Wednesday, January 25, 2012

P4E.232 Love = Self Sacrifice Part 9

I am the last person who should be writing about self sacrificial love, because I have so little experience. What will follow, then, are humble suggestions; a few from my poor experience and some from my imagination.

My next suggestion for self sacrifice might seem a little obvious, but sometimes you have to state the obvious:

Let others go in front of you. Especially your wife.

The recent tragedy of the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy provided a glimpse of the current Zeitgeist. It is said that the men on-board ship were refusing to allow the women and children to board the lifeboats first and that the captain himself abandoned ship before all others were safely off. This simply would not have happened in a previous time. It speaks volumes about everything from the decline in the expectations of character qualities like honor and decency to the devaluing of women and children. Chivalry does indeed appear to be dead.

It's easy to describe what "letting others go in front of you"  looks like on a daily basis, yet most difficult to execute. Let me paint a scenario. You are driving in the middle lane of traffic. You are only a few car lengths behind the car in front of you and there is a car ahead of you on the right. A car moves past you on the right and you see that, at its speed, there is only one place for the car to go and that's the spare space between you and the car in front of you. What do you do? Sometimes, I confess, I speed up, closing the already small gap between me and the car in front of me, driving dangerously close just to stop the car from getting in front of me. Let me suggest that there is another option. That is, to slow down and let the car safely in front of you. In my better moments, I take the second option.

A more obscure example might be I want to go to a restaurant, but my wife wants me to get take-out and bring it back home. I let her desire go in front of mine.

There are some fairy tales that tickle the imagination having to do with Royalty that sneaks out of the castle to mingle with the peasantry. The fun happens when the peasants treat the Prince like another peasant. It's touching when he, given his real position, serves the other peasants. This is the definition of humility and meekness. When the reality is that one has power, but stays that power, controls it, so that instead of being brute, one is gentle and retiring. Ken Nair uses the analogy of using a car crushing crane to pick up a crystal wine goblet. Jesus' incarnation is the epitome of this ideal.

I say "especially your wife," because we know that familiarity breeds contempt. Husbands wield power in their relationship with their wives that they don't even comprehend. We need to be like the car crushing crane picking up the goblet when it comes to how we spiritually engage with our wives.

We forget that deference is what Christ requires of us. Letting others, especially your wife, go first is an important sign of self-sacrificial love. That is one of the reasons why, to this day, I still open the door for Gwen to get into the car first. Even if we're just going to, or leaving, the grocery store.

More to follow...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

P4E.231 Love = Self Sacrifice Part 8

I am the last person who should be writing about self sacrificial love, because I have so little experience. What will follow, then, are humble suggestions; a few from my poor experience and some from my imagination.
My third suggestion for loving self sacrificially is this:

Do Work. Put Yourself Out. Make It Hurt.

There is precedence for this suggestion. Jesus said, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." He also said "We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming when no man can work." If you're like me you may be wondering, just how do I do that?

When asked "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus' answer was, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." Again, I want to know, on a day to day basis, what would that look like?

If I can use a physical example to explain a spiritual concept, I liken it to a weight lifting regimen where whatever work I put in benefits not only my own body, but also the body of the one I love. So, every time I do a spiritual bench press, not only does my spirit benefit, but so does the one I love.

To be more plain, let's say that my wife accidentally breaks a prize possession of mine. The work before me is to show my belief in Christ by expressing my love for my wife by sacrificing my rights and natural inclination to get upset over the loss of the thing. Give up the impulse to criticize and judge her care in handling the thing. Not berate her and make her feel worse for the loss. The work is to show self-sacrificial love.

My natural inclination is to come home from a hard days' work and expect to physically, emotionally and spiritually let down. To take some time for myself. Watch a ballgame on TV. To rest and relax. To be served dinner. This is the point at which I say, "Put Yourself Out. Make it Hurt." Because, when I get home, I find that there are loved ones there who have physical, emotional and, above all, spiritual needs to be met. So, instead of letting down, it's time to step up, be a man, shoulder the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the ones I love. Yes, I put my own need for rest and recreation on the back burner in favor of helping clean the house, coaching through homework, providing support by listening to the details of an emotional burden.

It is simply impossible to express true love without some inconvenience, some pain, some testing, some sacrifice. When we cherish someone with deep affection, we use the adjective, "Dear." The adverb of the same word means "to come at a high cost," as in "they buy land cheaply and sell dear." So, the expression of love comes at a high price. This is why Paul said to the Galatians, "Consider it all joy...when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance..." Because, not only do those whom I love benefit by my physical, emotional, and spiritual exertion, I do too!

More to follow...

Monday, January 16, 2012

P4E.230 Love = Self Sacrifice Part 7

Image by Scott Garner at BEST OF

As I said earlier, I am the last person who should be writing about self sacrificial love, because I have so little experience. What will follow, then, are humble suggestions; a few from my poor experience and some from my imagination.

My second suggestion for practicing self sacrificial love will also probably catch you off guard:

Let the one you love in on what you are doing.

This is about sacrificing what you might consider your "right to privacy." Your life, public and private, should be an open book to the one you love. If, as Scripture puts it, you become "one" with your wife, she should know what you know. Where are you? What are you doing? How much will it cost? Who are you with? What are you looking at? What are you thinking? What are you eating? When will you be home? How are you feeling? Why (insert whatever circumstance here)? What are the usernames and passwords? It comes down to simple, open, honest communication.

Now, if you're like me, this just isn't as easy as it sounds. My hackles kind of go up even as I write the questions. Why does she need to know all that stuff? What if I just don't want her to know? So what? I don't expect to know everything that's going on with her, why should I have to let her in on everything going on with me? That's my life. That's me. I don't have to tell her everything... OK, guys, but may I just point out that those questions are NOT Christlike. And here's my proof:

Christ said to those He loved,

"...I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you."

"I have told you before it comes to pass, that when it comes to pass, you may believe."

"I have spoken openly to the world, I always taught in the synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret."

"To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God..."

When two disciples wondered where Christ was staying, He answered, "Come, and you will see."

"For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it should come to light."

Finally, Christ warns us about our penchant for dark secrets, "And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed."

So, now I even let Gwen know when I am going upstairs to get some socks. Does that seem over the top to you? I just know that Gwen appreciates being clued in to where I'm at. And if I'm giving her too much information, then she can let me know.

More to follow...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

P4E.229 Love = Self Sacrifice Part 6

As I said earlier, I am the last person who should be writing about self sacrificial love, because I have so little experience. What will follow, then, are humble suggestions; a few from my poor experience and some from my imagination.

Let's start our journey towards self-sacrificial love with what you may think is an unusual suggestion: Don't reject helpGraciously accept help from those you love.

You might be thinking, wait, how is it self sacrifice when I do something that benefits me, like accept help? I used to be confused, too. The fact that God knows and values each of us, individually, is not cause to strive for self-sufficiency. If Love = Self Sacrifice, then everything I can do to sacrifice my ego, my individuality, my self sufficiency is practicing love. This suggestion is about coming to the realization that "no man is an island."

I used to be really confused about my Christian vs. my American values. Last night I heard a talk show host say that "individual sovereignty" is the thing that made America great. Individual sovereignty might have made America what it is today, but it's at odds with our ability to express love.Our American culture tells us to strive for individuality, independence and self sufficiency. Our human nature pushes us towards self preservation. So, if we want to learn how to love, we need to do things that will counter those forces. Accepting help from those we profess to love does just that.

Consciously or unconsciously, when I reject help, I'm rejecting the person who is offering it. When I accept help, I'm acknowledging that I need the person who's offering it. I'm allowing that person into my world and my endeavor. We become one in the process of achieving the thing that I'm trying to accomplish. When we are successful, we are able to jointly celebrate. I'm able to acknowledge that the success wouldn't have come without the help.

Not to state the obvious, but God is very wise. He knew we would need help to learn self-sacrificial love. To those of us who are married, God gave us husbands the perfect partner on which to practice. If we can't do this with the person we profess to love more than any other in the world, how can we let others know that we are followers of Christ?

I'll tell you why I used the phrase, "Graciously accept help from those you love." Gwen used to offer me help all the time, which I would routinely reject. What do you think I am? Helpless? Do you think that I can't do this without you? What help do you think you can give me that will benefit this endeavor? Your "help" will actually hinder my accomplishing what I'm trying to do! Then, I would judge the help that Gwen would offer me. I wouldn't even have to say anything. The look on my face, an exasperated sigh, my body language would let her know that her help was not "helpful." It was my perfectionism and critical nature that would push me towards this. Need I tell you that Gwen does NOT feel loved when I act this way? I confess that I still struggle with the concept of graciously accepting help.

And that's the thing I want to re-emphasize! We will not change overnight! It's not about being perfect. It's about striving towards an ideal. It's about having the prize in our sights and making a real, sincere effort to obtain it. Failure is just as instructive, is more instructive than success, if we are willing to learn from our failures. This is where we can accept the help that God has for us. His Spirit is help. Your wife is help. Don't reject them. Let them in. Be one with them. No man is an island.

More to follow...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

P4E.228 Love = Self Sacrifice Part 5

Let's acknowledge that greater minds than yours and mine have debated the virtues and drawbacks of Calvinism and Wesleyanism. But, I'll write about it anyway. As you will see, I tend towards Wesleyanism. Calvinism is a little (lot) too fatalistic for me. It leaves too much wiggle room for lazy Christians if you ask me. Calvinism doesn't seem to account for the conditions and verbs in The Book of John. Such as, "if you abide in My word..." "unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins." "he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life..." "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life..." "men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil."

The other aspect of Calvinism that I find difficult is the idea that one is "saved" once, instantly and forever. That the simple profession of faith, one time, verbalized and so often in the heat of passion, is the ticket to everlasting salvation. No deeds, actions, permanent change of heart required (because no works that one does has any effect on one's salvation status). You're either in or out. Once in, always in. But, I'm not an adamant Wesleyan, nor am I ardently opposed to Calvinism. That's the whole point of this series. The tenets of these religious theologies are a diversion from The Message of Love = Self Sacrifice. But, one final point about Calvinism is the idea that a person is sort of instantly changed when he "accepts Christ" into his heart.

The idea that you are changed in the blink of an eye is absurd for the majority of people. Sure, there are a few people who get off drugs cold turkey or are able to make a quick major change in their life. But, for most of us "accepting Christ" is the first step in a life-long journey. Our growth, the production of Spiritual fruit, depends on how diligently we pursue Christlikeness.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's start with the premise that it's taken you a heck of a long time to get to the place where you are now. You've been a selfish bastard your whole life. What makes you think you're gonna change overnight because you became "born again?" You're not! We know that it is NOT going to be easy to effect a change because your self-preservation  instincts will kick in. Our natural human instinct is to move away from God, towards darkness. Since God is love, this means that we naturally move away from love and towards selfishness. It's not going to be easy. It's going to be WORK.

Have I sold you on this plan? Are you ready?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

P4E.227 Love = Self Sacrifice Part 4

"Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love."
Albus Dumbledore

Before we move on, let me just say one more thing about how I think the Church may be leading us astray and then I'll try to stop church bashing.

This is going to be a hard thing to say without sounding heretical to some, but here goes. It seems to me that the Church has overemphasized The Messenger and under-emphasized The Message. Please don't misunderstand. I don't mean to minimize Christ or His redemptive work on the cross. It's just that His very presence here on Earth embodied a Message. How He lived and what He said and how He died all embody a Message that I believe has been minimized in favor of focusing on The Messenger. The Church is so engrossed in getting people to "accept Christ into their hearts" so that they can be "saved," that it can't see the forest through the trees. The Church is so busy trying to insist upon the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth and the Deity of Christ, that The Message of God and Scripture to us has been lost!

You may ask, what Message are you talking about?

The Message I'm talking about is Love = Self Sacrifice.

I won't quote Scripture at you, but here are a few examples of The Message:

- Jesus' incarnation. He sacrificed His spiritual Deity to become a man.
- Jesus tells us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
- Jesus tells us that if someone robs us of our shirt we should give him our coat as well.
- Jesus tells the rich young ruler to give all he has to the poor and follow Him.
- Jesus tells us that we must become like children (without rights or status) to receive the kingdom of God.
- Jesus tells us that we must be "born again" (without rights or status) to see the kingdom of God.
- Paul tells us that he was crucified with Christ (sacrificing his own life in the process).
- Jesus says if someone slaps you on the cheek, give him the other as well.
- Paul says that when he is weak, then he is strong.
- John the Baptist says of Christ, "He must increase, but I must decrease."
- Jesus taught that he who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.
- Paul discourages lawsuits saying "why not rather be wronged?"
- Jesus taught that there is no greater love than that one lay down his life for his friends. And then He did it.

I could go on for a very long time. These may be trite examples to you. But, taken together they form an incredible Message that leads you back again and again to the idea that

Love = Self Sacrifice

Jesus inextricably equated belief with obedience and change. So, if we don't practice The Messenger's Message, where does that leave us? And, that question brings us to "how?"

More to follow...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

P4E.226 Love = Self Sacrifice Part 3

I ended the last post with: "This is where the Christian church is missing the boat and the point. There is simply no teaching on how to practice self-sacrificial, Christlike, love on a day-by-day basis. What would that look like? How would I act if I were to be self-less in my attitude? How could I correct my spirit so that I had others' interest at heart ahead of my own? What words would begin to come out of my mouth as a result? Do I even want to know?"

My friend, David Taylor, added a couple more questions:

"Am I aware of how that is going to feel when I am sacrificial?" and
"Do I know what resistance to sacrifice will hit me, what rationalizations and justifications will thwart the voice of love?"

That last question of Dave's really strikes at the heart of the problem. Our sense of self-preservation is a strong force. We don't want to talk or hear about selflessness. We don't want to die! What would be the point in that? What would be the point of dying to myself? Isn't it true that nice guys finish last? How would it help my wife or my children if I let others run over me? Won't I just be seen as a wimp? A loser? Sometimes we forget that we have a true Enemy. Yes, you know the One I'm talking about. His name starts with "S." That's right. It's Self.

Not only is our our own sense of self-preservation strong, the Christian Church wittingly or unwittingly also rises to our defense! The Church has misguidedly fused the American ideal of rugged independence and Charlie Sheen's "winning" attitude creating a new brand of self-promoting Christianity to disastrous effect.

If you listen to mainstream Christian pundits, you'll hear that as Christian men, we're to be "purpose driven" and "wild at heart." If you listen to some pastors, we need to be "manly Christian men"; macho, self-reliant, self-confident, independent, and driven. Consciously, or unconsciously, men are encouraged from the pulpit to combine these character qualities with being a "Christian." It's madness and has resulted in sexism, hubris, misogyny, aimlessness and confusion in "Christian" men. Worse yet, it leaves the men of the Christian Church without a clue as to the very thing that Jesus said would distinguish them from the world.

More to follow...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

P4E.225 Love = Self Sacrifice Part 2

                                                      Photo by mmira on flickr

As a reminder, this blog is directed towards husbands who are Believers and earnestly pursuing Christlikeness. So, this topic of Love = Self-Sacrifice is directed towards them.

The topic of love is ancient and universal. So much of what we deep down believe is important has to do with love. Stories and novels and art and poetry and music and even some wars revolve around love. And yet, we men are so inept with "love," what it means to "fall in love," to "be in love," to "express love," to "love our wives as Christ loves the Church." I guess we know how to "make love," but, even then, we probably confuse "making love" with "having sex."

Love = Self Sacrifice is definitely upper level math that most of us can't fathom.

Sometimes it's frustrating to listen to pastors sermonize about love. Mainstream Christians have been told not to pay attention to their feelings. So, Heaven forbid that we approach love as a feeling! But, in this case, I do agree that love has to be defined as more than a feeling. Many times pastors will speak about love from the pulpit assuming that the people in the congregation are all on the same page when he uses the word "love."

It used to be that when I would hear about "self-sacrificial love" I would think in terms of throwing myself on a live grenade to save my wife. Of course I would do that. If push came to shove, if it were her or me, I would bite the bullet. So, if I tucked that idea, that I would take a bullet for my wife, away in the recesses of my mind, I could console myself that I did indeed have self-sacrificial love towards my wife. See how that works? The problem is that such extreme circumstances are very rare. What about the mundane, every-day expression of self-sacrificial love?

This is where the Christian church is missing the boat and the point. There is simply no teaching on how to practice self-sacrificial, Christlike, love on a day-by-day basis. What would that look like? How would I act if I were to be self-less in my attitude? How could I correct my spirit so that I had others' interest at heart ahead of my own? What words would begin to come out of my mouth as a result? Do I even want to know?

More to follow...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

P4E.224 Love = Self Sacrifice, Part 1

I'm going to presume to write about love as self-sacrifice. This is not a very popular subject. Not an easy sell. Right off the bat, if we approach this subject acknowledging that there is no perfect example of self-sacrificial love (except the obvious), that it is an ideal, a goal to shoot for, and that we will all fall short of the goal, then maybe we can talk about it. I am the least worthy to converse about self-sacrifice, because I have so little experience, but I feel compelled to write.

It seems ironic that I've always been a fan of Ayn Rand's books, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. She, who vaunted selfishness and atheism. Somehow, I was able to compartmentalize the rugged individualism that seemed to capture the American ideal away from the rest. But, one thing always stood out to me as unreal in Ayn Rand's books: her love interests. The story lines having to do with the amours of her leading characters always rang hollow. They rang hollow because she could never allow her characters to exhibit self-sacrificial love. It would contradict her ideal of selfishness. Rand had to go through such contortions to somehow portray her character's interest in each other without letting them sacrifice anything at all in each other's interest. I suppose in the end Rand had to allow her characters be satisfied with the sex.

Here's my premise: We often learn valuable lessons about a thing by understanding its opposite. Many people, when asked 'What is the opposite of love?' will respond, 'The opposite of love is hate.' I offer an alternate answer that the opposite of love is selfishness. One might also argue that the opposite of love is fear. But I believe, where love is concerned, that fear in one person is precipitated by selfishness in the other person. So, in the end I maintain my premise, that the opposite of love is selfishness. If the premise is true, then the equation Love = Self Sacrifice can define the first of the Galatians 5 fruit of the Spirit.

More to follow...