The Call to Controversy

Need something stimulating to think about?

You could hardly go wrong with Brian McLaren’s new book, “A New Kind of Christianity.”

This book is certainly continuing to stir up not only healthy dialogue about important topics of faith, but also controversy in the Christian arena. It seems that there is very little middle-ground of opinion in regards to this book. People tend to either love it or hate it. And like it or not, in Christian circles this book looks to be THE “most talked-about” read of the year.

So, why endorse something that is the source of such controversy? Well, for several reasons:

1) WE NEED TO BE AWARE OF THE DISCUSSION.

Lots of people will be talking about this book and the questions that it raises. And make no mistake, they are important questions, no matter what you think are the correct answers. These are the questions of 21st century Christianity; questions of both those inside and outside the mainstream church today. Whether you realize it or not, you will be a part of this discussion. In fact, your voice will help shape this discussion.

And let me suggest that you actually read what is being stated by this intriguing side of the discussion. I have and will continue to read many disparaging comments and blogs about Brian McLaren’s view from people who disagree with his answers, which by the way is just part of the healthy dialogue. But, what is not healthy is that many of the people on the opposite side of the debate have not actually read McLaren’s books.

“That Brian McLaren has really gone off the deep end. I think he’s dangerous.”
“Have you read his book?”
“No, but I’ve heard he said such and such.”

Brian McLaren

Maybe we ought to be a bit more informed as we enter this discussion. Whether it is McLaren or MacArthur, maybe we should actually LISTEN to what they have to say and the context in which they say it before we criticize them. In fact, while you may disagree with either person in many areas, you may find some common ground as well. Or perhaps even more importantly, you may disagree with the conclusions, but may find a respectful appreciation for the spirit of the person and their questions.

In a recent interview, McLaren makes a case for this in responding to the way people easily dismiss his questions as “liberal” without considering his possibly more complex stance:

“I wouldn’t want to overlook the many ways in which my proposals differ from traditional liberal theology. My attitudes and commitments regarding Jesus, the Holy Spirit, scripture, spiritual experience, institutionalism, personal commitment and conversion, evangelism and discipleship, and many other subjects make many of my liberal friends think of me as conservative. Sometimes I wonder if evangelicals simply use the word “liberal” as a way to say, “Let’s stop listening to this person. He’s too different from us, and so is not worth our time and attention.” I hope that’s not the case, but sometimes, this is what I feel like when evangelicals use “the L word.”

For me, liberal is not automatically a bad word. If liberal means free from tyranny, I’m for it. If liberal means generous, I’m for it. If liberal means believing that our best days are ahead of us, I’m for it. If liberal means welcoming honest questions and giving honest scholarship a fair hearing, I’m for it. If, on the other hand, liberal means without restraint, or careless about tradition, or dismissive of scripture, or institutional and lukewarm regarding commitment to Christ, and so on, then I wouldn’t want to be associated with that. And we could say parallel things about the word conservative.”

Huh, maybe he’s not as crazy as people say. But, that’s not important. You don’t have to agree with McLaren, but maybe we should give him a fair-hearing (or rather reading). It may be that he is not as “off-the-deep-end” as we think. Or even if he is, that he is at least still committed to the best of his mental and reasoning ability to Jesus, if only incorrect.

2) WE NEED TO BE THINKERS

What I like best about this book is that it forces us to wrestle with concepts we take for granted and THINK. Controversy can only exist where people are seriously grasping and thinking and reasoning. And in that way, a healthy dose of controversy is probably very good for the modern church.

I work with high school students on a regular basis, and by far my greatest goal in my time with them is not to give them all the answers. Do I want them to have good answers? Of course. But more importantly, I want them to learn HOW to question, HOW to find good answers. I want to help them learn HOW to THINK. Many more questions will come up in their lives long after I am gone, and I’d rather they learned how to critically think about those questions sure-to-come in the future rather than just have some spoon-fed responses from me about the ones they are asking right now.

Ironically, many high schoolers I know are better at wrestling with questions and learning to think than a lot of adults. And maybe that is a bigger problem in our churches today than we’d care to admit. We just don’t think for ourselves. We’ve accepted long-held answers (many of which might be correct, by the way) to many old questions (some of which people aren’t asking anymore) without ever thinking it through ourselves. We are lazy. Lazy theologically. Lazy mentally.

This has direct consequences for our witness to the world. Because while we are busy being content with answers to questions we’ve never genuinely asked ourselves, the rest of the world is actively and honestly seeking answers. The church is irrelevant because by and large we can’t speak authentically to these questions. We appear to be a second-hand, consignment store of truth because we are primarily selling the “hand-me-down responses” of generations before us rather than doing the hard work of wrestling with the deeper questions and making sense of them in this time and context for ourselves.

Consider just these few questions: How is the Bible unique and why should it apply to my life? What makes the Bible authoritative in my life? How do I know it is the “Word of God?” What does it mean that it was “inspired?” What in the Bible is culturally-conditioned for people at the time of it’s writing and what is a universal-truth that applies to me? How do I know the difference? Can I know the difference? Is there a difference?

While just the tip of the proverbial ice-berg, these questions alone go a long way in helping answer modern dilemmas such as human sexuality, the character of God, the purpose of Jesus, social justice, and other ethical considerations.

Some will agree with the conclusions of the author and others will not. But no matter what you think of McLaren’s answers, what is undisputable is that these questions need to be asked. Or rather, these questions are already being asked by many people (friends, family, co-workers) around us. McLaren is not by far the first person to ask these questions, but he is suggesting that rather than dismissing the people who ask them maybe we ought to spend some time struggling with them as well and as a community “led by the Spirit” recalibrating the answers to this time and in our current context.

As McLaren says:

“That’s why, in the end, I hope people will actually read the book with an open heart and mind. I’m not expecting that anyone will agree with everything — that’s not my point. But I am hoping that people will be stimulated to think, and maybe even to dream of better possibilities … so the Christianity of the future can continue to learn and grow and not simply repeat the past or be stuck in the present.”

Is it dangerous to read a book that challenges things that you believe and causes you to ask some rather unsettling questions about your core beliefs? Possibly. But far more dangerous for the church today is not reading these books and not asking these inquiries.

So go ahead and risk it. It’s okay to hang up the “under-construction: please come back later” sign on your theology for the weekend. Pick up the book and let it mess you up a little bit. Be okay to let the questions move you to a place of uncertainty for a while. Inhale the ambiguity and breathe deep the tension of inquisition.

It may be that once the smoke and fog has cleared you find yourself with some “real” answers. Or at the very least, a greater understanding & compassion for and a stronger, more respected voice into the life of seekers around you.

It could be the church will be healthier for the controversy.

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Love Connection – Passage 3/29/09

So, we wrapped up our series, “Love Connection” this last Sunday night.  And in one way, I’m kinda sad to see it go.  Even though it has taken a bit of work, it has been fun entering an on-going dialogue here through student’s text questions.
I have been very impressed by the intelligent and honest questions that have been texted in each night.  And more than a little humbled to be given opportunity to respond to some of your deepest questions about such an important issue.

love-connection-jpg1We have FIVE final questions from this last Sunday, and I will be responding to THREE of them in today’s post followed by the last TWO tomorrow.

But, even as we bring this conversation to a close, I pray that we would not leave this discussion to drift off into the wind.  My prayer is that this new generation would take to heart a more revolutionary way to do relationships.  I pray that the relationships and friendships and marriages of these high school students would be more whole and complete and fulfilling than those same relationships of their parents.

And so, may we care more about others than ourselves.  May we look only to God for ultimate fulfillment and never another human being.  May we live with compassion, honesty, integrity and purity in our relationships with each other.   And in that, may we find true love and healing.

Here are the questions from this weekend’s PASSAGE message.


Question #1:
At the beginning of your message all I got out of it was that it is okay to rebel against almost everything.  Is that what you were trying to say?

Wow . . . clearly I need to get my point across better.  LOL.  I was NOT trying to say that you should rebel against EVERYTHING.  What I was saying was that Christians tend to cave-in and go with the major cultural assumptions of the day as much as anyone.

So, when it comes to relationships, we (more often than not) believe the common cultural myths about “soul-mates” or that love is a feeling you fall into, or that sex is just a meaningless physical act like playing chess.  And on and on . . .

We don’t approach relationships and romantic love any different than the rest of the people in this culture because we don’t THINK anything different about it than they do.   We believe the same myths of love that everyone else does!

flower childMy point at the beginning of the message is that it we should pick up the “rebellious spirit” of the 1960’s “flower children” and as people who follow Christ be willing to be counter-cultural.  Instead of mindlessly buying into what our cultural tells us love is about, we should approach relationships with the radical “choice” and “sacrifice” oriented love of Jesus.

Interesting thing about this rebellion, though, is it isn’t about force but love.  We rebel against the world’s definition of love by loving people better; by putting them first.  We become the most rebellious by becoming the most loving.

Anyway, I encourage you to think through your past, present and future romantic relationships.  Do you find connection only skin deep?  Do you put the needs and dreams of your date above yourself?  Do you participate in healthy aspects of affection and abstain from damaging aspects in order to protect the other person?  Are you looking for happiness and fulfillment in another person or in God?”

How you answer these questions will reveal whether you are stuck in “The Matrix” of our culture’s assumptions of love, or whether you are choosing to participate in the revolution and restoration of relationships that Jesus came to empower.  I pray that you would choose the revolution.


Question #2:
Are you telling us to be gay?

Hahahaha….. (ROFL)

Honestly, I have no idea what this question is referencing.  I’m almost positive that I never said the word, “gay” or “homosexual” or anything referring to that orientation and/or behavior.

However, you texted it in and so I’m staying faithful to post your questions.  I wish I knew the context of what you are asking, and if you’d like to comment and clarify I would be happy to answer more appropriately.

But, just to answer the question as is, let me respond by saying . . . “No.”


Question #3:
If a lot of your friends are beginning to lose their virginity and you are almost the only left still a virgin, is it bad if you are feeling like you should do it too just so you can be on the same emotional level and know how they are feeling?

This is a really good question and probably more of an important one than most people are willing to admit.  I think that if we are being honest that a lot of our relationship decisions get made based on the coercive pull of “the norm” around us rather than what we believe is best for the relationship.

So, what do we do?  Well, let me at least respond with several thoughts.

First, it is not bad that you feel like you want to do it too in order to fit in.  When it comes right down to it, I doubt if hardly any of us like being the person “left out” or “not included.”  It is the feeling of loneliness; of missing out.  And it isn’t a fun feeling to have.

And, it isn’t wrong to feel that way.  It isn’t bad to feel like you want to be “included” in a community.  You were created by God to be included in a group of people.  You were, as we have said, made for authentic relationship.  And the feelings of being left out are real, they do hurt, and it is ok to feel that way.

However, even though you are entitled to those feelings, I don’t think it benefits you to go along with whatever it takes to make them go away.

chastity underwearSecondly, even though you feel like it, you aren’t the “only one” left out there that is still a virgin.  In fact, over the last few years, lots of studies have shown that the statistics of high school students waiting until later to have sex is going up.  One recent study showed that 40% of all high school students will graduate without even having had an intimate date!

So, you are not as much of a minority as you might think.  However, I know it feels like you are.  The reason is that very few people go around parading the fact that they are virgins (its usually more embarrassing due to cultural pressures), and so you don’t hear about the people that are waiting.  What you hear are the more vocal group that isn’t waiting and then you assume that everyone MUST be a part of this group.

In fact, though I don’t know your friends, I wouldn’t even be surprised to learn that some of them are maybe embellishing the truth a bit about their sex lives.  I know, crazy huh?  High school students lying about getting laid more than they really are!!  How could that be true?  ☺

But lastly, I think we find ourselves back at the question of “The Matrix”.  Do you go along blindly with what everyone else has been culturally conditioned to believe just so that you can fit in, even at the expense of your own personal happiness and the happiness of the person you end up having sex with?

That seems like a very steep price to pay for having another topic of conversation with your friends.

Perhaps, rather than “jumping off a cliff because your friends do it so you can have something to talk about on the way down,” you could find ways to love your friends better and in more sacrificial ways.  Maybe the way Jesus wants to redeem broken relationships in your friends’ lives is through you.  Maybe their greatest shot at having real romance and love is through your example in how you deal with the romances in your life with integrity and your loving compassion of them.

You see, I know you can’t relate to their sexual experience yet.  But they can’t relate now to yours (speaking of a lack of experience) either.  At any time, you can become like them.  But they can never become like you again.

the matrix (morpheus)And so, maybe your perspective helps them see relationships differently.  Maybe you can be like Morpheus in “The Matrix” and help them see what they couldn’t about love because all they knew was what they were culturally programmed to see.

And regardless of what your friends choose to do, you have a lifetime of love with someone you will be much closer to for much longer to protect.  Feeling out-of-place is difficult.  I totally sympathize with you.  But trust me.  In this case, it is totally worth it.

That pain won’t last forever.  You’ll get married and know what they are talking about eventually.  Or they’ll accept you as you are.  Or you’ll get new friends.  But either way, think long-term.  Short term happiness is a bad trade for long-term trouble.

Love Connection – Passage 3/22/09

love-connection-jpgWell, here we are in our last couple weeks of this series, “Love Connection” and I think it has been kind of fun.  Hopefully you have too.   I know we still have much to learn about our relationships with each other, and yet I think we’ve learned a bit along the way.  Hopefully this conversation will remain as a record of our time here.

Here are the questions from this weekend’s PASSAGE message.


Question #1:
Do you think dating in high school is necessary?

I’m actually kind of surprised that this question hasn’t come up previously.   It seems like there are a lot of opinions out there on this one.   Some people think dating is the best way to find a mate, and others think that dating is a cultural assumption that should be challenged.  One writer even wrote a book called, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” where he encouraged people to swear off dating all together.

And beyond the opinions, there are many different guidelines that parents set out for their students; each family has its own rules.  *DISCLAIMER:  you should do whatever your parents say!!!!

high school datingSo what does the bible teach us about dating?  Very little.  In fact, the Bible doesn’t really prescribe any particular way that people should date, court or be “arranged” for marriage.

That alone is interesting isn’t it?  You’d think that as much as we talk about it that it would have some pretty big “air-time” in the BIG BOOK.   But, sometimes a lack of discussion of a topic in the Bible might indicate something important.  Perhaps there isn’t a mention of a particular method of “love-finding” because there isn’t a “RIGHT” and “WRONG” way to do it, from God’s perspective.

I mean, if God has created us to be able to choose WHO we will love (rather than pre-determining who we will love) then maybe he has given us the choice as to HOW we choose this person as well.

So should you date in high school?  Maybe.  Should your parents arrange a marriage for you?  Maybe.  Should you go on only group-dates and build friendships that will lead to a love commitment?  Maybe.

Do you see what I’m saying?  Maybe the question is not whether or not we should date people exclusively, but what kind of “daters” or “non-daters” we will be…

Three weeks ago, after the last message I answered a question that got into this subject.  It might be worth a read or a re-read if you want some more on “the kind of daters” we should be.

You’ll find the discussion in “Question #1” at this link:

https://nickloyd.com/2009/02/26/love-connection-passage-22209-part-two/

Hope that’s helpful…

Question #2:
What is your opinion on long-distance relationships?

They are difficult.

Hahahaha…  Well, they are, aren’t they?

long_distance_love_cThis is a good question because many people start dating-from-afar.   Sometimes the physical distance between people is over many states or countries.  But, in another way, physical distance can be almost as far if you live in the same county but go to different schools and rarely see each other.

Look, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with a long-distance relationship.   They are different.  And they are difficult.  But all relationships are difficult.  Whether you are talking about long-distance or close-encounter relationships (hahaha, sounds like some weird alien love, LOL), there are both positives and negatives.

Let’s look at the positives.  In some ways long-distance relationships may have potential for greater health.   One benefit of distance is that it often forces people to learn about each other on a deeper level than just physical.  Obviously if you live far apart physical contact will be limited.  Because of this, phone conversations and text messages and facebook chats become the primary method of affection.  But this affection-from-a-distance is healthy in that you are LEARNING deep interests, motives, beliefs and personality traits of the other person.

Also, a little distance test is good for any relationship.  People in relationships formed in close physical proximity have a tendency to quickly become dependent on each other.  You know the feeling:  “I can’t live without seeing him today!”   And yet, we have already learned that we were never meant to find our fulfillment in other human being; only in God.   Being apart physically may help keep that distinction more obvious.

datingcartoon15However, while there are some benefits (in theory) there are also some drawbacks.  People living away from each other don’t have the opportunity to experience the other person in “real life.”   There is only so much you can learn from phone calls and late-night text messages.  Who a person is on the phone and who they are in everyday life with their family and friends may be very different.

Also, the time and focal commitment involved in “long-distance” relationships often comes at the expense of a person’s other relationships that are more local.  When a person’s mind is off with his girlfriend in “Arizona” it is then difficult to invest in relationships (friends, family, etc.) or responsibilities right here in Everett.  To some degree this is true of all relationships, but more so with long-distance ones, I think.

Anyway, I think there are probably more positives and negatives that could be said here, but hopefully you get my point.  Long-distance relationships may be either good or bad, but that probably has more to do with the convictions of the two people involved than the land (or sea) that is between them.

Thanks for the great question!

Love Connection – Passage 2/22/09 – Part Two

Ok, I apologize for getting these last two questions out a little late this week.  It has been a crazy week.  But, without any more excuses, here are they are!


Question #3
Why does it seem that just when you get a boyfriend, you immediately start liking someone else?

Well, I have to say that this question made me chuckle a little bit as I read it the first few times.   Not that it is a bad question; it’s just that I think I’ve experienced the feeling you are describing.   Ahhh, love can be maddening, right?   You get involved with someone on an exclusive level, and then almost immediately you begin to notice someone else that interests you.

flirt_fullOk.  Let’s see what we can make of this.  It is a legitimate question; especially for someone at your phase of life.  So, let me just say a few things.

Part of the reason this happens is because you are at a place in your life where you are starting to explore potential mates.  Which is a fun place to be!

Because of all of the options available to you, there will be curiosity and interest in a lot of different directions.  And in that way, the feeling may not be so bad.  You do want to learn about people and personalities and which of those you like being around and could live with for the long-haul.   Meeting and exploring interest in more than one person is probably healthy.

Now, I’m not one that thinks “exclusive dating” at your age is totally wrong.   I know some people think that young people should never date exclusively.  Personally, I’m not sure saying that is necessary.  However, I think these people do have a strong point in at least this area:  You should be very careful about exclusively dating one person while young.  And the reason is because of the feeling you are expressing in your question.

You aren’t ready to get married and be committed to one person, most likely.  You are just looking at options.  Choosing then to commit yourself to one person could be potentially harmful to them and you.  You aren’t promising to be with this person forever.  And they aren’t promising that to you.  Even if you say those very words, there isn’t really anything like a marriage certificate to back it up.

Young people tend to get hurt in relationships because they treat them like they are going to last forever, when in fact, both parties are still looking at all the options.

Maybe a good idea is to avoid the kind of difficulty that is suggested in your question and choose not to “exclusively date” every guy that you develop feelings for and interest in.   I know the normal pattern is:  “See guy.  Fall for guy.  Guy and girl start dating.  Guy and girl break-up.  Look for new guy.  See guy.  Fall for guy, etc.   The cycle continues until it finally sticks.

But, a lot of young people get hurt unnecessarily in the process—like for instance, the young man that you may be dating now that I know you have no desire to hurt.  You don’t want to hurt him.  But, you are still young and exploring options.
So, maybe you could find other ways to get to know guys better (through group events, deeper friendships, etc.) without creating that type of one-on-one exclusive relationship.

2004_chevrolet_astroAs an example:  when I go to buy a new vehicle, I like to drive around to many different dealership lots and see what is out there.  And before I get too serious about any of them specifically I want to go on a “test-drive”.  Now, when I tell the salesman that I’d like to drive it and see how it handles, I don’t also promise to be faithful to that car and only that car.  I don’t promise to love it and care only for it.  I just tell him I wanna try it out.  If it drives well, than maybe we can pursue it further.

2009_corolla_s3_02Now, I know people aren’t like cars.  But, that actually strengthens my point.  The boring biege Chevy Astro van isn’t going to be disappointed that in the end I choose the bright blue Toyota over it.   (Btw, I would never drive an astro-van).  But, people do get hurt.  And we need to be careful about the commitments we make to people, especially at a young age when we aren’t ready to deliver on those large commitments anyway.

Does this mean that you can’t ever “date” one guy?  No, of course not.  But, I would encourage you to be careful in making that your standard pattern at this age.  There will be time for commitment.  A huge, life-long, for better or for worse commitment.

But for now, maybe just admit that you aren’t quite ready for that and choose to have different kinds of relationships with guys.  Pursue friendships and explore romance in a group-date format and make dating “exclusively” an exception rather than the standard pattern.


Question #4
Is it possible for someone to grow-up with a brother/sister, but not really love them?

hillbilly-toothpasteThis question, like one we had a few weeks ago, isn’t about romantic love (well, at least I hope it isn’t!  Maybe in Arkansas it is! ☺   But, as Austin said on Sunday night, one type of love found in the Bible is between family members.  So, I would like to respond to this one anyway.

I think love for family shares at least one reference point with romantic love.  It is still a choice.  You must choose to love your family (in an agape, selfless understanding of love) as much as you must choose to love your future spouse.  The nature of love is that it is always based on choice.  If there is no choice, than it isn’t love;  it is only a reflex.

Are there moments when you “feel” loving towards family?  Sure.  Are there times when your “feelings” towards your family are anything but loving?  Yep.  But, true love as defined by the Bible isn’t about “feelings” but about actions rooted in choice.  You can choose to put your brother/sister above yourself (LOVE) whether or not you currently even like them.

I don’t know who sent this question and so I don’t know what the exact problem is that your question is addressing.  But, if you are struggling with “loving” a sibling, maybe one that has not been kind to you or loving to you, please remember this:  Love is not based on another person’s performance or behavior.  Love is YOUR CHOICE.

John put it this way:  “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  – 1 John 4:10 (TNIV)

Love was GOD’S CHOICE.  Before we chose to love God; maybe even when we had chosen not to; God CHOSE to love us.  It wasn’t based on whether we showed love back.  It was based on God’s choice to ACT with love.

Love is sacrificial.  Love isn’t always returned.  But, those of us who follow Jesus have decided that love is the only option to bring healing to our world.  We believe that the love of Jesus is the only hope for humanity.  And we choose to live our lives in the pattern of God and bring love to every person on the planet; even family members who don’t at times deserve it.

So, may your life be marked with LOVE.  And may your family experience greater love because of your decision to love them before they love you.  And may you in this greatest of ways show yourself to be a true child of your Father, God.

Love Connection – Passage 2/22/09 – Part One

love-connection-jpgI love ranch-flavored sunflower seeds.

Seriously.  I love those things.  I could eat them all day long.  Get me a diet coke and a bag or two of seeds and I’m content for the afternoon.

But I also love cookie crisp cereal, eggo waffles, ESPN, my daughter, University of Oregon sports and, of course, my iPhone.   I love my wife, music, God, video games, good friends, and coffee.

Love.  I say that I love many things.  But, what does “love” mean?  Obviously I don’t love my wife like I love my iPhone, right?   Well, those might be close.  Bad example.  But, it can’t be healthy.

I think you get what I’m saying.  Love for food, for family, for possessions, and for God all employ the same word but mean different things.   And if love can be used for so many things, than what does it really mean?

It’s almost as if since love has come to mean so many things that it doesn’t really mean anything.  Could that be part of our problem with relationships?  Maybe we aren’t really sure what love means anymore.

And so we love our wives like we love our video games.  We love our God like we love our sports.  And maybe that doesn’t hurt our love of video games and sports, but what if it is too shallow to create good relationships with people and God.   What if loving people like we love food is fine for the food but not caloric enough for people?

Well, we are on week three of this series, “Love Connection,” and this last week Austin talked about what love really means.   And here are the questions that came from that discussion.  Again, I’ll respond to two of them today and two more tomorrow.

Please join us.  Read the questions.  Follow the response.   And feel free to join in the dialogue.


Question #1
“What is the difference between loving someone and “being in love”?

This is a great question, because I think it gets to the heart of what we talked about on Sunday night.

3g-iphone-1The problem with both of these terms is they need defined.  When someone says, “love” what do you think of?  Love of what?  Sunflower seeds?  iPhone?   And if love is hard to define, than what about the phrase, “being in love.”  That one seems to have taken on a whole lot of fuzziness.  No one is quite sure what it means.  In fact, most people might tell you that it can’t really be defined at all.  It isn’t something you can describe; you can only feel it.

So, let’s start there because that might be a good clue.   Chances are if you can’t define it and can only “feel” it, then it isn’t real love.  At least not how I think God defines it.  Now because we can love tv-shows and birthday cake in our culture, you can call it whatever you want.  But, I don’t think the feeling of “being in love” is necessarily God-like love.

What I think most people mean when they say “being in love” are the overwhelming feelings of attraction that take over our minds.   You know, those initial feelings we experience when we meet someone we are attracted to.

And those are, in fact, hard to define.  But, we all know the things we feel in those moments of “being in love.”  All you want to do is spend every moment together.  You blow-off sleep to text late into the night.  A song plays on your iPod and you think of your future together.  You write notes and letters full of words of undying love.  All of a sudden you are a poet!  You lie awake day-dreaming of your wedding day.  Etc…

Now, none of these things is bad.  In fact, they are a huge part in bringing people together in relationships.  However, these feelings, as great as they are, aren’t love.

Love is something else entirely.  Now, we’ve covered this many times at this point, but love is not simply a feeling that overwhelms you, but a choice that is proven with actions.

Austin mentioned this last Sunday night, and I think he was right on.  He said we find a definition of sorts for love in the Bible.  1 John 4:10:  “Now this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and gave himself up for us as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

il_430xn17617026In essence, John says, “You wanna know what love is?  Well, this is love.  This is it right here.  You know love because God, who is love, loved you.  He defined love for you.  But his definition can’t be found in a dictionary.  Love isn’t made of words and feelings, but of actions.  Love is a verb.  And he demonstrated this action of love by not claiming his own rights and choosing to come and give up his own life for you, though you didn’t deserve it.  In fact, before you even chose to love him.”

Real love is choosing to care about another person more than yourself.  Real love is self-sacrificial.  It chooses to love the other person even when the feelings of “being in love” are gone for a while.  Real love is a commitment of the will to give whatever is necessary, to sacrifice everything for another.

For, example:  real love doesn’t pressure other people to do what you want to do.  Real love asks what the other person needs not what they want.  Real love is honest and authentic and doesn’t need to pretend to be something or someone else.  Real love is willing to give up what would be fun for what would be most helpful or beneficial for the other person.   Real love is sacrifice.

Now, the feelings of “being in love” may be what help us enter into relationships.  The chemistry that we feel in these moments is good, exhilarating and a huge blessing.   But, I don’t think we were ever meant to then define them as love.   Love moves beyond these feelings to a conscious choice to give your whole life to this person regardless of how long those feelings last.

This idea of love, then, obviously moves beyond just romantic relationships.   Should you love your family, your friends and even God with this type of love?  Yeah, I think so.  But, certainly any serious romantic relationship should be built on it.

Which moves us to the next question…


Question #2
How do you know when you truly love someone?

Well, this is a great question, but I’m a little hesitant to respond with too much because we will be going into this one a lot deeper this next week.

However, at least one thing can be said:  because love is a choice, it isn’t as difficult to know when you really love someone as you might imagine.

waterslide0_000Think of it this way.   How do you know when you are really going down a water-slide at Wildwaves?  Well, I don’t know about you, but I know I’m going down the slide when I choose to do it and push off and head on down.   In other words, I know my decision pretty quick.  Either I’m yelling and screaming down a winding tube full of raging water or I’m not.  (I just wonder how many kids have peed in the pool at the bottom!).

Love is similar.   When you choose to start caring about someone more than yourself, than you have engaged in love.

Now, I know that is a little bit simplistic, and we’ll go into greater detail this next week.  (Look at you and your question being ahead of the curve!)  But, I think a lot of the difficulty we have with knowing whether or not we are “really in love” is based on our faulty assumption at the beginning that love is this magical “feeling” that we “fall” into rather than a “choice” that we make.

superman lunch boxI mean, we make choices all day long and don’t question it.  I don’t start eating my subway sandwich and think, “How do I know that I’m really eating lunch?”  (Some philosphers might, Rene Descartes wanted to know how to know he really existed!)  I know I’m eating lunch because I’ve decided it is noon and I’m hungry and that I’m going to eat now (which actually sounds like a good idea, cause all this food talk is making me hungry).

Do you get what I’m saying?  I know there is a bit more to it than just this.  Knowing when we have gone from just the fun feelings of “being in love” to real self-sacrificial God-like love may require the tests of time, security, knowledge, focus and a whole bunch of other stuff that we will get into this next week.

But, if love is really a choice, then at some point I can be sure that I have in fact made this choice.   Now, I could choose at some other point to go back on this choice and make a new choice.  But, that wouldn’t be very loving, would it?  ☺

Hope this partially answers your questions, and hang-in there, hopefully next week will be more helpful.

Love Connection – Part 2

Question #3:

My dad said that there’s no such thing as an “us” until you’re married in Christ. There’s just you and me. (What do you think of this?)

This seems to be a good question, if I understand it correctly.  I think your are asking about whether a “real relationship” exists before the actual marriage vows happen, or something to that effect.  From your statement, I am assuming that your Dad’s position is that two people don’t have a legitimate “union” until marriage occurs.

This question is fun because it really leads us down a road of discussion about “common law marriage” and whether two people meet the description of being “one flesh” without ever actually getting married.  Sort of the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie conversation (they are dating forever, but not getting married).

jenny mccarthy & Jim CarreyI was watching the “Today Show” on TV a few weeks ago and I saw an interview with Jenny McCarthy (previously from MTV).  She was talking about her relationship with Jim Carrey (they have been a couple for years now, but are opposed to marriage).  Here is what she said about the suggestion that they get married eventually: “We’re living together… and we’re very happy – all that’s going to be is a piece of paper, really.”

And they aren’t alone.  In fact there are several famous couples that have decided against “tying the knot.”  Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt;  Charlize Theron & Stuart Townsend;  Susan Sarandon & Tim Robbins;  and Kurt Russell & Goldie Hawn, just to name a few.

Now the book of Genesis describes an incredible spiritual and physical mystery that happens when two people come together.  It describes the need for humans to have companionship and then because of that needs says this:  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24-25 (TNIV)

Crazy!  Something very amazing happens in this coming-together.  Two people somehow become one!

So, are Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey “one flesh” even though they aren’t married?   That is a good question!   And in this case, I think the answer is “YES.”

marriageNow, let’s think this through a bit.  As I responded in “Question 2” of the last post, there is no thought of “pre-marital” sex in the Bible.  In the Jewish culture, sex was either an act done in the relationship of an existing marriage, or was the basic form of solidifying a new one.   So, if you weren’t married and happened to have sex with a beautiful girl you met at the grocery store, guess what?  Now you are married!  Sex, in the Bible, has very large social and spiritual responsibilities as well as individual ones.

In the case of McCarthy-Carrey, I’m assuming this “union” has occurred, and the mystery the Bible talks about has happened too.  Thus, they are “one flesh.”

So too, as a high school student, depending on the depth and level you take a relationship, you also will experience deeper spiritual connection than maybe you intend.  That’s why the subject is so serious from a faith perspective.  Not just because you might get pregnant or catch an STI (sexually transmitted infection) or because God arbitrarily thinks sex is bad and dirty.  It is most serious because there is a special “joining” going on that goes beyond the physical.

Now, the danger here for the McCarthy-Carrey scenario is that this union has happened outside of a commitment to life-long security and love.  They have inter-woven their lives in very deep ways, but not made the commitment to each other long term.  They have left a “back-door” open in their relationship that either of them is free to leave through if they get frustrated, tired or just want to try something new.

In this way, your dad might be correct.  It is very difficult to experience true “oneness” with someone (free to be yourself, free from worry of abandonment, etc.) if you know that at any time the other person can just walk away.  It is the great lie of this generation as it comes to relationships.  It seems to make you safe from hurt in a relationship, but actually is much more dangerous.  I think we see the devastation of this thinking all around us today.

Ok.  I hope that answers part of your question at least.  I could write a bunch more, but we’ll be talking about this in greater detail in a later message.  Good question, though!

P.S.  After writing this response, I want to make sure I give Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey a fair shake.  I obviously don’t know them personally, and for all I know they may have made these commitments to each other in a non-traditional way.  People may not need to approach marriage through the current social norms of the union to be valid in God’s eyes  (i.e. with flowers, sermon, rings, kiss, bouqet, etc.).

Question #4

So my relationship with my parents is broken and I don’t know what to do but they always yell and it’s ruining my life and making me sad and depressed and it’s effecting every part of my life and making it suck and I don’t know what to say or do to make it better. They are never pleased with me.

This question is a little off the topic of “romantic relationships,” but does deal with another type of relationship and so I’d like to respond to it anyway.

Maybe the most difficult relationships to navigate besides those of the romantic nature are those between parents and students.  If grace is needed in romance, then it is REQUIRED in family dynamics.

Now, I don’t know who wrote this question or your specific situation here, which makes a great deal of difference.  But, based on what you are writing, I can say at least a few things.

will smith1)  Parents are some times wrong.  I have a feeling probably even your parents would agree with this.  Many times they may have something that they feel is very important for you to know, do, learn, or be a part of, but they make mistakes in how they push you towards it.  Their motivation is good, but their execution is less than perfect.

2)  Parents are some times right.  I think you would probably agree that occasionally (☺) your parents get some things right, even if you don’t want to do what they say.

Grace is required either way.  That means “giving people what they don’t deserve and not giving people what they do deserve.”  That is how relationships work.  My guess is that neither your parents nor you are totally at fault.  Both parties have probably been guilty of saying or doing things that weren’t beneficial to the relationship.

This probably bleeds through into other areas of both your lives.  I’m sure the discomfort you are feeling is totally real.  And I would encourage you to share those feelings with your parents.  Tell them, calmly, about the things in your relationship that are causing you stress and depression.  And make the commitment to “give them some grace.”

There will be things that, as parents, they deem important to you and require you to do them.  That’s ok.  You may not totally enjoy it, but it is their right as your parent.  However, there will be times when they approach you in wrong ways too.  Maybe a conversation between all of you, begun with your commitment to follow their lead and give them grace when necessary, will give them the opportunity to express their apology for the times they have failed…and bring healing.

If this isn’t completely satisfying as an answer, I understand.  It is kind of generic.  And I’d love to have a more personal conversation with you later as it relates to the specifics of your situation.  Please feel free to grab me any time and we can have a better conversation.

Thanks for your openness and vulnerability in your question.

Love Connection

love-connection-jpgSo, today I am starting a bit of brief new direction in some of my blog entries.  Our high school group is currently involved in a series called, “Love Connection” where we are looking at the amazing beauty of the romantic relationships God has created us to need and enjoy.

During each week’s message, students are encouraged to bring their cellphones and text me questions that they have about relationships, dating, love and the human need for companionship.  And each week, on Monday, I will be posting their questions and answering them to the best of my ability.

Now, you may be asking yourself at this point, “Is Nick really an expert on relationships?”  The answer to that question is probably, “No.”  But, I have had many relationships.  Some good.  Some bad.  And over time, I have learned that there are things in those relationship that I regret and cherish, that I would do again and that I would never do again, and that at times have harmed me or in some cases enhanced my capacity for real and greater love.

And while I am a product of these experiences, without a doubt my most beneficial experience has been my current one.  I am currently in a life-long endeavor of a relationship that is, in my eyes, beautiful and good.  It is a melding of two people that isn’t perfect, but does feel complete.  It represents to me all that can be good in relationships; all that God has designed for relationships to be.  It is my love-story that is unfolding in the pages of my daily life with an extraordinary woman.

But, probably the biggest motivation behind the presumption that I could even begin to answer another person’s most intimate wondering about love and relationship comes not from any romantic experience I have ever had.  In fact, it isn’t any sort of knowledge that comes from me.  It isn’t in knowing all about “love” itself, but in knowing the One who created us with the capacity to love.  It comes from knowing the One that even defines himself with the idea of love:  “God is love.”  – 1 John 4:16

And so, carefully, humbly, and yes presumptiously, I attempt to answer these wonderful and profound questions of the deepest longing.  They are high school students, but their questions are the questions of more than just individuals.  They are the questions of a generation.  They are the questions of humanity.

And so, God, can you meet us here…  Can you help us to have better relationships.  May the deep cries and questions of our hearts find ultimate rest not in any answer here, but with you.

Let’s begin . . . we have four questions this week.  Each requires a long answer, so I’ll be answering two of them today and the other two tomorrow.

The First Night (2/08/09)

Question #1:

“If a couple loves each other so much, then why would someone like or
try to destroy the couple’s relationship?

I think this is a great question, because as we look around we see many relationships that are fractured, in part, because of intereference from other people.  And it makes you wonder, why would anyone want to destroy something so beautiful?

I’m experiencing this in my own life right now.  Tania and I have some close friends that are looking at separation and possible divorce.  The big problem is that one of them has been having an affair with another person.  And while much of the blame rests with the partner that choose to engage in this deception, it makes you wonder why another person on the outside of this marriage would want anything to do with breaking up a good family of a husband, wife and three little kids.   Certainly it is complex, with no easy answers, but here are a least a few ideas.

jealousyI think some people who are not involved in meaningful relationships are jealous of those that are.  And although that jealousy might be very malicious, it doesn’t have to be.   I think that some people look at the relationship of others and think, “I want what they’ve got.”   They may not want to hurt anybody.  They may simply just want to experience the goodness of that relationship.  And maybe part of the thought process is that if they can somehow hijack that relationship that they will get to experience the same things.  Sadly, I think it doesn’t usually work out this way.  Relationships that start with deception in their beginning have built that deception into their DNA and trust and genuine love will have large hurdles to overcome.

A second reason might be that this type of person has already experienced some sort of destruction in their own relationship at some time.  Maybe someone interfered in a relationship that meant a great deal to them.  And maybe not even consciously, they have become so jaded about relationships that they no longer think they are really destroying anything meaningful anyway.  It is as if relationships are no longer sacred to them.  They survived their heart-break.  And they learned that relationships NEVER WORK.  So they see the relationship that they are now interfering with as doomed to failure even if they had never gotten involved.   This is the pessimism of love.  It tears down not trying to hurt people, but out of the reaction of having already been hurt.

And also, sometimes, I think people just like hurting other people.  I understand this one least.  But, I think it is probably the more rare anyway.  Most of the time, I think there are deep, underlying reasons that people act the way they do, even if they aren’t aware of them.

Question #2

Do you believe that God created one person for everyone? Do you believe that God gives us an opportunity at some point in our lives for true love and true happiness? Do you believe that you can find your soul mate at 15 years old? Because I do.

Wow, so there are several questions here with a lot to them.  I’m not sure I’ve got enough space on the internet to answer it all thoroughly, but they are GREAT QUESTIONS!   Here is my basic answer, though…

wedding crashers (owen wilson)In one of my favorite movies, “Wedding Crashers,” Owen Wilson’s character gives this definition of love;  “Love is the soul’s recognition of it’s counter-part in another.”  He is describing this idea of “soulmate”.  And while I love that movie, I disagree with it’s definition of love.

Personally, I don’t think the idea of a “soul-mate” is a Biblical one.  I don’t read anything in my Bible that expresses this idea of your soul having a counter-part out in the world somewhere waiting for you to find it.  It is a very romantic and compelling idea, however, and Hollywood has used this idea to create some great movies over the years.

I think it works more like this:  You are an unique creation of God, given personality traits and preferences and passions, etc. that are a special combination only you have.   Given who you are, there are many people that you won’t ever really get-along-with and will have no romantic connection with.  These people aren’t bad, they just don’t fit your specific combo set very well.  However, there are probably quite a few people that you would find connection with in humanity.  These people have combo sets that match with you close enough that you could find connection, romance and even completeness (your gifts and personality filling in the holes in their own and vice-a-versa).

However, you will be limited to all these potential choices by several things.  1) Time:  you live in a certain time period in human history, so only those people that are alive now will qualify.  Wheeewww….  no marrying dead people for you!  2)  Proximity:  meaning, there may be all sorts of people in this world that you could marry and live a very happy and fulfilled life with, but many of them you will never meet because you don’t live near them.

What this means is that of all the people that you could possibly be a good match with, there are only a certain amount that you will meet.  And, somewhere in this group, you will potentially meet someone that you will have enough similarities, attractions, and even compliments to, that you will CHOOSE to love them.

Now, something should be said here about the nature of love.  Love, according to the Bible, is not a magical feeling that overcomes us and makes us act funny.  That is the job of chemicals firing in our brain.  That is similar to what animals feel while “in heat.”   Which is ok and certainly helps bring people together.  But real “Love” according to God’s thinking seems to be a CHOICE.

hosea_prophetIn the book of Hosea, God tells his prophet, Hosea, to go and marry a prostitute.  And so, strangely, he does.  But, as you could imagine, the relationship doesn’t go so well.  She is unfaithful; she cheats on him, and eventually leaves him.   And so God then tells Hosea, “Go, show love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress.”  And God’s reason for doing this?  “Love her as the Lord loves his people.” – Hosea 3:1 (TNIV)

How does God love?  He chooses to.  How does God tell Hosea to love his wife?  By choice.  For God, love is not a feeling or emotion, but a conscious choice.  This is the only type of love expressed in the Bible.  There is no mention of “soul-mates” in the way that Hollywood chooses to explain the term.  For Hollywood, love is not so much a choice but a magical recognition of a person you were destined to marry or spend your life with.  For several reasons, I believe this is a myth that we have bought into that has actually hurt our relationships and we will be talking more about that next week.

There might be another sense of “soulmate” that the Bible does refer to though.  The Bible does discuss a romantic spiritual connection between people.  In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul gives his commentary on God’s design of marriage in Genesis.   Genesis tells us that when man and woman come together sexually (which, by the way, signified marriage in Jewish culture.  There is no “pre-marital sex” in the Bible.  It isn’t even addressed.  All sex is considered to be in marriage or the declaration of marriage) that they are “one flesh.”  Paul says this means there is more than something physical going on in that act; that there is something spiritual going on here as well.   That just as we are joined to Jesus in spirit, so we become joined to each other in this romantic expression.  (1 Corinthians 6:15-20)

In this way, through marriage, you many have a “soulmate.”  But this is a much different understanding than Hollywood.  For Hollywood, you search for the soulmate (the one unique person alive that fits you perfectly) and then marry them.  For God, no one person can fulfill you completely (only He can) and so you find someone you CHOOSE to love and in the consummation and relationship of marriage you become spiritually entwined.

With all this said, I suppose you could meet someone at age 15 that you CHOOSE to love for the duration of your life.  It certainly happens.  I have good friends that are married and love each other deeply and were high school sweethearts.   However, I think it is rare.  Most people haven’t experienced enough relationships by age 15 to decide what type of person to ultimately choose to “love”.

Hope this helps.  🙂