Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Way of Washing Feet: A Devotional on John 13

Thirteen men lounged around a table, ready to eat dinner. Then one stood, removed his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist. While the other twelve mumbled conversation between bites, he walked to a corner of the room and filled a basin with water. He first wiped James’ feet. Matthew was next and squirmed like a 5-year-old. The next three sat in silence. Peter broke the stillness. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet? … No, you shall never wash my feet."

Giotto. Washing of the Feet. Scrovegni Chapel, PaduaWhen I meditate on the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples in John 13, I sit in awe and wonder. Awe at the humiliation of Jesus washing filthy feet. Wonder because I don’t get it. Then I read the punch line: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Jesus commanded us to wash one another’s feet. Yet, below the surface, this command lacks meaning. Do we institute a church ritual of foot washing? But I don’t wear sandals. I walk little. Sidewalks and carpet protect me from sand and dirt. My feet are nothing like those of Peter or John.

According to Jesus’ words, we miss everything about following him if we fail with the basin and the towel. But his meaning encompasses so much more than cleansing someone’s feet with a wet cloth. Jesus calls us to practice the art of doing things considered “below us” for others. We must put away selfishness, get on our knees before one another and serve them. Along the way, we discover that following Jesus means doing things traditionally unbecoming or even scandalous.

This is what Jesus did. In John 12, the crowds hailed Him as the King: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” They finally realized that Jesus was the King sent to save the Jewish people. Peter agreed, so Peter could not let Jesus wash his feet. Kings don’t wash people’s feet. Kings lead; they don’t serve. Peter could not allow Jesus to serve him. Yet Jesus turned Peter on his head: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Peter returned, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well.” Jesus instead wanted Peter to hear, “Let me serve you and clean the dirty part, and quit telling me how to be king.”

Jesus set the bar high. He saw (maybe smelled) a need for cleansing among the twelve, who sat too blind and selfish to address it. So he served and did not wait for someone else to do it. Then He said, “No servant is greater than his master” (John 13:16).

Back to the punch line: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Much of the church knows this command and others like it. “Serve one another.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Consider others better than yourselves.” So why don’t we live them out? Why don’t I serve others to the point of washing their feet? Why aren’t we willing to give up our lives for one another?

Jesus tells us: “Now that you know these things …” The disciples knew “these things” because Jesus had touched them; He got close and washed their feet. Jesus saw the dirt and the pain that they did not want to see, and he cleansed it. Jesus did not command the twelve to do something they had never received.

According to Jesus’ words, we do not wash others’ feet because we have not let Jesus wash ours first. We act strong like Peter and tell him not to touch us. But the truth is that we just don’t want Jesus or anyone else to see our dirt. We are used to carting it around. We accept it. We might even like it. And we don't want to let Jesus serve us this way because if we submit to this kind of service by the creator of the universe then we have to acknowledge that we are servants also.

The only way we can serve is to allow the greatest of all serve us. This puts us in our place. It gives us the ability to see that we are no better or worse than anyone else. And then we see that we don't serve by will-power and strength. We serve out of brokenness.

Jesus is pleading: “Let me wash you. Let me serve you. Parts of your life weigh you down and bind you. You drag your feet; I want to see you run and play. You can’t see others’ needs until you let me love you and touch the tender parts of your heart. Let me wash away hurts, offenses, anger, hidden loneliness that you pick up as you walk through this dirty world.

Jesus has washed my feet many times. Still, selfishness comes over me like a slow, quiet cold front. I don’t realize my spiritual barometer is dropping until I wake up one morning with a cold, hard attitude. I recognize then that my feet are dirty again, that I need Jesus: to talk with Him about my day, my pain, my joys. I must tune my ear to His words of love and acceptance. I must submit and allow the lover of my soul to wash me again.

Photo Credit: Giotto. Washing of the Feet.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Multiply Groups Out of Vision, Not Necessity

When I first started teaching seminars on small groups in the early 1990s, we put a heavy emphasis on multiplication of groups. The goal was to grow the group to 12-15 people and then multiply it into two groups. In many ways, this made a lot of sense. The logic goes this way:
  1. God wants all people to be saved.
  2. The most effective way to reach people is through relationships.
  3. Groups are founded upon relationships.
  4. As groups relate to people who don't know Christ, they will be exposed to the life and message of the Gospel and be drawn to it.
  5. Then they will be added to the group.
  6. The group will grow.
When the group grows, multiplication will be a natural outcome. So we focused our language on the importance of multiplication, thinking that if we emphasized this outcome that it would motivate people to relate to and reach people who don't know Christ.

The result, though, actually worked against our desire for multiplication. We communicated the goal of multiplication by using what I call "pastor-speak," that is the language that connects to the desires and goal of pastors who are held accountable for specific outcomes. Instead we needed to think about how we communicate this to everyday people, those who are not paid by the church.

Misty Forest Path Autumn Forest Mist Misty Morning Path TreesOn the journey, we tried to improve our communication. So we taught people the following principles:
  • Never use the word "split." To say "multiply" speaks to the positive. To say the group is splitting emphasizes the negative. 
  • Always communicate with groups up front that there is a vision for multiplication. Don't change the rules of the group in the middle.
  • Never, never multiply a group quickly. (We even offered a 7-step process for multiplying a group in a healthy way over a period of six weeks.)
  • Some strategies have adopted an approach of having the group closed for a season and then open for another, leading to multiplication.  
  • We challenged people to step up and catch the vision to reach the world.  
In all of this, I wonder if we have ever learned to talk about multiplication in "group member speak." When we focus on growing the group to reach certain size so that the group can multiply, we are multiplying the group out of necessity. We start new groups because we got big. Inadvertently, we are communicating to group members that we are supposed to build community and build relationships with others so that we can grow and then break up those relationships.

This does not make sense. I don't care how much we "buy into the vision." It's not the way we are wired as humans. It's not the way relationships work.

But some might argue that this is the way that groups grow and multiply all over the world. Just study the growing groups in El Salvador or South Korea. The difference is that these small group strategies have been developed in a cultural context that thinks in terms of group first. In relationships-oriented cultures, people know how to connect beyond official group life. But in the individualistic societies of the West, relationship rules are different. So when we start connecting with each other and then we are told to multiply because we got to big, we are actually undermining our ability to practice the kind of life that produces the beauty that would draw in those who don't know Christ.

The alternative to multiplication out of necessity is multiplication out of vision. I still believe in the basic principles listed in the bullet list above. But we don't talk about multiplication that must happen because a group gets to be a certain size. We talk about it in terms of a vision for multiplication. We don't start new churches because we have to, because we get to be too big. The best way to start a new church is out of the vision based of a leader and a team that sense the Spirit's leading. Why wouldn't the same apply to group life.

We don't start new groups because we have to. We don't start them because a potential leader has gone through the right leadership training classes. We start them because God is called and prepared a new leader and a team to venture out on a new journey.

The difference is subtle but monumental.

The emphasis then does not lie on the need to multiply. Instead, we emphasize the question: What is God's next step for me and us on the journey? As a community we need to be asking this of everyone, from the brand new Christian to those who have been in the church for 60 years. This is a question that goes beyond our small group strategies. It taps into the life of Christ in our midst, the king of the kingdom of God. After all, the kingdom is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all and it grows in surprising ways. The Spirit of God is at work and the next step for your group and for all members of your group will not look like what has been thus far.

The next step might include multiplication. If we are listening to the Spirit, then this is highly likely. But if we force multiplication out of necessity instead of listening to the Spirit we will get good efforts, but it may not be what the Spirit has for us.

We need ways to ask ourselves and talk about what the Spirit has for us next. This protects us from assuming that we know the next step and keeps us dependent upon the surprising ways that the Spirit grows the kingdom. I encourage groups to reflect on this question three times per year, right before the natural times of transition. The first would occur right after Thanksgiving leading up to the natural transition time of the New Year. The second would occur in early May. The last in early August. Notice that the time to talk about "What Next?" is not the end of December or the end of May. People need time to process this question, and if God is leading them into something new, the group needs time to go through the transition.


A Discussion Guide for Asking the Question: What's Next?

Read the Parable of the Mustard Seed in Matthew 13:31-33

  1. What do the "seed" and the "yeast" represent?
  2. Reflect on what you know about the ministry of Jesus. How did his ministry seem small and insignificant?
  3. What are some of the seemingly small, yet surprising ways that God has worked in your life over the last couple of months?
  4. What are some of the small, surprising ways that God has worked in our group over the last few months?
  5. How is the "seed" growing in you? Is there anything unexpected stirring you?
  6. What's next? What is God saying to you about your next step on the journey? (Notice: for some this might be something like marital counseling. Others might be sensing that they need to step out at work and love people. This is not just a question about future group leadership, although that is part of it.)
Photo Credit: Misty Forest Path Autumn 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Sleepless Passion of God

When Shawna was pregnant with our first child, we had many friends repeat the exact same words to us: “Everything is going to change.” We had been married for almost five years, and we had become accustomed to life as DINKs (double income no kids). Now that we have four between 11 and 5, we  now know all about the life change that kids can bring.

One of the first things that changed with the advent of our son was our sleep patterns. No longer was sleep a luxury that we could. We had a little baby in our house that required feeding every three hours, and he let us know about it.
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During that first month, I was up after his feeding at about 2 a.m. I was tired, but he had the hiccups and could not sleep. My sleep habits were in shock. My body cried out for rest, but there was something within me that kept my body awake. It was something bigger than the physical need for sleep. This was my son, and he required care.

As I walked around in the dark, a part of a verse resonated within me. I think it was in a hymn that I grew up singing as a child. Rattling in my head were words, “He does not sleep, nor does he slumber.” Later I looked up this verse in Psalm 121 were it reads, “He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

As I reflected, I realized that I had assumed that God’s lack of need for sleep was based on his omnipotence, that he does not need sleep. I thought that his wakeful attentiveness was a part of his awesomeness and power because he is God (or "Gawd," as some who like to emphasize his awesomeness say).

That night I was awake for one reason, and it had nothing to do with my abilities or my power. It only related to what I felt within me for my son. I had the ability to be awake and tend to his needs because I was loving him in a way that was changing me from the inside out. Then I realized that God’s attentive wakefulness is fueled by his love for his us. He is motivated to care for us by his passion for us, not by his inherent power.

The change going on within me was also changing my view of God. I realized that I had been seeing God through is power and assumed that his love was a product of his power. Then I began to reconsider this. Maybe his power was a product of his love. I had the power to care for my son, and subsequently forgo sleep in caring for the other three only because I love them in a way that I never knew possible.

Psalm 121 seems to confirm this, although it does not use these exact words:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

You can read this through the filter of God’s power and therefore see this as a Psalm of God’s power to help his people. From the power perspective, it is about God’s glory and God’s control. And this is exactly how I had seen God. But the problem with this perspective is that God was simply a distant figure in Heaven, who while awesome and mighty, was simply a tyrant who “deserved my affection and worship.” It was hard for me to see God’s love because I could only see his power.

Power or awesome ability does not necessarily result in love. Something or someone that is great or awesome can be so without love. But God’s greatness and power is one that is defined by love. His love defines his power. God is our help because of his love. He watches over us because of his deep abiding passion for us.

And because we are in need of so much help and watching over, God our Father never gets a break. Is it a 24/7 thing. His love fuels his attentive wakefulness. Wow!

Photo Credit: Baby Room Ideas 21858 Hd Photography Background Images

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The American Dream & Community

Does the American Dream hinder small group life? Does it stymie the experience of community and mission?

Alexis de Tocqueville was a French philosopher who traveled America in the 1800s to observe our culture in its early stages of development. He wrote, "[Americans] are extremely eager in the pursuit of immediate material pleasures and are always discontented with the position that they occupy. ... They think about nothing but ways of changing their lot and bettering it. ... One usually finds that the love of money is either the chief or a secondary motive at the bottom of everything that Americans do."

Translated into today's lingo, the American Dream is about having more money so that we can get more stuff.

If our natural reaction to this statement is something like "What's wrong with that?" then we need to look inside our hearts and see what's going on. Over the years, I've seen how Christian culture actually promotes this mindset. The activity of the Kingdom of God is measured by how much you are or are not "blessed." Of course, blessing gets translated as financial blessings, never mind the fact that the Beattitudes in both Matthew 5 and in Luke 7 do not in any way equate financial increase with the blessings of Jesus. If we are honest, it's hard to deny the reality that American prosperity has caused us to read the Bible through the lens of privilege, as if people of privilege have done something right in order to have all of this stuff. We are living the dream. And anything that stands in the way of that dream should be set aside.

On the other had, shouldn't we be asking if the American Dream is really a veiled nightmare. Has the American Dream so consumed us that we are being consumed by consumption. Has consumerism become an unconscious habit that it has created a way of life that we no longer call into question. And thereby it shapes our spirituality without our even knowing it. Might we be caught in a never-ending cycle of consumeristic spirituality?

Consumerism impacts debt, time and energy. Dept increases (See stats for yourself). The more stuff we have, the more time it takes to take care of it. And as we purchase more, the more energy we need to invest into what we own, usually coming in the form of mental energy. All of this contributes to increased stress. This stress leads us to try and fix things. We think that the problem is the debt, time, and energy. So we focus our efforts on fixing those issues so that we can 

To say that this does not impact our ability to live in community and join in with God's mission in the world is to ignore reality. We try to add small group life on top of this cycle, but we remain consumed by consumerism. We might even take a class on how to manage our money better or how to simplify and get rid of our stuff so that we have more time and energy. But if we focus on fixing debt, time and energy, we are feeding the cycle of consumerism. We are not addressing the lie that drives the system that we live in. Of course we need to have wisdom in our finances and we need to manage our time and energy well, but if we don't address the source of the pain, we are only taking pain-killers to manage it.

How do we change this? How do we chop away at the root of consumerism. According to Walter Brueggemenn, one key way is through practicing Sabbath. In comments on the Sabbath command in Exodus 20, he writes in his book Sabbath as Resistance, "There had been no Sabbath in Egypt, no work stoppage; no work stoppage for Pharaoh who worked day and night to stay atop the pyramid. There had been no work stoppage for slaves, because they had to gather straw during their time off; no work stoppage of anybody in the Egyptian system, because frantic productivity drove the entire system. An now YHWH nullifies the entire system of anxious production. ... The limit is set by the weekly work pause that breaks the production cycle. And those who participate in it break the anxiety cycle. They are invited to awareness that life does not consist in frantic production and consumption that reduces everyone else to threat and competitor. And as the work stoppage permits a waning of anxiety, so energy is redeployed to the neighborhood. The odd insistence of the God of Sinai is to counter anxious productivity with committed neighborliness. The latter practice does not produce so much; but it creates an environment of security and respect and dignity that redefines the human project" (27-28).

Practicing Sabbath is so much more than taking a day off so that we can go to church and do a lot of church activities. So many turn the Sabbath into spiritual anxiety whereby we are trying to produce something for God. And so many do this with their groups. Getting together in a small group becomes an anxious chore where we seek to make something happen.

Sabbath practice is about entering into the rest of God and making time for the gifts of each other. This is God's indirect way of undermining consumerism and the American Dream.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Agape Love: Theory or Experience?

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. —Eph 3:17-19 

The summer after I graduated from Texas A & M, I was helping my dad on a construction job. He was purchasing a piece of machinery that would dig holes in solid rock. The salesman spent some time with us as we tested out the machine. During our conversation, he asked what I did. After I told him that I had just graduated from college, he responded, “Oh, no experience. There is nothing like experience.”

Business & FinanceLuckily, I’m not the type that is easily offended by direct words. And I knew that I was green. I knew that I needed experience, but I was not afraid of being young either. I just did not realize that graduating with honors and all of the knowledge floating around in my head actually qualified me for so little. I spent most of that summer driving a tractor for twelve hours a day, and my first full-time job all of $18,000 with no benefits.

Knowing love is a little like job experience. It is not something that we can read about in a book or go to classes to understand. Love is known as we experience it. Theoretical knowledge is not a bad thing—neither was getting my undergraduate degree—as it can help you sort out your thinking. It helps us articulate various aspects of God’s love and how it is different from human love. It gives us the ability to preach sermons about how God loves us. But if we stop there, it is very possible to actually miss out on what love is.

Consider this: the Bible is primary made up of stories about the experience of a people who encounter God and follow him. And the parts that are not stories, the Psalms, prophetic literature and the epistles, are addressing specific situations that the people of God face as they try to follow God. In other words, it is very difficult to find pure propositional teaching in the Bible that clearly defines who God is.

Even the statement “God is love” is set in a specific context in 1 John. Love is a word that requires “filling” if we are going to understand what it means. John fills it by stating that love is seen in Jesus. More specifically, it filled by Jesus’ actions on the cross. The Son of God is the full expression of the love of God.

If we want to know love, then we must know the Son. We must encounter the Son through an experience of his presence. This means that we are drawn into the life of love that the Father has for the Son by the Holy Spirit. This is more than abstract theology or theoretical knowledge. It is a lived experience or it is not knowledge.

In the modern world, knowledge is something that we attain through a logical process of testing a proposition and determining if that proposition actually has facts to support it.

If we import this way of thinking about knowledge into our knowledge of love and of God, then we will assume that learning about God is down in a logical vacuum that is void of experience, emotion or interaction with other people. Knowledge of God then becomes an exercise of trying to figure God out—assess his attributes and then define who God is and who he is not.

But knowledge of God is personal knowledge, the kind of knowledge that only comes through encounter. When we encounter God, it is experiential. Emotions are usually involved. And most often God uses people in some form or fashion.

We grow in the knowledge of love as we receive love, give love and live in love. We won’t be able to figure love out and then move on as if we got an “A” in the Love Class. We can only know God as we learn to love him and receive his love. Knowing God is a journey of knowing love, an unpredictable, uncontrollable, relational journey. We have to let love (and God) be free without trying to define it and determine what it is. Relationships just don’t work that way. And neither does a relational God.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Missional Church & Being Apostolic

Missional refers to being "sent." It relates to the apostolic nature of the church. The Greek word apostolos means a delegate, envoy, messenger. In other words, "one who is sent." We tend to think of the word "apostle" as a term we have inherited directly from the New Testament, and therefore we think of it terms of a group of early church leaders who were conveyors of Christ's message. "The church is build upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets." (Eph 2:20) We also see it as a function of leadership in the church (Eph 4:8).

But the term apostle in the first century was a everyday word, used by everyday people. Documents outside the New Testament use the term to refer to things like "the sending out of troops" or the "sending out of a ship." (BAGD)
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This can help remove the religious connotations from the reference that the church as "apostolic." We are simply saying that the church is sent out into the world to be what Eugene Peterson calls "a colony of heaven in a country of death." (Practice Resurrection, 12) The church is not called out as an enclave from the world. It is called out in the midst of the world. The church is a gathering people who live distinctively in the midst of the "principalities and the powers of the air." Peterson writes, "Church is the core element in the strategy of the Holy Spirit for providing human witness and physical presence to the Jesus-inaugurted kingom of God in this world."

The church is apostolic in its nature, but what does it mean to be apostolic in its practice? What we are should determine what the church does. And what the church does should shape what the church organizes. (See Craig Van Gelder's The Essence of the Church for his threefold description of the  church as 1. The church is. 2. The church does what it is. 3. The church organizes what it does.) In other words, we must start with the question of what the church is and not immediately jump to questions about how to be apostolic.

But nonetheless, it seems that most of our conversations about the missional church immediately jump to the How questions. We leap to a critique of how the church has failed to be apostolic (missional) and then we develop of strategies that will release the "apostolic impulse."

While I'm in favor of such strategies, the How questions are not primary. We start with the What questions: What does it mean to be missional? What does being apostolic mean in our culture today? What does it mean to be a sent people? However, too often, I find that we try to answer the What questions wrongly. We come to the What questions with an expectations that we will get to the How questions very quickly. We want to know how to be a sent people so that we can obey and do it.

This often results in a lot of good activity, in a myriad of Gospel-looking ministries. We read the Bible about how God has called us to things like evangelism, to social justice, to caring for the poor and the widows, to feeding the hungry, along with confronting issues like sickness, abuse, social inequality, racism, and sexism. So we put our shoulders into the effort and get to work. We are a "sent people" doing what God cares about.

We tend to make missional about fulfilling a list of missional actions that God cares about so we can measure the impact we are having on the world.  We know that the church is sent by God. We know that we are to live like Jesus, to care about what Jesus cared about when he walked the earth. We know that there are great needs in our world and that the church is God's agent to bring the Gospel to those needs. The Bible says so. Let's get busy doing it. 

On the surface this might look good, but we are answering the What questions in the wrong way. It feels like the old adage "running around like a chicken with its head cut off"? On our farm, we would raise, about 50 chickens every year and I got to witness this first hand. It's what happens when the body of a chicken is detached from it's head.

When we answer the What questions rightly, we see that jumping to the How questions can lead to a lot of good stuff but also to detachment from the head of the body of Christ. First we must go to the Who questions.

Mission depends first and foremost of all on the union and the communion we share with the Father in Christ through the Spirit. We do not send ourselves. We do not activate our sentness. A messenger (apostle in the generic sense) of a king is a messenger at all times, but the messenger does not send himself. His ability to be an effective messenger depends upon his relationship with the king. And under no uncertain terms does the messenger ever write his own message. Likewise, the king of the kingdom of God has sent the church, but this requires a living experience of communion with the king within the existential realities in which we live.

It's as if we assume that we have been and are good at being in union and in communion with the the head, the one who sends and goes with the body. We act as if all we have wrong is the fact that we do not act as a "sent" body. As a result, we make ourselves the agent of our mission. Yes, God is a missional God, and yes we have a theology that states how God sends the church, but we are left to ourselves to figure out what it means to be sent. 

Instead of jumping to How questions about how we can be missional or how we can have an impact upon our world, let's put the How questions in their proper place. Missional is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Union with Christ is essential to our mission. Without this, we are left to ourselves, doing mission as if God is a distant being who told us what to do when he wrote the Bible but is not involved in our midst right here and now. 
  • What is the church?: The church is the body of Christ, sent by God to live in the midst of the world to participate with God in the Gospel life.
  • Who sends?: The Father sent the Son and upon the ascension of Christ, the Spirit was sent into the world to continue the work of the Son, as the ongoing presence of God. Our sentness is rooted in our union with Christ by the Spirit. Whatever we do is based in the fact that the Spirit is already doing it.
  • What, when, and where are we being called participate with God in mission?: We answer this question as we learn to discern what the Spirit is doing in, through, and around us.
  • How do we organize what we do?: Again, we answer this question as we develop the capacity to follow the guidance of the Spirit.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Rules of Agape Love?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. —Philippians 2:3-4

When Shawna and I were engaged to be married. I was reading every marriage book that I could find. I wanted to be the best husband that I could be. So I read, I prayed about what I read, and I reread parts that stood out. And I read all of the right books, if you know what I mean.
One night I was sat confused about what I had just read from one of the most noted marriage authors. What he had said contradicted the advice of the book I had finished earlier in the week by another reputed Christian marriage counselor. I was getting stressed as I looked for the right methods of being a good husband. These books were laying out the rules for loving my wife-to-be, but the rules were different. I wanted to throw the books across the room.

Then I had a thought that changed everything, “If I value Shawna above myself, then we will probably have a pretty good marriage.” I had been reading these books from the wrong point of view. My focus was wrong. I was focused on how I could be a good husband, on how I could be a heroic man for my soon-to-be wife. That focus was causing me to miss the point entirely.

Now we have been married nearly 16 years and with that there have been some relational challenges. But every time we’ve had rough waters, I’ve found that I was not considering her more important than myself.

Isn’t this true of any relationship or any experience of community? There is no way to package up Phil 2:3-4 and boil it down to a set of universal principles that can be applied to any marriage. In fact, I have found that the way that I have considered Shawna more important than myself has varied through the years. It’s based on the law of love, the law of agape, which means self-sacrificial, other-oriented, choice-based love. When we are focused on ourselves, we miss the point of love because we are not seeing the other person. We are only looking at ourselves. Let’s look at this a little further so that we can get on the same page regarding this law of agape.
  • Other-oriented—which basically means turn our eyes to understand the other person. We allow them to be them without the need to fix them, teach them or to make them into anything but who God made them to be. We learn to listen to who they are and listen them into a new reality. We are not self-focused trying to get from the other person.
  • Self-sacrificial—By this I don’t mean self-depricating or self-loathing where a person puts others ahead of themselves because they view everyone else as being having more value than they have. It means that we love ourselves enough and see ourselves as having something to offer enough that we can sacrifice ourselves for the sake and the good of another person. 
  • Choice-based—Love like this cannot be forced or coerced. You cannot express agape because you feel that you must or because you are trying to be the right kind of Christian leader. It is something we freely choose to give another person.
This is the mind or attitude of Christ (Phil 2:5) which he displayed on the cross. This is how the Holy Spirit works in and through us today, changing us from the inside out so that we embody this kind of love for others. This is not about following some set of predetermined rules regarding what this love looks like. It’s “adopting this attitude” so that we can make room for the Spirit of God to shape us to be this kind of people.