Love at First Sight

When you first encounter someone, what’s your normal reaction?

For me, I’ve been realizing that my reactions have often been far less than positive. With too much regularity I’ve tended to be:

  • Indifferent — really not caring much about this new person who’s come across my path.
  • Critical — analyzing them from a negative perspective, and usually finding fault.

EyesI was caught by this reality when a particular story about Jesus was brought to my attention a couple months ago. It’s the story about a rich young man who comes to Jesus seeking an answer about eternal life (you can read it here). While I’d read this many times before, I’d missed one very important insight about how Jesus saw this man.

In the story we learn that this guy was very wealthy and had been living quite righteously as well. But we discover that he wasn’t willing to part with his wealth in order to follow after God. Jesus discerned this and challenged him to let go of the idol he’d made of his riches. But he doesn’t — and the story ends tragically with the man, in great disappointment, turning and walking away. He just couldn’t let go of this idol. It was more important to him than following Jesus.

But the part of the story I’d always missed was how Jesus felt about this man before he challenged him. It says:

Jesus looked at him and loved him.

What?! Jesus, you’re God. You know this guy is going to reject you. You know he’s going to put the idol of his riches in front of any relationship he’ll have with you. Why didn’t you turn and walk away from him?

Somehow, Jesus, even knowing this encounter wasn’t going to end well, loved this rich young man anyway. This newly discovered reality has really tweaked me — in a positive way.

Over the past months I’ve been asking myself a couple hard questions, especially when I’m in settings where I’m about to meet someone new:

  • Will I love this person first, before they give me any “reason” to love them?
  • Will I love this person even if they seem to reject me?

I don’t have a perfect record on this — but it has truly made a difference. I’ve found that when I choose to love first it influences my words, my body language, and any responses I might give. It shifts my outlook entirely.

And even if an initial encounter with someone ends less than positively, hopefully it won’t be because I was an idiot. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll still know that I respect them, I care about them, and that my love for them as a person is genuine.

I’m writing this as a challenge and reminder to myself: I can choose to love at first sight.

The Beauty of Discontinuity

I’ve read that Elton John likes flowers. A lot. In 2000 he testified in court that in a 20 month span he’d spent £293,000 on floral arrangements (that’s over $30,000 a month in today’s US dollars).

That leaves just one question in my mind. What do you buy Elton for Valentines?

For most people, receiving flowers is quite special. The blend of surprise, thoughtfulness and beauty interrupts their day and warms their heart. The gift is beautifully discontinuous with everything that is mundane and normal about life.

But for Elton, he’s constantly surrounded by flowers. They are part of his normative, to-be-expected, day-to-day reality. It would take something substantially different to positively capture his attention.

Jesus seemed to understand this human dynamic. He knew that people needed to be jolted out of their everyday expectations, so he acted in ways that were beautifully discontinuous to the world around him. He surprised people with conversation and action in ways that completely arrested their attention. He touched the leper, he forgave the sinner, he fed the hungry, he raised the dead, and he spoke not just with wisdom and authority, but with real love.

Jesus was shockingly redemptive, but shocking nonetheless.

That reality is captured in a story of Jesus shattering the ethnic and gender barriers of his day by having a conversation with a Samaritan woman. He began by simply asking her for a drink of water, then we read…

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” John 4:9

And Jesus continued to surprise her, a stranger, by telling her about her life and relational brokenness. That beautiful discontinuity jolted her from the routine of her daily pain and struggle and proved to be a key for her to find real freedom.

We also discover that Jesus taught his followers to live in ways that are shockingly discontinuous to the norms of the world as well. He taught us that by shattering the world’s expectations in redemptive ways, we’ll show that we are truly his.

If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.
If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too.
If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.
Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.
You have heard the law that says, “Love your neighbor’”and hate your enemy.
But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!
In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:39-45

When is the last time I surprised someone with a redemptive act? When have I broken free from the mundane continuity of my own day-to-day existence to shock someone with blessing? When, by my actions, has someone thought I look anything like Jesus?

I don’t know about Elton, but I can’t wait until Valentines to surprise my wife. The flowers are coming today.

Discovering I’m Not Normal

This last weekend I hit up the local Walmart in search of car seat covers for our old Jeep. The store was packed in a pre-Thanksgiving rush, and as I made my way to the furthest corner of the store I had the opportunity to observe an interesting array of humanity.

Now when I use the word “interesting”, you need to know that I grew up with a mom who used two words to describe anything she didn’t like…but didn’t want to come out and say it.

“Mom, how do you like that sugar-free, jalapeno cake I made for you?”

“Well, Tim, it’s different.”

“Really, mom, what do you think?”

“It certainly has a interesting texture.”

Different and interesting were both mom-code for, “I hate it!”

Back to my stroll through Walmart and my interesting observations. By the time I’d found the seat covers I realized I was thinking that most of my co-shoppers were just “too _______________”. And there were a lot of fill-in-the-blanks.

  • Too fat
  • Too skinny
  • Too sloppy
  • Too tattooed (it wasn’t even good art!)
  • Jeans too baggy
  • Too little attention to their kids
  • Eyes too shifty
  • Too etc.

Somewhere around check-out stand #14, God got my attention. The way I’d been looking at people was so out of line with the way he sees people.

The more I thought about this I came to a couple of conclusions. The first is that I tend to rate people on a “bell curve”. Do you remember bell curves from grade school? They provide a means to graph statistical data, and they look like this:

The thought is that anything and everything can be plotted on one of these curves. At the very top is what’s most typical, known as the “norm”. Then as you extend out to the left and right, things become increasingly less normative, so that at the very fringes you find the statistical “outliers”, things that are freakishly not normal.

I realized that I always put myself at the top of the curve. I am my own definition of normal. I suppose that most people do the same thing: we become so entrapped with our own little views of reality that everything else seems outside the norm. This twisted thinking leads to pushing people further away into increasingly distant categories, defining them by how different they are to us.

The truth is that I’m not at the top of the curve (not even in my own home, let alone in my city or the world). To most others I’d probably be viewed as:

  • Too white
  • Too male
  • Too rich
  • Too religious
  • Too focused on appearance
  • And definitely too opinionated

My second conclusion was pretty simple. God doesn’t view people as “too” anything. He doesn’t plot people on graphs or place them in categories that push them away from his redemptive grace. God views us all the same: all are needy, all are loved, all are welcomed. There are no outliers with God.

The bottom line is that I’m not normal. And neither are you. I desperately need God’s help to get over myself so that I can truly learn to embrace others in all their crazy and beautiful diversity. And I need others to find his grace so they can embrace me (a very different and interesting person) as well.


Do You Trust Me?

I’m reading a fantastic book, You Lost Me, by David Kinnaman. It deals with why young Christians are leaving church and rethinking faith. It’s well thought through, crisply written, and deals with issues of real importance.

When discussing how twenty-somethings view authority, Kinnaman made this observation:

“Everybody has an opinion, and it’s hard to know who is trustworthy.”

He was highlighting the fact that in an info-overloaded world, trust becomes the scale we use to weigh the worth of opinions. The greater we trust someone, the weightier their words.

Trust is what makes us believable. It is the foundation upon which we can build relationship and true community. Trust is worth the work it takes to build and retain.

So how can we become trustworthy people?

Scripture provides an interesting perspective on this. Paul, who wrote a great deal of the Bible, was writing to a group of Christ-followers who had been trying to prove their trustworthiness to God and others by following rules (the Law of Moses in particular). Paul was really pressing them to understand that rule-following isn’t what matters. In Galatians 5:14, he wrote, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Then he goes on to break down what “loving your neighbor” would look like. In 5:22-23 he says, “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Think about how each of these things would build trustworthiness — and how its absence would crush it.

  • Love — accepting others fully.
  • Joy — having real contentment even in difficult situations.
  • Peace — being a refuge in the midst of a storm.
  • Patience — refusing to rush to judgment.
  • Kindness — considering the plight of another and acting accordingly.
  • Goodness — doing what’s right rather than what’s easy or popular.
  • Faithfulness — being a person of my word.
  • Gentleness — being an emotionally safe friend for others.
  • Self-control — choosing to say “no” to relationship killing words, thoughts and actions.

“Trust me, I’m a doctor” doesn’t cut it anymore. And it doesn’t work for politicians, teachers, bloggers or religious leaders either. Perhaps that’s why people so highly value the opinions of their friends. They’re the ones who have actually earned some trust.

Let’s live as friends — and in an era where opinions abound, let the fruit of our lives prove that we can be trusted regarding things that truly matter.

(Photo credit: Benjamin Earwicker)


Is it possible to love people too much? Accept them too fully?

I was recently exchanging ideas with a college-age woman about this very thing. She was expressing her concern over what others might think if we were to fully embrace those still marked by their brokenness or bound by sin. I can relate to her dilemma. Having grown up in the church, I have felt the same pangs of guilt-by-association at various points through my life.

I think the cautiousness she was referencing is rooted in a misunderstood concept from Scripture found in 1 Thessalonians 5:22. The King James Version states that those who follow Christ are to: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” That reading makes it sound like: “It’s not good enough that you’re not sinning. You can’t even be near sin or sinners, lest it appear to someone that you may have slipped into sin yourself.” Ouch. That’s a tough standard. Yet, I think it’s a fair description of the kind of churched-culture in which I was raised. It wasn’t meant to be unloving, but it made me wary of getting too close to “sinners” or those “in the world”.

1 Thessalonians 5:22 is more accurately translated in other versions of the Bible. The New American Standard Bible, for example, reads: “abstain from every form of evil.” That makes it more about my personal choices than it does about keeping up appearances to avoid guilt-by-association.

Jesus lived in such radical opposition to the rule-of-appearance that he was accused of being a drunkard and a friend of sinners (see Luke 7:34). He was scandalous in his day and culture. How about you and me? As followers of Jesus are we creating love-scandals, or are we more concerned about what others will think?

An unintended consequence of a church culture that is governed by a rule-of-appearance is that it alienates its people from those whom God is longing to embrace: “Keep people who aren’t like you at arms distance.” But if we don’t embrace those who need Jesus’ touch, who will?

As a recovering rule-of-appearance and scandal-averse guy, what suggestions would you give me, and others, who desire to love as Jesus did?


What could disqualify someone from ministry leadership? Permanently?

Maybe a better question would be: are there people so broken that they can not be restored?

My hope — and I believe God’s heart — is that no matter what the offense, restoration is not only possible, but should be the ultimate goal. But things get tricky and sticky when it comes to how we do “church life”, and often people are permanently sidelined after failure. Why is this the case?

  • There’s hard work involved. Restoration is often a messy, lengthy process, and leaders dread wading into these challenging waters.
  • Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…and so on. We are fearful that people will be repeat offenders, and we don’t want the backwash of their continued failure to splash polluted water on to our “clean” reputations.
  • We just don’t want to be associated with the brokenness of others. If I embrace you, offense and all, people may assume that I tolerate your sin (gasp!) and this would be a negative reflection on me (double gasp!).
  • The church often reflects a shame-based culture. When someone blows it, there must be something inherently wrong with them (as if there isn’t something inherently wrong with me). We label those people as failures, as shameful examples of what “not to be”.

A friend has experienced something like this over the past year. A qualified and skilled ministry leader, he went through a dark season, during which he made a bad decision that snowballed a bit before he “woke up” and put an end to it. I had the privilege of walking with him during that time and since. I was so proud of him for going back to each person involved and making it right, choosing to swallow his pride and walk in repentance. The whole episode lasted no longer than two weeks, and he came out of it stronger and more humble than before.

But over a year later, my friend’s pastor won’t even consider him for a ministry role. There’s just no place for him. He’s disqualified. Worse yet, there’s no pathway of restoration being made available to him. In his pastor’s mind, he’s permanently disqualified.

Can’t we just admit that we’re all broken people in need of grace? We all need the hope of restoration. And discarding those who fail is plain stupid (oops…did I just say that?!).

Part of the problem of maintaining a shame-based, rather than a grace-based culture is that people will go to great lengths to hide their issues. Oh, they still have them. They just fear the permanent shame they believe will be brought about by exposure. My fear of marginalization usually exceeds my desire to walk in honesty.

Are there times when someone’s habitual failure should sideline them for a season? Yes, I believe so. Leaders have the responsibility to protect the community — both the one who is currently weak as well as those who could be negatively impacted by his or her failings. But even then, restoration should be the goal of a season on the sidelines.

I’ve recently been reminded of the need for a grace-based church culture in a profound book, Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. I’m not sure how this book, authored by pastor Jerry Cook, had escaped my reading for so long. But I’m really glad I picked it up…and I’ve bought and passed out dozens of other copies. Pick up your own copy and get ready to live differently. There is a world of broken people who are waiting for us.

(Photo credit: Ramzi Hashisho)


Recently, in early morning hours, my dreams turned dark. Hell-fueled thoughts sank deeply into my restless mind as I slept – all pummeling me with blows of rejection. In those dreams I experienced the most severe sense of rejection I’d ever felt, yet my waking did nothing to alleviate this life-sapping pain. For some time I lay in the dark, wrestling with this evil, unsuccessfully trying to work my way back to some semblance of self-worth; fighting in vain to regain hope.

At the end of myself, I feebly whispered my plight to Jesus. It wasn’t a prayer, but a half-hearted affirmation of what I believed to be true: that I am simply accepted by Him.

What took place over the next hours was life altering. The light of God invaded my soul, not only chasing away the dark lies of the enemy, but replacing them with a flood of His truth. I grabbed a notepad and began to document this truth encounter.

May what follows restore hope to you as it did to me.

* * * * * * * * * * *

God’s love is manifested in His complete acceptance of me.

His acceptance of me is not based on my ability, my perfection, my good looks, my success, my righteousness, my history or pedigree, my wittiness or humor, my keeping-up-appearances, my status, my intellect, my anything.

This is why He tells us that NOTHING can separate us from His love.

I spend so much of my life working to earn my way into acceptance, when all He wants to do is throw His arms open and WELCOME me into the most precious, deep and intimate of relationships – where I am my beloved’s and He is mine. He is the bridegroom waiting for His bride. His banner over me – the one He is longing to wave over ME – is love.

This perfect place of acceptance was seen in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. Nothing hidden. Nothing to prove before God or each other. Only knowing complete acceptance at every turn. No fear. No wondering. No striving. Just complete and utter acceptance.

Sin shattered acceptance. Fear came. Feelings of rejection came. The need to hide, both from God and each other, came. And it was the corruptness of pride that led to this travesty. Lucifer’s sin had been evidenced by his unwillingness to simply be accepted by God; he wanted to BE God. And this same pride-fueled brokenness now oozed into the soul of man. Truth was overshadowed by want. Wholeness was overshadowed by separation. And when the “apple” was eaten, taken in, swallowed, worshiped, idol-made (for hope was placed in that which was inanimate; hope for more; hope for a deeper, better existence; hope for a heightened identity apart from God), sin entered man’s story. And sin shatters acceptance.

The remainder of history – from the Garden until now – is the story of God’s restorative work. His mission is to reclaim all that has been lost, not only redeeming humanity to Himself, but man’s relationship to man as well. His mission is nothing short of the full restoration of acceptance, where nothing stands between us and God; where fig leaves (our feeble attempts to mask our gross inadequacies) are not needed; where shame and fear, separateness and rejection are eclipsed by the fullness of forgiveness, love and acceptance.

History culminated in the person of Jesus. The incarnation: God as one of us. Immanuel: God is with us. Jesus was, and is, the full and perfect representation of God Himself, fully manifesting His heart and His mission: to complete the possibility of restoration. Jesus came to audaciously proclaim, “YOU ARE ACCEPTED. I have not come to condemn you, but to redeem you, to save you, to make a way for you to experience the forever-freedom that comes from knowing HE WHO ACCEPTS.” Jesus, the perfect One, the accepting One, sacrificed Himself to take our brokenness, our shame and our sin, so that true relationship might be restored.

This is Jesus…

  • who invited Himself to a thieving tax collector’s home, and ate with this man who was marginalized and rejected by society due to his occupation and corruption.
  • who sat and talked with a woman of a “lesser” ethnic origin, giving hope to this person rejected by others due to her gender, race and personal impropriety.
  • who touched and healed the leper, someone completely put out of society due to disease and fear.
  • who verbally ripped apart religious leaders, who by word and deed, claimed superior status with God, yet heaped burdens on others that kept them from experiencing His grace.

The apple – that symbol of prideful and idolatrous brokenness; that object of shame that resulted in distance and fractured relationship – has been replaced by bread and wine. That which is animate, made alive in Jesus Himself, has replaced that which was inanimate. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” It is the meal of acceptance – “real food and real drink,” as opposed to all other vain pursuits of acceptance and relationship. Bread and wine stand opposed to the apple.

And now, “…because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” The acceptance we have found in Christ, we are now required to freely give to all others. We are to contend for unity: that place of full and unfettered acceptance, that place where even truth is spoken in gentleness, humility and love.

Jesus still assaults all word and deed that leads to relational brokenness and spiritual distance. Jesus stands opposed to rejection. And the table – that place where bread and wine are freely shared – must never be a place of greed, lust, pride or humiliation. All are welcome. All are accepted.

I am accepted.