Digging Deep: Week 1: The Love of God

This week at The Mixx, we discussed the love of God and how that affects how we view the Bible. Essentially, the strength of our relationship with someone always has a direct bearing on our communication with that person. Those you are close with are those you want to hear from, right? So, it’s only natural that by cultivating our love relationship with God, we will see a change in the way we view, read, and apply the Word of God to our daily lives. Now, understand that the Bible is also a very important part of strengthening that relationship. The truth is, the Bible plays a big part in making your friendship with God even stronger. So, allow Him to speak to you through His Word and allow your love for Him to be impacted by what you read.

What are your thoughts about how your view of God affects your view of the Bible?
Do you agree or disagree? Why?
How have you found that to be true or untrue in your life?
Tell us about it by clicking the “Comment” button below.

Our Emotional God

When people find out that I’m a youth pastor, I often get a response that goes something like, “Oh, wow…good for you…I could never do that.” Or maybe, “I don’t know how you could deal with teenagers all day. I’d go crazy.” Or even, “I feel so bad for you…here’s a large check.”

Okay, that last one hasn’t happened yet.

The reason that people have a hard time fathoming what would drive an otherwise apparently “normal” person to dedicate his/her life to ministry with teens is, I think, pretty simple. But before I share that, I want to share something else and make what I think is a crystal-clear connection.

This past Saturday was February 14th, Valentine’s Day. Here’s the thing: I’m not huge on Valentine’s Day. I consider it to be a holiday mostly invented by Hallmark to boost sales. I don’t see the real value in it except perhaps it got people out of their fallout shelters this year and shopping again. I’ve never really connected Valentine’s Day to real romance; just the sappy, shallow kind of sentimentality that disguises itself as genuine. If you love Valentine’s Day and I’ve just offended you, well….sorry. (And I apologize to the newly-engaged couple right behind us in the line at Olive Garden the day after Valentine’s Day–the ones passing around her ring-finger, newly adorned with the engagement ring–put on the night before.)

Having said all that, on THIS Valentine’s Day I was sitting in the middle of a bustling food court (now THAT’S romance) across the table from my bride. Our 4 kids were at the next table over enjoying their food. Even though this was Valentine’s Day, I hadn’t bought my wife anything. We had decided together that we weren’t going to do that. We were in Maryland with our kids to visit the National Aquarium on Sunday and we were staying in a hotel for 2 nights this weekend as a family, and that trip would be eating up any funds that perhaps would have otherwise gone to the 20 karat diamond I was planning on getting her. Besides, I had written her a poem and took her out to dinner a couple weeks ago on a day that WASN’T frought with frilly cardboard hearts and obligatory rose-giving. I did it because I love to tell my wife how I feel about her.

So, there we sat in the noise of the food court when out from under the table she pulls an envelope. Immediately I thought (and I think I said), “Hey, that’s against the rules!” Boy, do I know how to steam up a moment, or what? I took the card, opened it, and I kid you not–drank in every single word of it. Not only the printed words, but even moreso that written note that she wrote just for me; words about how she feels about the kind of man, husband, friend, and father I am. Words that came from her heart. Words that I know were sincere, genuine, and filled with love. And I fought back tears as I read this card because we were in a food court, after all. I just love her. I love her so much I can’t explain it.

Now, back to being a youth pastor and the reason people have such a hard time seeing themselves in ministry to teens. People seem to forget the emotional side of God. Let me connect the dots for you. Teens are emotional beings. Some would argue that they are driven solely by emotions. Fair enough. They let their emotions decide their decisions. Their insides are raw, and so the choices they make are just as raw and often confounding to adults.

People have bought and consequently perpetuate the myths of the teen world.
Statements like teens are lazy, teens are disrespectful, teens are distant, teens are self-centered, teens are only interested in doing what their friends are doing. Things like this only serve to drive a wedge further and further between the typical teen and the typical adult. What most adults fail to recognize is the incredible drive of emotions that teens have. The years have not yet tempered these emotions, and neither has experience yet allowed them the luxury of mature perspective.

And oddly enough, I suppose this is one reason why I am drawn to ministry to teens. I believe that God created us as emotional beings. Consider the gammut of emotions that God has displayed throughout Scripture. He has been concerned, saddened, angered, overjoyed, and jealous to name just a few. Consider that God is even recorded has having “relented” and changed course due to the emotional pleas of His people. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is no stoic; He is passionate with emotions and has wired humans with the same ability to feel and even draw conclusions based on those feelings. Consider that we have been “made in the image of God.” Many might liken this to His form, His personality, and His character. But we must also see that God has created us as emotional beings.

I’m not a cryer. I don’t mean to say that I don’t feel sadness or gladness that would be a cause for tears, I just mean that it usually takes quite a bit to bring tears to my eyes. And as I’ve gotten older, I have prayed more and more for God to actually allow me the joy of tears. I have asked for a broken heart over the things that break His heart. I have asked for an alive and joyous heart over the things that bring Him joy. I have asked for tears to flow more easily when I am in touch with both the pain and the joy of others. And as I read that card from my wife the other day, it was a stark reminder that the tears that came to my eyes were given to me as a gift from God….our very emotional God.

Dandelions in a vase…

I know this song by Five Iron Frenzy is kind of an “oldie”, but I just stumbled across it this morning and it refreshed my spirit as it always has. I’m a big Five Iron Frenzy fan. How big? My youngest son’s middle name is Reese. That big.

And in case you’d like to leer into the heart of the lead singer, Reese Roper, here’s a blurb from an interview he did late last year. I share it because his heart here beats in time with mine.

Interviewer: How does it feel to be someone who will be remembered years after your band broke up?
Reese: Are you sure about that? I try not to think about these things at all because it makes me feel weird. Like shoplifting from God. Honestly, I’m like anyone else who seeks approval from others all the time, but I am acutely aware of it, and I hate that about myself. I know at the bottom of it all, I want to be a part of what God is doing, no matter how insignificant a part that is. I want to know that the love of Jesus Christ, that somehow was quickened inside of me so long ago, is living on in other people because of what I have done. And one day when I am loosed of this mortal coil (sorry for waxing poetic), I want to know that God is somehow proud of what I did.

Interviewer: You were always rather unapologetic about your Christianity and music working together toward the same end.
Reese: I guess it stems from this general embarrassment I have for the behavior of the Church. I know that what saved me was the realization that Jesus Christ did in fact love me. I don’t want any of my own spin, any trickery, or any proverbial dangling carrots on sticks, to get in the way of that for other people. The best thing I have ever learned as a Christian is to just be honest—as raw as you have to be. Then, somehow, God is strong in your weaknesses, and you walk away from it shaking your head because you forgot how amazing He really is. It happens every time.

This was from RELEVANT Magazine, a sweet publication. Check it out at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/

There are no small roles…

As I was driving back from the pharmacy to my house early this morning, I passed a fast food restaurant. I won’t tell you which one since my blog isn’t about free advertising. But let’s suffice it to say that it starts with Burger and ends with King.

One of the King’s workers were standing outside, obviously about to start their morning shift. But not just standing outside, but standing with such a posture that indicated that she was either in prayer or meditation or something along those lines.

“And whatever burgers your hands find to flip, flip them with all your heart, as unto the Lord.”
-Colossians 3:23 (NJV)

Because of my own spiritual backdrop, I figured she was praying. Heck, maybe even worshipping right there outside the center of the flame-broiled universe. I suppose she could have been attempting to channel the spirit of Emeril, but I’d like to think she was praying…you know…praying to God.

As I drove on, I began to surmise just what she might have been praying about. Likely the same things I pray for: Strength, wisdom, understanding, peace, and an ability to love beyond my own ability to love. Things like that. Thoughts like this are encapsulated in this simple prayer:

Today I rise so that I may fall– I relinquish my all and follow Your call.
Take my hands, my heart, my soul– When these are surrendered them I am whole.
Make me Your vessel, Your jar of clay– Then fill me and use me in a mighty way.

And in those moments, I was so grateful for a God who doesn’t show partiality (Acts 10:34). God’s love and grace doesn’t give a rip that I’m a pastor. Nor does it care that she’s an employee at a fast food joint. God’s grace is God’s grace for everyone. In fact, its quite likely that she’s more Jesus where she is than I am where I am.

Minutes before driving past her, I was at home and had taken some time to sit and read. I was reading some from the Bible and some from a book I enjoy called “This day with the Master” by Dennis Kinlaw. I wrote in the margin of this book (for the first time) a simple prayer, “Lord, when others are with me, may they feel like they’re with You.” My heart’s desire is for the presence of God to be so evident in my character that those who spend any time with me catch a glimpse of the grace of God, the love of God, the gentleness of God, the patience of God; the character of God found within me.

And I pray the same thing for that young woman, standing outside that burger joint, starting her day with the Master.

I’m blogstipated.

For those who check back to see what’s new, I apologize. Clearly, nothing seems to be new in Jerry’s world. That’s far from true, I’ve just been sticking to my guns that when I don’t have anything worthwhile to write about, I won’t fake it. I’m sure that’s the sign of a poor writer. I’m sure this never happened to Tolstoy or Chaikovsky. Writing just flows from brains born to write. Right?

So, here I am on a Sunday afternoon. Kids are all outside enjoying the weather and I’ve got some time to sit and write. What about? “Aye, there’s the rub.”

I’m reading a book right now that I’m really loving. It’s called “The Importance of Being Foolish”. It was written in 2005 by a Franciscan priest named Brennan Manning. He’s got an amazing story, and you can see a little of it at http://www.brennanmanning.com/

Next month, I’m going to be delivering a 4-week series of messages entitled “Digging Deep Without Getting Buried”. This series will center around the issue of the spiritual act of Bible reading, Bible study, Biblical understanding, and Bible application.

However, its pointless to read a letter when you’re not interested in the author. And I’m afraid that the church has put a huge emphasis on the discipline of Bible reading without the passionate love affair with God that needs to preclude it. I know that Bible reading perpetuates that relationship, but if we are only shoving people to read the Bible and not fostering a deep love relationship with their Creator, then we are simply creating a “to do” type of Christianity, akin to legalism. This type of Christianity says “I’m a Christian because I…

“…go to church.”
“…read my Bible.”
“…have a fish on my car.”

Not that those things are bad, they’re just not the core of the life Jesus was talking about. Every command Jesus gave along the lines of “to do” was always born out of a love relationship with Him. So, to borrow the words from my friend Kent Julian, we are so clearly to “be” before we are to “do”. Should we pray? Of course. But who cares to talk to someone they neither know nor care to learn more about? Should we gather for worship regularly? Of course. But why bother if its simply religious ritual rather than relational and supernatural celebration? Should we read the Bible? Of course. But when we neither know where it came from (really), are frustrated by its content for lack of understanding, nor truly have the grounds on which to built that understanding, then…well, we just don’t. We know John 3:16 and figure that’s the big one, so that’s all we really need. Should we put a fish on our cars? That one’s debatable. Especially if you’re a hot-headed lead-foot.

So, before I can/will even begin this series of messages, I must surrender myself and submit myself to a deeper love affair relationship with Jesus. If I am inauthentic in this, I have no right to expect even one of my listeners to take me seriously. And so, when I stand up on week 1 and begin, it won’t be about the technical, bibliographical, archaeological, or historical facts that allow us to trust that the Bible as our truth source. I will speak only of the love of God for every person. I will begin there because not doing so can only end us up at a shallow sense of duty to read a book we don’t really “get” and would rather not read longer than we need to in order to alleviate our sense of “guilt” for not reading it. Whew.

I wish I had a nice wrap-up for this one, but I don’t. Instead of typing it up in a nice bow, I’d like to invite even more unwrapping. Would you take a second now and reply to this blog? Whatever has come to mind is all I’d like to hear.