When love is difficult

February: the month of love. Well, that and Black History Month…and the celebration of a couple of presidents’ birthdays… and of course Groundhog Day…. Ok, so it’s not really the month of love… but that’s the theme of all the greeting cards at Target so we’re sticking with it.

But what if thoughts of Valentine’s Day cards, celebrations, and even hard, chalk-like candy inscribed with likely semi-toxic red ink doesn’t inspire you to love?

For all the display of romantic red hearts, February is often a month where we’re reminded that the ability to love is sometimes difficult. Worse than that, in February we’re often smacked in the face with the reality that we’re not as loving as we should be. And we know we should be more loving.

Husbands know they should be more loving of their wives, and vice versa. Parents know they should be more loving of their kids. Kids (I think) know they should be more loving of each another. But what if you can’t? What if you and they just don’t have it? And what if you can’t even fake it? Because, let’s be honest, sometimes you just don’t want to fake it.

What if you’re there? In the month of February. Is it even possible to become more loving?

The short answer— no, no it’s not. At least not on your own in an authentic and long-term way.

Because, as Warren Wiersbe points out, “love is not something we work up; it is something that God does in us and through us.” Love for one another only grows “when we permit God to perform His ‘good work’ in us.”

Romans 5:5 tells us that, “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” In 1 John 4:19 we read, “We love because [God] first loved us.” And in Galatians 5:22 we see that, “the fruit of the Spirit is love…”

What does all this tell us? Real love, the kind of love we desire, dream about, and even long to give away, is only from God. When you and I feel unable to love it’s because at that moment we are not filled with the love of God. We’re empty.

Speaking of marriage, Timothy Keller puts it this way, “You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm. If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love ‘in the bank’ to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.”

Love between human beings is great. But Keller’s point is that our greater need is the love of God. God’s love sustains us when human love fails us. God’s love enables us to carry out acts of love to others even when others are not carrying out acts of love toward us.

So this February, before you try to be romantic with your spouse, before you try harder to love your kids, go to God and let him fill your love bank. Receive the love of your Heavenly Father. Take some time to reflect on all the ways God has shown his love to you. Let God pour out his love into your heart.

If we are willing to come to God and receive his love first, then maybe, just maybe, this February really will turn out to be a month of love.

 

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Christmas Doubt

My older sister wanted to go to college out of state. We grew up in a small town in California. So she decided to go to college in New York City. It was as far out of state as she could get—both physically and metaphorically.

She wanted to see the world from a different perspective. And she did. As I remember it, this became clear one Christmas break when she announced that she was no longer a Christian.

It’s not an unfamiliar story to many parents.

Your son or daughter may or may not be in college. But at some point, your child (young or old) will question and maybe even walk away from the Christian faith.

A recent study by the Fuller Youth Institute found that “seventy percent of students…reported having doubts in high school about what they believed about God and the Christian faith.”  Often these times of doubt come during the Christmas season. Because it’s a natural time of year to reflect on whether or not the Christmas story and all it implies is really true.

How can parents respond?

Here are three simple responses that will help you help your children as they work through doubts and unbelief:

  1. Give your child time and space to share their doubts

Don’t respond first with arguments. Instead, listen to your child’s doubts. Ask them what led them to their doubt? Praise them for thinking seriously about matters of faith. Allow them to critique, challenge, and even deny their faith. Don’t critique their critiquing. Instead, ask questions that seek to understand where they are coming from. And keep the dialogue going.

  1. Expose them to other Christian viewpoints

Often when your child questions Christianity, he or she is really just questioning their understanding of Christianity. New York City pastor, Timothy Keller, is famous for saying to young skeptics, “Describe the God you don’t believe in. Maybe I don’t believe that God either.” He then encourages skeptics to expand their understanding of Christianity by learning about how other Christians around the world understand and worship God, deal with suffering, and live the Christian life. As a parent, one of the best things you can do for your child is expose them to the breadth of Christian thought and practice throughout history and around the world.

  1. Remember this may be just a season

Don’t blow them off assuming this “phase” will pass. But don’t freak out assuming this “phase” is permanent. Remember God is bigger than our doubts. He’s not scared or offended by them. God is still at work in your child’s life, even if you or your child can’t see it. If you prayerfully pursue the above two actions it will only be a matter of time before you see what God is up to in the life of your child.

My older sister is actually proof that God is faithful even in the midst of doubt. Today, she loves Jesus, is committed to the church, and is married to an Anglican priest!

Hopefully, your Christmas season won’t involve any denials of faith. But if it does, see the moment as a door for opportunities. An opportunity to listen to your child’s story. An opportunity to expose your child to other Christian stories. And an opportunity to trust God that your child is still a part of His story.

Abortion and The Gospel

Abortion is in the news again. I suppose, in some ways, it always is.

I don’t know about you, but at times I find the whole issue overwhelming. Every time I watch the latest video, read the latest news, or hear the latest personal story, I’m tempted to feel depressed, angered, frustrated, and overall hopeless.

It is at this point of hopelessness that it hits me, I have lost sight of the gospel.

So where is the Gospel in the midst of abortion?

As heinous and horrible as abortion is, I do believe that it is able to point us to the Gospel in at least three ways.

  1. Abortion shows us the idols of our hearts

Abortion itself is not the idol. The idol is what we think abortion will give us. Timothy Keller once wrote, “When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshiping” [1]. Abortion shows us what we believe is an “absolute requirement” for our happiness. In most cases it has something to do with freedom. Freedom to pursue a better life. Freedom to pursue other relationships. Freedom from shame. Freedom from regret.

Freedom is good, but not when it becomes an ultimate good. Abortion reveals this idol within all of us.

  1. Abortion reminds us of God’s grace

Any one of us could have been conceived by someone who felt compelled to have an abortion. The circumstances of our birth were completely out of our control. A few changes in the living circumstances, the peer group, and the values of our parents and many of us would not be here to read this. From the moment of our conception our lives were hanging in the balance. Abortion reminds us of this fact.

This in turns reminds us that the only reason any of us are here is because of God’s grace. God, by his grace, allowed us to be conceived by people who valued our lives and allowed us to live.

  1. Abortion reminds us we all need a Savior

Abortion reminds us that we all need someone who is able to save us from death. All of us have used our freedom for selfish gain, in inordinate ways, and for evil ends. All of us are helpless to save ourselves from the judgment and consequences we deserve. Abortion reminds us of the evil in our hearts and in our culture. It reminds us as individuals and as a nation that we do not value what God values, we do not pursue what God pursues, we do not act as God would have us act. We are all very guilty. We all have blood on our hands. We are all in need of a savior.

The good news is that in Jesus Christ we meet that savior: The one who has overcome evil. The one who offers us forgiveness. The one who paid for our sins.  The one who can remove our guilt. The one who can change our hearts.  The one who poured out his blood, and gave up his life, so that you and I could live, now and for all eternity.

Abortion points us to this gospel.

The truth that our hearts are wicked, that we can not save ourselves, and that we are in need of a savior to give us life, now and forever.

 

I pray that by His grace God would enable you today to repent of your idols, receive his grace, and put all your hope in our savior Jesus Christ.

 

 


 

[1] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters.