where you feel love and show love.  This is the ideal.

Every human interaction is an opportunity to express the highest within you.

There may have been those that you genuinely love and care for but, for some reason, you found it difficult to express your love.  You didn’t know what to say to express your true feelings.  You didn’t know what you could do to express your love in a way that would be understood (or not misunderstood).  Or, for some reason (perhaps unknown to you), you just held back.  You didn’t express your love.  Maybe you were too tired.  Maybe you just didn’t have it in you.  This is Chamber Three, where you genuinely feel love but don’t show it.  In Chamber Three, your capacity to feel love exceeds your ability to express it.

We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day.

At this gathering there were undoubtedly those that you found difficult to have feelings of love for.  Seeing these people may have triggered anger, frustration, or dislike.  Whatever it was that you felt, it was not love.  As you felt these things, you had two choices.  You could either show love or not show love.  If you chose to show love, this was a Chamber Two behavior.  You did not genuinely feel love for this person but you acted as if you did.  If you chose not to show love, this was a Chamber One behavior where you neither felt nor showed love.  In Chamber One you probably avoided this person or perhaps you may have confronted or slighted this person in some way.  Whatever you did, you didn’t feel love or show love.

Is our love authentic or are we merely acting?

Most of us toggle through each of the Four Chambers throughout various social interactions.  However, over time, patterns emerge and through honest self-evaluation and introspection you will notice within yourself the chamber within which most of your behavior patterns occur.  There are, for example, people who are almost always in Chamber Two.  People who care more about how others feel about them than how they feel towards others are classic Chamber Two people.  They act nice and kind but do it for all the wrong reasons, such as wanting to be accepted, wanting to be valued, or wanting to be esteemed.  Like actors, they are constantly playing to an audience and have an insatiable longing and yearning for the approval of the crowd.  They value themselves when they are valued by others, failing to realize that valuing others is what actually helps us discover our true identity and our true worth.

I’m convinced that practicing Christianity is just that–practice.  We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day, which means not just doing the right things but also doing them for the right reason.  Chamber Two behavior doesn’t cut it.  We must evolve into Third and Fourth Chamber beings, who are filled with love and have the ability to express it.  The Four Chambers is a practice tool that will help free you from the prison-like atmosphere of the First and Second Chambers.

Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.

Why do I say these lower chambers are prison-like?  Because for those stuck in Chamber Two behavior patterns, where they care more about being seen in the best possible light rather than seeing others in the best possible light, life is a living hell.  Those stuck in Chamber Two are constantly trying to control how others feel about them, which, of course, is totally out of their control.  And trying to control things that are out of your control is the definition of suffering.  Being manipulative and acting with ulterior motives does not bring happiness.  It’s a prison from which many people don’t ever escape.  Those stuck in Chamber One simply don’t have the love of God in them and, since God is love, they live their lives without God, which is a prison.  Both First and Second Chamber people find it hard to look inward because they are always looking “out there” and trying to control or blame what is “out there” instead of fixing themselves and looking at their own hearts.  In short, they cannot repent.  They are damned.  Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.

Let your light shine.

What chamber are you in?  Do you really know how to love?  Are you honest with yourself?  Do you regularly and routinely work on how you feel about others?  Do you regularly and routinely evaluate your motives?

I would invite you to apply the Four Chambers paradigm for a week.  In every interaction that you have, label what you do and why you do it with one of the Four Chambers.  As you do this, you will start to think from the inside out rather than from the outside in.  You will begin to feel lighter as you shed the burden of worrying what others think about you and focus on how you feel about others.  You will begin to see every human interaction as an opportunity to express the highest within you, which is the light of Christ that is in us all.  And, most of all, as that light of Christ glows within you, you will be filled with his presence and his love, which will bring you happiness, joy and peace.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

Why Is That Stone in Your Hand?

Why Is That Stone in Your Hand?

I love that it is the unorthodox who are almost always the heroes in the stories of Jesus.  Take, for example, the sinful woman who—in a most unorthodox manner—washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair in the house of the “righteous” and observant Pharisee.  Jesus was disgusted with the Pharisee’s self-righteous judgment and condemnation:

“Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’”  (Luke 7:44-47.)

This Pharisee, who by all accounts was an active church goer, was so spiritually dead that he couldn’t even be a good host.  His pious life of having “been forgiven little” left him out of touch, unable to identify basic human needs.  In contrast, the woman’s display of compassion, understanding and love—meeting the basic human needs of Jesus—showed that despite her sinful life (or perhaps because of it) she was a transformed human being who really “got it.”

Perhaps the crisis of apostasy and disbelief we perceive in the world today is a direct outgrowth of the greater apostasy, the secret revolt that is being perpetuated in the hearts of the orthodox who have forgotten how to love and, indeed, seem to love their theology and conformity more than they love people.

This story speaks discourses on the culturally converted—those who don’t “get it” (but are blinded into thinking that they do).  Ironically, in this and most of the other stories of Jesus, it is the so-called “active” and “faithful” who most often unlovingly judge and hypocritically brand the unorthodox as if struggling with orthodoxy was really more sinful than the uncompassionate and dogmatic enforcement of it.

Do you really think the message of Jesus is that what you believe—your theology, your rule-keeping, your conformity—matters more than the kind of person that you are?  Do you really think that your strict orthodoxy or faithful belief in a set of dogmas or tenets makes you righteous?  If so, you really don’t understand the scriptures at all.

Remember, whenever you point your finger at someone there are three fingers pointing back at you.

When Jesus confronted the would-be stone throwers who were ready to condemn the woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:2-11) what do you think troubled him more?  The woman’s sin or the fact that the would-be stone throwers’ orthodoxy had led them to a spirit of murder?  Jesus had to know that this same spirit would eventually lead to his murder.

“What is that stone in your hand and what does it say about your heart?”

What spirit is inside of you?

Perhaps the crisis of apostasy and disbelief we perceive in the world today is a direct outgrowth of the greater apostasy, the secret revolt that is being perpetuated in the hearts of the orthodox who have forgotten how to love and, indeed, seem to love their theology and conformity more than they love people.

Grounding yourself in orthodoxy is as silly as sitting on the sideline, studying your rule book and thinking that it will make you a football star.  Yes, knowing the rules is important.  But that is not the essence of the game.  It is barely even the beginning!  It’s the hours in the gym, lifting and struggling.  It’s the hours on the practice field, running, hitting, getting knocked down, and then getting back up again.  It’s a thousand tears, a million drops of sweat, blood and sacrifice. That’s what football stars are made of.

Judging reveals more about you than the person you are judging

Likewise, studying the scriptures, keeping all the rules and being fully orthodox might make you a spiritual Bob Costas; knowledgeable but wholly inadequate and incapable of playing the real game on the field of life.  Those things are necessary but wholly insufficient.  Orthodoxy without orthopraxy is a dangerous thing.  It renders you weak when you think you are strong.  It’s an illusion, a golden calf, a graven image.  It swells your head and shrinks your heart.

So I would ask you who are so ready to judge, so ready to condemn, so sure that you’re right, so confident that you are among the “righteous,” so worried about what other people believe, so worried about what others are doing and how they are living, “What is that stone in your hand and what does it say about your heart?”

Remember, whenever you point your finger at someone there are three fingers pointing back at you.  As the stories of Jesus teach us, judging reveals more about you than the person you are judging.

The next time you are ready to judge or condemn someone, especially for what they do or don’t believe, ask yourself, “Would I be the hero or the villain if this were a story of Jesus?”

What Dying Taught Me About Living

What Dying Taught Me About Living

Dying reveals your true self.  When you are dying, you want more than anything to let those around you know how much you love them.  Your greatest fear is that you will leave this world, leaving those you love questioning, for the rest of their lives, how much you loved them.  You find that words are clumsy and inadequate.  You are overwhelmed with memories and emotions of having loved those you love.  Your deepest yearning is to convey love.  You are overcome by an instinct to show and express love.  It eclipses everything else.  Trust me.  Nothing else matters.  Dying reveals who and what you truly are—that you were built to love.

Being a healer matters so much more than being a heeder.

Dying teaches us how to live.  Jesus, more than any other mortal, understood this.  The one who was born to die, and who knew his expiration date, tried so very hard to teach us this.  For him, relationships mattered more than rites:

“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

(Matthew 5:23-24.)

All the temple attendance in the world won’t heal a broken relationship.  The counsel to leave your gift before offering it at the temple altar suggests that the rituals, themselves, lack power to heal broken relationships.  Piousness is not some magical talisman.  And, by all means, participation in the rituals is not synonymous with righteousness.  Relationships matter so much more than rituals.  Relationships also matter more than rules.  That’s why Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  (See Matthew 12:10-14.)  Being a healer matters so much more than being a heeder.  How could we have missed this!

Jesus invites us into a prioritized life, not a pious life.

Having faith centered in Jesus Christ means that we accept his priorities and have the courage to live them.  It is so much more than having faith in Christ.  It is so much more than merely believing him.  It is having the faith of Christ—the faith to join in his atonement and be “crucified with Christ” so that “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”  (Galatians 2:20.)  Notice the prepositional distinction—not “in” but “of.”  This invites you to participate with him—to follow him (Matthew 4:19)—in a life devoted to the same priorities.  Those priorities are always grounded in love, healing and reconciliation.

The knowledge that death is looming has a way of prioritizing things.

Death invites us into a prioritized life, not a pious life.

Jesus invites us into a prioritized life, not a pious life.

If God is love (1 John 4:8), and if we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), then we were built to love.  This is what I realized when I realized that I was dying.  Now that I continue to be among the living, loving is my priority.

Don’t let a day go by without letting those you love know that you love them.  Live your life in a manner that leaves no doubt about who or what your priorities are.  Death can come at any time.  (Luke 12:20.)  Life and love are lived moment to moment.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Today (And Every Day)

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Today (And Every Day)

Shouldn’t the questions you ask yourself at the end of your life be the same questions you ask yourself each day?  If you were about to face your final judgment, what would you be asking yourself?  Did I spend enough time at the office?  Were my teeth white enough?  Did my butt look big in those pants?  Did I spend enough time at the gym?  Was I popular?  I don’t know what the ultimate questions would be.  However, when I was given my two weeks notice by the doctor, the following questions are the ones that came to my mind as I thought about my most treasured relationships.  Perhaps asking yourself these questions daily will prepare you to answer them in the days to come … and help you become built to love.

Question 1:  Have I Listened?

Listening is like being loaded up with log after log of life’s heavy lumber that you must haul away and stack in your own woodpiles of memory and experience.

To listen is to love. To be a sponge that absorbs the venom and toxicity of a poisoned soul is difficult. To mourn with those who mourn is painful. To listen to others can be a burden. It’s like being loaded up with log after log of life’s heavy lumber that you must haul away and stack in your own woodpiles of memory and experience. But this is what fuels relationships. This is what fuels love. As author and Mennonite minister David Augsberger wisely observed, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”

This soul-to-soul communication puts you into communion with God because, remember, the “least of these” you listen to is a proxy for Jesus. (See Matthew 25:31-46.)  Hence, to truly listen to another human being is to hear the voice of God.

“Listening is as close to acting for God as God will allow.”

Listening is also as close to acting for God as God will allow. Listening is, in essence, a form of receiving prayer. The realm of listening, therefore, is sacred ground. The miracle of listening is that it elevates you while you lift others. All of that lifting, hauling and stacking of life’s lumber transforms and strengthens us in the process, as well. We get to vicariously learn and experience life.

The hardest part about listening is that mere mortals are ill-equipped to solve problems. But that’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to solve anyone’s problems. You don’t have to have all the answers … or even any of them. Listening is its own medicine. Saying, “I honestly don’t know what to tell you because your burdens are so enormous and complex” to someone who is truly overwhelmed with life will be reaffirming to them, especially if you follow that with, “you’re an amazing person. You teach me so much.”

Listening is loving.

Question 2:  Have I Encouraged?

It only takes a second to offer encouragement.

There really is no excuse for failing to offer encouragement. You can text. You can message. You can email. Even just sending two or three words can make all the difference to someone’s day.

There are so many times throughout my battles with illness when a simple text made the difference between a day spent in loneliness, battling wrenching, nauseous pain, and a day where at least I didn’t feel so alone.

What can you say to offer encouragement?

“I’m hurting for you.”  “You don’t deserve this.”  “Keep fighting.”  “Your example gives me strength.”  “You are so strong.”  “I’m on your side.”  “I’m cheering for you.”  “Don’t quit. We need you.”

There are a hundred simple things you can say to make someone feel loved and acknowledged.  Of course, taking the time to explain what someone means to you and how they have influenced your life for good is even better. The point is, you must act. You must speak. You must say something. In the face of suffering or trial, your silence says a thousand things and none of them are good. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” “In the end,” he said, “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

If you don’t know what to say, say that. For someone suffering from extreme trials and burdens, to hear someone say “I don’t know what to say” is, strangely enough, very encouraging to them because it is validating. It shows that you “get it.” If you understand, maybe God understands. If God understands, then maybe there’s hope.

If all else fails, just remember listening is loving. Hugs are almost always welcome. Your tears also say a lot. It’s okay to cry with others. Tears are the cleansing and encouraging solvents of the soul.

Question 3:  Have I Given?

The miracle of God’s plan is that the best way we can keep God’s love is by giving it away. It seems that if you want to feel God’s love, you have to share it.  If you have listened or encouraged someone, you have given. But it also brings you a lot of happiness to physically give something to someone on a daily basis.

Giving is living. Be generous.

It doesn’t have to be big. Give a child some money. Stop at the lemonade or cookie stand and see what happens when you whip out a $5 bill. Don’t be a stingy tipper. Pay for the food order behind you in the drive through line. Donate money to charity. Give  someone a book (especially mine!).  Make cookies for someone. Send flowers.  Take someone out to lunch. Find out what they like or enjoy and get it for them. Buy someone their favorite drink or smoothie.  Sneak some money into your kid’s wallet or purse.  Do it.  It will make you feel good.  I promise.

Remember the Platinum Rule.

The only rule here is be sure that your giving is empathy-guided.  Remember the “platinum rule,” which is the proper interpretation of the golden rule. That rule, when properly understood, is not “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” It’s “do unto others as they would have done unto them.” What is it that “ye would [have] men … do to you?” To treat you the way you want to be treated. Jesus understood this and taught this simple truth. Give people what they want.  (See Matthew 7:9-11.)

The reason I call this the “platinum rule” is because it takes a higher investment in others to live it. You have to know people well enough to understand what they want and need. You have to understand them. Love takes empathy.

The whole condescension of God illustrates this. The condescension of God teaches that you cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously and then love them the way they want to be loved.

Give today.  Giving is living.

The Way of Discipleship

Daily asking yourself these three simple questions—“Have I listened? Have I encouraged? Have I given?”—will keep you focused as you strive to become built to love. It will also help keep you happy.  Finally, asking these three questions of yourself daily will help you in the noble endeavor of trying to follow Jesus and prepare you for the day when there’s no more time for questions.