These are socks…Love

16 01 2015

This is my final devotional in this series.  It has been based on how Coach Wooden, the legendary basketball coach for UCLA, would begin his first practice.  He started off each season by teaching his team how to wear their socks.   He believed the basics are what wins the game.

What are the Christian’s socks?  What are the basics we have to remember to be effective?  I believe there are three; faith, hope and love. Today I want to focus on love.

Love is the most overused word in our vocabulary.  Everyone has their idea of what love means.  I think there are two distinctive for the unconditional love we need as socks.

First, it must come from a place of strength.  John 10:18 is a uniquely powerful verse.  Jesus says he has the authority to lay his life down and pick it back up.  In other words, he was the only one who could die sacrificially in place of humanity.  This is critical to understand.  There are a lot of people who would die for another person.  While that is admirable, it does not have the same power as what Jesus did.  When Jesus laid down his life, reality was fundamentally changed.  Our relationship with God was fully and completely restored.  God did this out of the purest form of unconditional love.  There were no strings attached and no other agenda except love.

As Christians we tap into that love.  This is why Jesus says the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others.  It is only in my relationship with God I have the understanding to unconditionally love anyone else.

As a pastor and a Chaplain I have often seen people who love from a place of weakness.  They do things because they need to feel accepted, they want to portray an image or they want to cover up an area of their life.  The majority of the time they are not doing it with evil intent.  They are doing it because they are longing for love.  They will join churches and even go into ministry all with the hope of being good enough or accomplishing something significantly enough that will let them feel loved.  Sadly they are missing the true depth of Christian love. They are missing their socks.

God’s unconditional love comes from a genuine place of strength.  When I accept this type of love, it transforms me.  I rely on God to show others love.  In other words I operate from God’s strength.  Will there be sacrifice?  Of course but it comes from pure motives and a right perspective.  It is truly powerful and transformational.

This is a deep concept so I encourage you to meditate on it and talk to God about it.  Once it clicks, I promise you will be amazed and in awe of God.

The second aspect of unconditional love is boundaries.  Healthy relationships have boundaries.  The very concept of love implies a relationship so it makes sense there would be boundaries.  A great example is the marriage relationship.  If I say I love my wife but hurt her or cheat on her you could legitimately question my love.  Because God has invited us to freely choose to enter a relationship with him, it is reasonable that we would live within the boundaries of that relationship.

We need three things to know God’s boundaries.  First, we have to have an active prayer life in which we are not just asking God to do things for us but we are slowing down to listen for God’s voice.  Second, we have to read the Bible.  This is the sacred text of Christianity.  We believe it is inspired by God and unique in both it’s power and authority.  Finally, we have to be connected to a healthy church.  In a healthy church we can have good relationships to keep us grounded and help us grow and mature.  I know I often sound like a broken record when it comes to the importance of being connected to a church but I see the difference in lives of people who are connected and those who aren’t.

So do you have your socks on? I hope this series has given you something to consider.  Let’s make sure we have our socks on and let’s get into the game.





It is a wonderful life

21 12 2011

It looks like my wife will do it again. She will go through another Christmas season without seeing “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It is the classic movie where James Stewart plays George Bailey a man who feels his life has been a huge failure. An angel, Clarence who is trying to earn his wings, is assigned to help George realize just how important his life is. He does it by showing George what the world would look like if he had never been born. It is a great movie that captures all of the big and little ways a person’s life impacts the world around them. I found out in my first year of marriage that my wife had never seen the whole movie. Each year I say this year she has to watch it but somehow she always gets out of it.

In a few days we will be celebrating a very special birth. I began reflecting on the movie and I inserted Jesus in the place of George Bailey. What if Jesus had never been born? What would the world look like?

There are so many small ways Jesus has impacted my world. He showed me what true compassion looks like. It was amazing how he reached out to those others rejected. Outcasts felt accepted for the first time in years when they were around him. Jesus also taught me how to pick my battles. Jesus did not hesitate to stand up and call people out that were abusing their position or corrupting people around them. He showed me that it is okay to be upset by injustice. He demonstrated true power and influence does not come from a title or position but from character and heart. He showed the power of submission. He lived out the importance of facing the truth about situations even if they were hard. Those are just some of the small ways.

The big ways Jesus has impacted my world are even more amazing. I will share two. First, he demonstrated what sacrificial love really looks like. He was willing to go the distance and face death for us because he loved us that much. Mixed with that love is the second, grace. Grace is this incredibly special gift. It means I am loved not because of what I do but because of who I am. God does not love me because I am a Chaplain or I am an amazing husband and father but simply because I am special to him. Throughout my life I have needed grace and it has been freely given. All I can offer back is a thank you knowing God can see my heart and know just how grateful I am.

Sunday we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. It will be an opportunity to remember God loved us so much he gave us his son. I have a personal story of how Jesus has impacted my life. I hope you do as well. If not find someone you trust who does and ask them the question, what if Jesus had never been born? I encourage each of us to reflect on just how profound an impact Jesus has had on our lives.

You can also look at the impact Jesus has had on our community and world. Many charities will be serving because Jesus served. There will be outcasts who will feel accepted for the first time in years because churches will open their doors. Injustice will be called out as people with character and heart take a stand. More importantly maybe we will show each other love and give each other grace as a special gift this Christmas.

I guess I can give my wife grace again this year and maybe next year we will see the movie. I already have a wonderful life. Thank you Jesus and Happy Birthday.





Is my love selfish?

14 12 2011

Have you ever noticed how quickly we can become dissatisfied with what we have? We could really want ice cream. Once we get it, we start wanting particular flavors. Once we have a variety of flavors we want a variety of toppings. Heaven forbid we ever go back to not having any ice cream and just have to hope for it. We have this tendency of having our desires fulfilled only to have them become expectations that need to be met. When they are not met, we become frustrated and angry even if we really don’t need it.

The real danger is when this perspective seeps into relationships with people we love. One danger is we only love the person if they do what we want. As long as they are meeting our needs, we will love them. What is more common is placing expectations on a relationship that should be unconditional. In either case, as my needs are met I slowly increase my expectations. Even if my needs are met I become dissatisfied and have more needs. Life is drained out of the relationship.

In Exodus 15:22-17:7 you see this happen in the relationship with the people of Israel and God. First, they have bad water; God makes the water drinkable. Then, they are worried about starving; God provides them bread called manna. Next, they want meat; God provides them quail. Back to needing water, God once again comes through and provides them water. This all happened after they watched God do incredible miracles to get them out slavery. They grumble and complain and damage their relationship with God.

It is easy to pick on them but I am guilty of having the same perspective in both my relationship with God and those around me. I can find myself asking, “What have you done for me lately?” As faithful as God has been, I can still forget when I am frustrated by a current situation. It is even worse in relationships with other people because they are humans which mean they make mistakes and sometimes don’t know what I need or expect from them. Either way I drain life out of the relationship. It makes me ask the question: do I really understand what unconditional love is suppose to look like?

What do I do?

It starts with my relationship with God. We see God’s incredible unconditional love for us. It makes us ask if we are giving it back. Do I only love God if he answers my prayers the way I want them to be answered? Am I willing to follow God no matter what my circumstances are? Can I see God’s faithfulness in my life and am I truly grateful? I hope there are even more questions that are coming to your mind. Take the time to pray about them and look to see what the Bible has to say. It may also be really good to talk with someone who is spiritual mature and you respect. I believe this is the foundation that helps us look at unconditional love in all our other relationships.

I will just briefly touch on three key relationships.

In marriage, we have it the easiest. (It is okay if you find yourself smiling because it may be the hardest.) In marriage we have one person we can focus on loving and making sure their needs are met regardless if our needs are being met. The reason it is easy is because if each of us is focused on the other person, then both of our needs can be met.

In parenting, we have the opportunity to freely give love. Let’s face it. A six month old child is going to be very needy and not be able to do anything about our needs, especially our need for sleep. Sadly, many parents place expectations on their children to meet needs they are not capable of meeting. When there is unconditional love, parents have a profound influence on their children and children have an opportunity to truly honor their parents.

In friendship, we have the opportunity to support and encourage one another that helps us grow. Ideally, our churches should be places where deep unconditional love for one another is nurtured and developed. In fact Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

I encourage you to take some time and really be honest about how you are showing love. If you find you are being selfish and are expecting the other person to meet more and more needs, then stop, ask for forgiveness if necessary, and learn how to be unselfish and unconditional in the relationship. You may need to have a serious talk about expectations and the health of the relationship. You may find that you need to talk with someone else to help you. It will cause you to be more transparent with who you are and what you need. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it. As I learn more about unconditional love, I fall more in love with God and a foundation is laid for me to fall more in love with the people around me. Trust me, it is incredibly rewarding.





Avoiding the mediocre life – Part 2

8 11 2011

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:6-7)

The book of 2 Timothy was most likely the last letter Paul wrote.  he was is prison and could read the writing on the wall.  He was going to be killed.  Paul could face the end of his life with his head held high.  Paul had live a fulfilling life.  His life had been rich with purpose and meaning.  He did not have an easy life.  Reading his letters you will see he faced trials and frustrations.  He endured many hardships but also had many rewarding experiences.  He had anything but a mediocre life.

Do you have to become a missionary or go into full time ministry in order to avoid having a mediocre life?  No.  What made Paul’s life extraordinary was not what he did.  (In fact, at one point he held a regular job as a tent maker.)  What made Paul’s life extraordinary was putting hs faith in God and letting God take the lead.

Here are some of the things that happen when God takes the lead.  An ordinary man is chosen to be the father of many nations (Abraham).  A man with a speech impediment leads a people out of captivity (Moses).  A shepherd boy defeats a giant and becomes a king (David).  An adulterous woman becomes the mother of the wisest king ever known (Bathsheba).  An unschooled fisherman becomes the first leader of God’s church (Peter).  If you try to figure out why God picked the people he did…good luck.  If we trust that God is focused on who we are (see Avoiding the mediocre life – Part 1) and does extraordinary things through people then we are ready to let God take the lead.

What does that look like?  It means I care more about my relationship with God and the people around me than accomplishments.  My relationship with God is not driven by trying to earn his love but rather by accepting it.  From that perspective, I try to see people the way God sees them and focus my time and energy on their well-being.  It makes sense when we thing about it.  Jesus said everything hangs on these to commandments:  Love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-40).  When I take Jesus at his word, I really see the wisdom and truth in what he said.

Disclaimer:  I must warn you that when we focus on people rather than results we will be hurt and have times of disappointment.  Even Jesus had one of his twelve disciples hurt him.  I could go all the way back to the Garden of Eden and look at the pain God experienced when Adam and Eve chose to follow a lie instead of his guidance.  Humans are messy with the capacity to do great good but also with the capacity to hurt people around them.

Remember we are talking about avoiding the mediocre life and not about having an easy life.  Paul learned to love God and people.  His ministry had ups and downs.  He had frustrations and there were people who hurt him.  But then there was Timothy.  As Paul sat in his prison cell, he did not want the thousands he had shared the gospel with to come and see him.  He did not try to comfort himself by looking at an annual ministry report.  He wanted the one he had shared his life with to come and be with him (2 Timothy 4:21).  Paul’s extraordinary life came from listening to Jesus.  He had loved God and loved others.  he could face death with his head held high.  He had avoided a mediocre life.