ReThinking Lent – Day 9: Love

It would be easy for me to post a picture of my son and husband on this day.  But, I wanted to dive deeper into the biblical meaning of the word “love”.  Basically, the bible defines love in several different ways (ready for a Greek lesson?):

  • Eros:  This term doesn’t actually exist in scripture, but the concept does.  It refers to passionate love and is found primarily in the Song of Solomon.  It is where we get the word erotic in our modern English language.
  • Storge:  This term doesn’t exist in the bible either.  But, like eros, the concept certainly does.  It means “affection” in Greek and refers to familial love — the bond that we have with our mothers and fathers, brothers and sister, etc.  It is a naturally occurring love.  There are many examples of this kind of love in scripture and God even gives us a commandment regarding it:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.  (Exodus 20:12 ESV)

  • Phileo: The Greek term is Philia and it refers to the brotherly love that occurs in a close friendship.   It involves feelings of warmth and affection.  In modern terms, it’s what would make us call someone a “BFF” or describe a close friendship between men as a “bromance”.

The thing that strikes me about all of these kinds of love is that in our human view, they are conditional.  None of the terms above apply to our enemies….or to people we don’t know.  In fact, I don’t even think that all of us can claim to have a “storge” love toward all of our family members.

Fortunately for us, God loves us with a different kind of love.  He loves us with Agape love, the highest form of love there is.  There really isn’t a term for this kind of love in our modern language.  It is often described as “unconditional love”, but that doesn’t even begin to cover it.  Agape love is the love that is described in 1 Corinthians 13.  It is was is meant when scripture says that  God is love (1 John 4:8) — it is not a feeling, it is an essence.  Everything God does flows from this love.  God doesn’t love us because we are lovable.  He loves us because it is his very nature and character to do so.  This is the sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross.  It is the kind of love that we are called to.  It is a kind of love that I don’t think any of us are capable apart from Jesus.  It’s the kind of love I pray that God will grip my heart with.

nail at cross

via iStockPhoto

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
(1 John 3:16-18 ESV)

Romans 10:9 and my love/hate relationship with Christianity

… because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 ESV)

I have a love/hate relationship with Christianity. It goes something like this:

I love Jesus.

I hate that people say that one must to do something other than love Jesus in order to call themselves a Christian.

I love Jesus.

I hate that we categorize people as believers and non-believers, whom we must somehow save (or not). We forget that we don’t do the saving. God does. When we convince ourselves that we somehow have something to do with it, we are making ourselves God and that’s idolotry.

I love Jesus.

I hate that people act like they know for an absolute fact who gets into Heaven and who doesn’t. It’s as if they don’t believe that God has the power to accomplish something bigger than our minds can comprehend. Here’s an extreme example: Jeffery Dahmer in heaven? Not a chance, we say. And yet, he proclaimed himself to be a born-again Christian. We believe that Jesus performed countless miracles and was raised from the dead and yet we don’t believe that God can redeem the heart of a sinful man? At the core, that is unbelief in the gospel.

I love Jesus.

I hate that a Jesus-loving black man stood in my kitchen last week and told me that he’s been told before that because his skin is black, he is a child of Satan. There is no scripture that gives us a complete physical description of Jesus (except in Isaiah 53:2, it does say that he was rather average), but I am 99.99% sure that he doesn’t look like this:


I love Jesus.

I hate that we use New Testament scripture as proof text as to why we are saved…and, we use Old Testament scripture as proof text as to why others aren’t. The Jesus we believe in, that we rejoice in his sacrifice and proclaim “He is Risen!” on Easter morning? He did that to fulfill those laws. Does it mean that we are to just go on sinning? No. But that is a whole study of Romans which could take months. My point is that we should be focusing on redemption and grace. Because, if we really are concerned about people, we aren’t going to do anything but drive them away by making them feel bad about themselves in Jesus’ name.

I love Jesus.

I hate that my faith gets questioned by people who think that Christians are of a certain political party. I have a whole diatribe on that, but I’ll just say that I can be a Democrat liberal and love Jesus at the same time. It makes perfect sense to me, but that’s another post for another day.

I love Jesus.

I hate that people suggest that science is in opposition to creation. If you believe that God created the universe, why is it so far fetched to believe that He used science to do it? We often refer to God as the Great Physician…why isn’t he also the Great Scientist?

I love Jesus.

I hate that we categorize sin. Sin is sin. It’s all in opposition to God and separates us from Him. Just because I can justify my act of anger toward somebody (clearly they acted a fool) doesn’t make it any less a sin than if I murdered somebody. Sound extreme? Read Matthew 5:21-22 and you’ll see what I mean. The point is not that if we get angry, we will go to hell. The point is that one sin is not bigger than the other. Still don’t buy it? Read James 2:10. Here, I’ll make it easy (but you should still look it up and not assume…)

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:10 ESV)

Nobody’s sin is bigger than anybody else’s. And when we start pointing out other people’s sin (which is SO easy to do), we raise the bar infinitely higher for ourselves. What these passages are telling us, in my opinion, is that we can’t do it on our own. That’s why we need a Savior. So, to get back to my original point, we spend too much time pointing out the sins of others instead of telling and SHOWING them the good news of Christ.

There’s a quote that many attribute to St. Francis of Assisi. It says “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words”. There’s no proof that he actually said that, but I digress. It serves as arsenal for people who either want to call Christians out for the rubber not meeting the road or for those who don’t really want the burden of saying the word “Jesus” out loud in mixed company. I can call out both groups because I have landed in each one at various times in my life. I’m not proud of it, just being real. Anyway, I have heard many bible teachers that I respect greatly disagree with the sentiment, saying that we always need to use words…to do anything less would be lukewarm. I think that if all we do is use words, it can be pointless and counter-productive. I can’t just walk up to my agnostic co-worker and read scripture to him and ask if he wants to recite the sinner’s prayer now. Even *if* he didn’t tell me I was crazy and walk away, I would then have to Google a generic sinner’s prayer because I wouldn’t know anything about his life or his story in a way that would make that prayer at all meaningful. You see, I believe that you have to show the gospel in order to share the gospel. Showing it doesn’t absolve us from sharing it, but how do we build relationships otherwise? I don’t take parenting advice from people who I think are terrible parents. Why would I ask somebody about Jesus if I didn’t think they walked the walk?

So, instead, I do my best to follow what Jesus said in Matthew when asked “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36)

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40 ESV)

Love God. Love People. No other rules or conditions. And, essentially, I think what verse 40 is saying is that the whole of the Law and Prophets (Old Testament) is dependent on these two commandments.  Think about it, if we all loved God and loved people, what purpose would a commandment not to murder even have?  There would be no murder.

If you are like me, the commandment to love our neighbors is overwhelming.  Because Jesus doesn’t tell us to love the people that we like.  Or love the people we agree with.  We are to love all people.  How on earth do we do that!?  Well, that’s why the first commandment is to love God.  I have found that when you love God, it is easier to love people. Not easy. Easier. And honestly, I find that it’s easier to love people who are not Christians because I don’t expect as much. And, then I realize that I’m putting conditions on them (the Christians) which is exactly what I’m irritated about in the first place.

This really started out as a pithy list I had going in my mind about why I hate religion. The truth is that I don’t really hate religion, there are a lot of good things about religion; but I think it can sometimes distract us from what our mission as Christians really is. And it’s not pithy. It’s complicated. And, it’s important.  But, sometimes I just can’t shake this thought from my mind:


I should note that I have many Christian friends who might read this and wonder if I am judging them. If I’m honest, perhaps I am. But, the way it plays out in my mind is how I am raising the bar for myself. So, it’s a self-reflection in that regard. On the other hand, I have many non-Christian friends who might read this and wonder if the only reason I’m friends with them is to convert them. No. In fact, you are the reasons why these thoughts begin to bounce around in my head. Why I examine my own interpretation of my faith and the scriptures. Why I am constantly trying to learn more, and in that process realize that there is so much I don’t know. Why I feel so strongly about loving the people whom God has seen fit to put in my life. Why I am content to let God be bigger than I can ever imagine. And in the process of knowing me, I pray that you might get a glimpse of the Jesus that I love. And, if you ever want to know about my faith, ask me. I’m an open book.

My True Companion – 19 years later

I have writer’s block.  I have been trying to compose a post in my mind for a few days and now, as I sit in front of my screen, I will type out a few words and then delete them.  I’m not often speechless.  It’s not as though I don’t have a lot to say.  It’s that there is so much to say that I can’t even organize my thoughts.  And, even if I could, the words would be insufficient to express what’s in my heart.

It was 19 years ago today that I married my best friend.  Lloyd came along at a time in my life when I felt more alone than a person should ever feel.  I wasn’t really interested in a long-term relationship.  I definitely was not interested in getting married (ever) and I certainly didn’t want kids.  I did not believe in soul mates and happily ever after.  And, then I met this guy to whom I was immediately drawn.  Yes, there were reasons — he had a “still waters run deep” air about him, he was smart and wickedly funny and yes, I thought he was hot.  But, none of these really explain the attraction.  From almost the moment I laid eyes on him, I knew I wanted him to be part of my life. 

We eloped almost exactly a year from when we started dating seriously.  In retrospect, it was impetuous.  But, we just wanted to be together.  At the time, only one of us had a job (and it wasn’t a well paying one) and we didn’t yet have a place to live.  So, we lived with my inlaws for a few weeks until we were able to move into our own apartment. 

Let that sink in for a minute:  I ran off and married the eldest son and then came back to live with his parents.

I don’t exactly remember the vows I recited that day, 19 years ago.  But, I know they were traditional in nature.  Sickness, health, richer, poorer, we pledged to love eachother as long as we both shall live.  And over the years those vows have been tested as we have faced the kind of trials that even the strongest marriages can’t endure.  And every year, as we celebrate this day, I think that there is no way that I could love this man any more than I do today. But, I do.  I am abudantly blessed to have married a man who loves me despite my failures and short-comings, who believes in me despite my insecurities and who makes me want to be a better person. 

And, he does dishes and laundry. 

On our honeymoon in Key West, FL

19th anniversary - Sebastian Beach, FL

29 year old me….

Today is my 41st birthday.  I love birthdays — mine and everyone else’s.  I think we should celebrate all month, instead of just one day.   Last night, I had a group of women over — not to celebrate my birthday — but just to celebrate our friendships – most of them very new.  I didn’t even really want anyone to know it was my birthday and didn’t include it on the invitation, but a couple of people knew already.  One of the women brought me a cake — It said “Happy 29th Birthday”.  I laughed and said that it was the 12th anniversary of my 29th birthday.  But, as I reflected on it a little bit, I realized that there really isn’t any part of me that wishes to be 29 again.  In fact, when I was 29 — I was at one of the lowest points in my life.  Here’s what 41 year old me has to say to 29 year old me.

Dear Stephanie,

You’re 29 today.  I know that life isn’t what you thought it would be.  28 started out so awesome.  Remember that surprise party your husband threw for you — at Oregano’s in Scottsdale?  What a great night.  You were surrounded by friends and were actually in awe of all the people that were there.  You and your friend Julie had the time of your lives — she made you laugh so hard, you nearly peed your pants.  But, that was pretty much par for the course when you were with her.  You were healthy and happy.  Sure, there were a few bumps in the road – you had decided you wanted to have a baby.  That proved to be a little harder than it seemed.  You grieved the lost pregnancies, but it finally happened — and 28 was the year you became a mother!  And, then it all seemed to crumble.  Your baby was premature and had a heart defect. Your best friend, Julie was diagnosed with lung cancer.  You begin to wonder if your marriage is going to survive the stress.  Here you are — 29 years old and wondering if the things that bring you the most joy are going to be taken from you.

I’m not going to lie.  You think it’s bad now and it’s actually going to get worse.  You will see your baby go through 2 more heart surgeries.  You will beg God not to make you bury and infant.  Just when you think things are getting better with his health, he will start having seizures.  You will lose your best friend.  You will have to leave the job you love because you just can’t do it, you have to put your family first.  Basically, 29 is going to suck.  Luckily, we don’t have crystal balls, so you don’t have to know what’s in store and you just keep swimming, just keep swimming (oh wait…that movie hasn’t come out yet.  You’ll get it eventually).

But, I’m here to tell you that it gets better.  Your marriage will not only survive — it will get stronger.  Your son, the one who is so developmentally delayed right now, is going to thrive.  You already know he’s smart.  What you don’t know is that he’s an artist.  A musician.  And, he’s funny.  He is so funny.  He’s also a lot like you.  He’s going to challenge you and frustrate you, but he’s the greatest gift you’ve ever been given.  All of this pain and  heartache is someday going to be a distant memory.  And, yes…there is going to come a day when you don’t even think about his heart defect.

Losing Julie is going to be really hard.  There won’t be a day that goes by that you don’t think of her.  And of course, you’ll never replace her in your heart, but there are going to be people who “get you” and make you laugh just as much as she did.  You haven’t even met some of the best friends you’re ever going to have.

It’s not always going to be easy.  Money will be really tight.  You’ll wonder how the bills will get paid.  But, I promise you that you’ll always be provided for.  And, there will come a time when the money won’t run out before the next paycheck comes.

Best of all, the relationships that are so strained right now?  They are going to get better.  They’ll be restored.  The resentment you feel in your heart is going to be replaced by forgiveness and love.  I know you don’t believe me now, but it will happen.  It won’t happen overnight — it will take years.  Be patient.

That heartache you feel right now over Jake?  You’ll feel it again, but in a very different way.  You’ll open your heart and love.  And you will  lose.  Your heart will break into a million pieces, but it will change you in ways you could never imagine.  It will make you a better person.

So, the years ahead aren’t going to be easy.  But, they won’t break you.  You are strong.  You will be surrounded by amazing people who love you and will lift you up when you’re in a pit.

And, when you turn 41, you’ll look around and realize that life is better than it’s ever been.

“I am lucky
to be what I am!
Thank goodness I’m not
just a clam or a ham
Or a dusty old jar of
sour gooseberry jam!
I am what I am! That’s a
great thing to be!
If I say so myself,
–Dr. Suess

Loving the unlovable

There’s a character in The Secret Life of Bees that I relate to.  May Boatright is a complicated personality. Highly sensitive to the pain of others, she carries the weight of the world in her soul.  She built a wailing wall in her backyard and goes there when she is upset.  I often joke that I need a wailing wall of my own.

A few years ago, I started praying that God would break my heart for the things that break His.  It’s one of those “be careful what you ask for” prayers because sometimes the pain of the world and the people around me are crushing.  I’m not meaning to sound dramatic and I’m certainly not going to drown myself in a river over the things that weigh on my mind and heart, but sometimes it is exhausting.

For several weeks, I have been exhausted by the Casey Anthony trial and discussion surrounding it.  Let me first be very clear — my personal feeling is that she probably had something to do with her daughter’s death.  But, our justice system is one that puts the burden of proof on the prosecution — everyone is innocent until proven guilty.  It is my personal belief that the jury took their job and the instructions given to them about reasonable doubt very seriously.  And, I suspect this case will haunt them forever.  I was obviously not in the courtroom and did not watch the trial on television, but I do know that there was never a cause of death determined.  I don’t know how a person can be convicted of murder when there is no cause of death.  All of the evidence was circumstantial and as unfair as that may seem at times like this, a person simply cannot be convicted of a crime based on circumstantial evidence.  How incredibly ironic it was that this verdict came down just hours after we gathered together in communities across this country to celebrate the Declaration of Independence and the freedoms that we enjoy as a result of that historical document.  How often do we hear of innocent people being held prisoner in other countries because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We often regard those countries as barbaric and backwards. Our judicial system is not perfect and I believe that sometimes criminals go free on technicalities or by lack of evidence.  We are right be enraged at the injustice of it all, but at the same time, innocent people often spend years — decades — even lifetimes — in prison. Where is the outrage when it’s discovered that somebody has been wrongly convicted of a crime? What about when we discover, after it’s too late, that somebody was put to death for a crime they did not commit?  Where are the mobs of chanting people then? And then I wonder why Caylee Anthony’s story gripped the nation and stories like Christian Choate’s don’t spark a greater public outrage (I’m not saying that there isn’t outrage…just that it didn’t make the news cycle in the same kind of way).  Believe me, my soul aches for what Caylee endured at the hands of somebody she trusted.  But, that’s not the only thing that makes my heart heavy.

In the days and weeks that have followed the shocking verdict, I think that the most disturbing things I have heard is professing Christians saying things like “I hope she burns in hell”.  Often they are the same kinds people who attend evangelical churches and wear WWJD bracelets.  Really,  I do not think  that Jesus would say, “I hope she burns in hell”. In fact, I am 100% certain that He would not say that.   The reality is, if you are a Christian, you believe that Jesus came to save us from a destiny just like that.  It is the very basis for why we worship Jesus.  On Sundays, we lift up our hands and praise Him for the work that he did on the cross.  A work that, in a very uncomfortable way, looks a lot like the picture of Casey Anthony leaving the jail in the dark of the night.  Guilty.  And yet set free.  Now, I realize there are fundamental differences — not the least of which is that nobody has paid the price for the crime that was committed.  It can be argued that many have paid a price.  But, for the crime itself, nobody has been held accountable.  And, I think that is what outrages people the most. 

But my point is this:

As Christians, we are called to love God and love others as much as we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-31).  And, if only we could live up to those two seemingly simple commandments, we would not have situations like babies being found dead in a swamp. But at the same time, wishing somebody eternal damnation in hell is just something that my heart cannot even fathom.  Because I think that if you really believe in hell — and you really take the words of Jesus seriously as He calls His followers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), then you would be on your knees praying for Casey Anthony’s soul.  Because if you look back at that verse in Mark — Jesus doesn’t command us to just love the loveable neighbors. He just simply said we are to love our neighbors.  And by neighbors, He meant everybody.

I don’t even know how to end this post because it’s so complicated.  I don’t even know why I feel so compelled to post this in the first place.  I know how I feel, but I don’t have any answers — especially for people who don’t believe what I believe about Jesus and God and Heaven and hell. What I can tell you is that I believe that God’s heart breaks for what happened to Caylee.  But, I also believe that He grieves for the way that people who claim to be His followers behave in the aftermath of such a tragedy.  We must think before we speak…because I think that our words reflect the state of our hearts (Luke 6:45).  And, we cannot testify to a God of forgiveness and love if our words are hateful…about anyone.