Is My Heart Healthy?

Healthy Heart

Twice in my life I have struggled with chest pains and the doctors have given me an EKG.  They hook sensors up to your chest and they check your physical heart function.  While the physical health of our heart is very important, the spiritual health of our heart is even more important.

The following are notes from a message by Don Cousins that I found very valuable.   Pastor Don says, “The world says that we need to order everything in our external world, family, home, work, finances, health, etc.  the way we want it to be then we’ll know inner peace.  I don’t think I’ve spent a day in my life when everything in my external world was the way I wanted it to be.  To live in such a way to make that happen is simply exhausting!

Jesus cares more about who you are than who you appear to be. Jesus cares about our heart, our inner person, our mind, will, and emotions. The place of understanding, passion, and courage. The seat of our appetites and emotions. The Bible says life is not meant to be lived outside in, but inside out. ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.’ —Proverbs 4:23 NIV  Jesus wants to transform us, so that who we appear to be matches who we really are. Jesus wants to shape our hearts, and then we’ll be able to negotiate and handle everything that happens in our external world. Our experience of shalom peace is not dependent on our external world, but on what’s happening inside our hearts. Peace can only come from having our heart right with God through faith in Jesus and the abiding of His Spirit within us. Then we can have shalom in spite of what’s happening in our outside world.

So how do we know if our spiritual heart is healthy?  Here are 10 checkpoints for us to consider.

Personal Awareness Checks

  1. Unwholesome Talk -But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  —Matthew 15:18 NIV  (This might be negative, complaining, critical, judgmental, demanding, perverse, profanity, life sucking language, etc.)
  2. Impure Thoughts –For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. —Matthew 15:19 NIV (This might be feelings of resentment, lust, jealousy, etc)
  3. An Angry Spirit –Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart since as members of one body you were called to peace –Colossians 3:15. 26″In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold…   30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  —Ephesians 4:26-27,30-31 NIV
  4. A Complaining Attitude -Do everything without complaining and arguing, —Philippians 2:14 NLT
  5. Anxiety and Unhealthy Fear -For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. —2 Timothy 1:7 NIV   Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. —Philippians 4:6 NIV  When I exercise, my mind is able to wander.  When my mind wanders I usually find what’s really in there.  When my heart rate accelerates, I’ve learned to ask myself why?  And there’s generally a direct correlation that my increased heart rate is indication of my spiritual heart disease of anxiety.  I need to get my heart right before God.

Spiritual Awareness Checks

  1. Diminished Hunger for God’s Word -Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. -—Colossians 3:16 NIV
  2. Discouragement in Prayer -Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up (lose heart). —Luke 18:1 NIV
  3. “Lip-service” Worship (critical of others “rule breaking”, to serve/give out of obligation-“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’” -—Matthew 15:8-9 NIV
  4. Sense of Oppression -When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer —Psalm 32:3-4 NIV
  5. Missing Pasion or Misplaced Values -For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. —Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV John Wesley said, “If you light yourself on fire, men will come to watch you burn.”  What are you on fire about?  Are you passionate about the things of God?  That’s in indicator of a healthy heart.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  —Matthew 6:21 NIV

“After going down that list, I have to admit I have a little spiritual heart disease going on.” –Don Cousins.

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “ The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”  Our hearts want to convince us we’re healthy, we’re fine.  But only with the Spirit’s daily help can we maintain a healthy heart. Is my heart healthy?  How bout yours?

To hear Pastor Don Cousins message, go to www.discoverychurch.org and look for Matthew’s Main Messages, June 17th, 2018.

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I Am Free!!

I Am Free Raging Bull Six Flags

I love rollercoasters.  Raging Bull at Six Flags is one of my favorites.  Being 202 feet in the air in a side less train is incredible, and the 20 story drop into the underground tunnel at 73 miles an hour is exhilarating.

When my emotions are on a rollercoaster I don’t find it as fun.  Recently I was flying high with excitement and gratitude for how good life was that day.  And then in less than 5 minutes, after one conversation, I was in an emotional free fall into darkness of fear and insecurity, being tempted with reproach and despair.  How does that happen?  And how should we respond?

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “4For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  5We destroy arguments, and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”  We need to grow in assessing what thoughts we should allow and what thoughts we need to get a hold of and get out of our minds!  I’m learning anytime I have thoughts of anxiety, insecurity, fear of rejection, or resentment, amongst others, it’s a thought I need to take captive.  It’s a lie.  It’s positioning itself to set up against what God would have for me.  My litmus test is the fruit of the Spirit.  If our minds are not full of the fruit of the Spirit, we should regularly ask ourselves, “What thoughts do I need to take captive?”  Then pray, “Father, I take captive thoughts of insecurity or anxiety, please empower me to be obedient to the mind of Christ for me.”

James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”  Are you willing to confess “stinkin thinkin” as your own sin?  Or do you prefer to blame someone else for the thoughts in your mind?  We can be enmeshed victims, or we can be differentiated overcomers.  When we are willing to confess our sinful thoughts and attitudes and emotions, we differentiate from people and circumstances and God can heal our emotions so we can be full of the fruit of the Spirit.  What do I need to confess? And then pray, “Father I confess thoughts of insecurity, I know these are not what you have for me.  Or “Father I confess thoughts of anxiety and fear.  Please forgive me, I know you’ll never reject me!”

Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  In a military sense, we understand that someone has to stand up for liberty.  But do we understand what it takes to stand up for psychological and emotional freedom?  Ephesians 6:12-13 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”  For many of us, our interpersonal relationships or daily circumstances seem to be at war against our emotions.  However the scriptures teach it’s not our fleshly relationships or our bodily circumstances that we at war with.  We are war with cosmic powers, or demons of darkness.  You are not at war with your spouse, kids, coworkers, finances, or that person at church.  The demonic world is full of rejection, reproach, fear, anxiety, despair, adultery, rebellion, idolatry, pride, etc. The Bible says in James 4:7, “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  What am I standing against?  Then pray, “Father I stand against and resist demons of dark thoughts and dark emotions in the name of Jesus.  Help me stand firm in the freedom you have provided for me.”

Matthew 18:18 says, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.”  What needs to be bound?  Let’s cut to the chase.  The “demons of darkness” from Ephesians 6:12 need to be bound in the name of Jesus from whispering all their depravity into our minds.  Matthew 8:31 says, “And the demons said, if you cast us out, send us away into the pigs…”  You would do those around you a big favor if you didn’t stop at just taking the thoughts captive and binding it up.  If that demon of darkness is whispering to you, you can be pretty sure he and his “spiritual forces of evil” (Eph 6:12) are whispering to those around you too.  You’re not alone in temptation.  Where does this need to be cast to?  Why not bind it all up in Jesus name and cast it back to hell where it belongs?!!!  Then pray, “Heavenly Father, I bind demons of insecurity and anxiety in Jesus name and cast them to hell.  They have no place here Lord, may you fill me with your Spirit and may His fruit control my life.”

But be prepared, if you pray these kinds of cleansing prayers, it may get worse before it gets better.  Luke 11:24-26 says, 24“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”  Jokingly, demons must be like cats because they hate the water!! I can remember times of standing against something in prayer for our church, and then having it come back seven times more violent.  But just keep standing.  Plead the blood of Jesus over yourself.  And having done all, stand firm.

If this resonates with you, please spend time in prayer.  Use the song links below and spend time in quietness asking God to help you understand what you need to stand against.  Answer the bold questions above.  And then pray the prayers in italics for yourselves, your loved ones, and your churches!

I’m Free –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CJX4NT6jMw

Child, You’re Forgiven – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vI9npdwLATc

So the next time the rollercoaster of your emotions is on a free fall to darkness, please take time to reconsider what you need to stand against.  Pull back from arguing and wrestling with people and circumstances, and stand firm for the spiritual freedom of your mind and heart.  Then you can celebrate, “I AM FREE!”

Redneck Christmas

Redneck Christmas

“Basstrackers, bayliners and a party barge, strung together like a floatin’ trailer park, anchored out and gettin’ loud all summer long. Side by side there’s five houseboat front porches, astroturf, lawn chairs and tiki torches. Regular joes, rockin’ the boat that’s us, the Redneck Yacht Club!” Craig Morgan
When someone uses the term “redneck” they may be referring to the rural blue collar working class, or those who work an hourly, manual labor job. This song represents one of my favorite summer pastimes. While many people like to go to fine resorts on vacation, I prefer solitude on a pontoon boat. While some prefer a crystal clear concrete bottom chlorinated pool, I prefer the natural beauty of the cloudy algae and mucky bottom of Lake Koshkonong. While at the Kosh I often think about the story of Naaman’s healing in 2 Kings 5 when he was angry he couldn’t go wash in the “clean waters” of Abana or Pharpar, but instead had to go wash in the “turbid” (thick with suspended matter) and “discoloured” waters of the Jordan (Ellicott’s Commentary).
And then Jesus comes at Christmas. Wouldn’t you think the Creator (John 1:3,10) would arrive in the finest and most beautiful accommodations the earth could offer? I’m thinking the Omnipresent One should be oceanside! The Prince of Peace is by the palm trees! Or the Messiah’s on the mountain! Yet we read in Luke 2:8-12, “there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’” The manger is a cattle crib, a feeding box, an animal stall. It’s referred to earlier in the Bible as the place the oxen live (Job 39:9, Pr 14:4). And later Jesus refers to the manger as the place your donkey lives (Luke 13:15). Our friends the dairy farmers scrape the manure out of the “manger” three times a day! As Mike Rowe would say, it’s a “dirty job.”
Shepherds were held in low opinion among the people in those days. Commentaries tell us the shepherds were not even allowed in the courts or marketplaces. Commentaries also suggest that the sheep intended for the daily sacrifices in the temple were fed in the Bethlehem pastures. Some commentators suggest the angel came to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks because they cherished the traditions of David’s shepherd life, and were expecting Christ to someday come to Bethlehem. This “exaltation of the humble and meek” reminds me of Samuel coming to David in the field in 1 Samuel 16. God told Samuel regarding David’s brother Eliab, “Do not look at his appearance or on the height of his stature… For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then they send for David, who was “keeping the sheep.” The Bible says he was the youngest, or the least, the weakest, the most insignificant, and the Lord told Samuel to anoint him as king.
Philippians 2 says we should have the same attitude as Jesus, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Hebrews 12:2 says we should watch Jesus, who “endured the cross, despising the shame.” If you’re with me so far… washing in the Jordan might have been disgusting. Being born in a manger could be considered embarrassing. And there’s shame in dying on a cross.
Jesus says in Luke 20:46, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.” So far I’m liking the teachers’ way of life a lot better than Jesus’! The marketplace Jesus refers to is where assemblies are held, the place the shepherds weren’t allowed. Today’s marketplace may be a courtroom, business convention, mall, or church. This past summer a journalist was barred from the Speaker’s lobby outside the House Chamber because of what some said was “selective enforcement of the dress code, which only calls for professional attire” (thehill.com). Americans love to be respected and are quick to point out when we think someone isn’t dressed respectfully for the marketplace!
Christmas Eve services are one of the most highly attended church events of the year. Many get dressed up in their nicest clothes to go to their beautifully decorated concrete sanctuaries to hear a white collar religious leader encourage us not to miss finding Jesus this Christmas.
The Bible askes me tough questions this Christmas. Do I prefer to find Jesus at a clear pool or turbid river? Do I think I’ll find Him at a clean conference room or a smelly barnyard? Do I think I’ll find Him as a white collar religious leader, or a blue collar “redneck” shepherd? I hope everyone participates in corporate worship this Christmas. Honestly, I wonder sometimes if I miss finding Jesus at Christmas Eve services I’m a part of leading?

Governing Guardians

Who Are You

I remember when a dear friend pulled me aside after church. He was very uncomfortable and as he began to speak he became more and more upset. He was very angry about something happening in our church and I felt he was attacking me! Have you ever experienced surprising interpersonal conflict? Have you ever experienced conflict with church people? “In a survey asking how exited pastors experienced stress in their ministry, role conflict was a top ranked producer of stress second only to conflict over how ministry was to be done in the church.”1
I’m learning that many of the conflicts we experience may be better understood if we learn about one another’s personality types and spiritual gifts. I will share one often misunderstood personality type and one often misunderstood spiritual gift as examples of how we can learn to understand one another better.
One sometimes misunderstood personality type as classified by the Myers-Briggs personality inventory is the “guardian.” The Myers-Briggs has four measures of personality: Extrovert/Introvert, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perceiving. David Keirsey in his books exploring personality types based on these measures, calls a person with the “SJ -Sensing and Judging” combination to be a “guardian.” Keirsey suggests the personality type “guardians make up as much as 40 -45% of the population.”2 “Guardians pride themselves on being dependable, helpful, hardworking,”2 and “loyal.”2 They are “dutiful, cautious, humble, and focused on credentials, customs, and traditions.”2 They “sometimes worry that respect… even a fundamental sense of right and wrong is being lost.”2 They “have a sharp eye for procedures”2 and are “cautious about change.”2
Beyond this, Keirsey classifies people with the ISFJ personality combinations (Introvert, Sensing, Feeling, Judging) as “guardian protectors.” He says, “we are lucky that guardian protectors make up as much as ten percent of the population, because their primary interest is in the safety and security of those they care about.”3 “Protectors have an extraordinary sense of loyalty and responstibility,”3 and “prefer to make due with time honored and time-tested procedures rather than change to new.”3 “Protectors value tradition,”3 and “are seldom happy in situations where long established ways of doing things are not respected.”3 “They are frequently misunderstood and undervalued… as their shyness is often misjudged as stiffness, even coldness, when in truth they are warm hearted and sympathetic, giving happily of themselves to those in need.”3 Those is church leadership should be intentional about seeking to understand and appreciate the “guardians” God has placed among us. This is just one example, as there are at least 15 other personality types we need to learn to understand and communicate with.
When we look at spiritual gifts, one sometimes misunderstood gift is the gift of administration. I Corinthians 12: 1 says, “Now concerning spiritual gifts I do not want you to be unaware…there are a varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” Down in verse 28, God tells us he has “appointed in the church… gifts of… administrations” or governments (Kubernesis 2941). This gift enables a person to “organize”4 and see things that need to be made right in the church. They have a strong sense of the best way to do something. They have the ability to “steer, or govern”4 areas of the church. This is a very important gifting and one that the church needs to flourish.
However, most pastors do not have this administrative gift. “Barna reminded us that preaching and teaching are the primary giftings in nearly 70% of all pastors, while leading and administrating are found in 15% at best.”5 Most pastors have teaching gifts or shepherding gifts, and this is where it gets interesting: teachers and shepherds often have conflict with administrators. Pastors and leaders without this gift need to learn to appreciate and understand those with the gift of administration. I would suggest that pastors and leaders without this gift need to find someone with this gift and empower them to help the church be as fruitful as it can be. Likewise, I would suggest to administrators: “Sometimes (those with the gift of administration) have to watch that they do not overstep their authority and expect the pastor or others in leadership to follow them.”6 They should also be aware “they often do not admit to mistakes.”6 The best use of the administration gift is to “harmonize the whole program,”6 and keep everyone on the boat until it makes it to a safe harbor. We all need to appreciate the gifts in others, and learn to communicate with and empower leaders with different gifts. This is just one example, as there are at least 18 other spiritual gifts we need to grow in understanding.
As an extroverted idealist teacher, I am blessed to have introverted guardian protectors in my family. We don’t communicate the same, but we love each other! And as a church leader, I have been blessed to have been helped by those with gifts of administration. Often the voice of concern, I find there’s often a great deal of wisdom in that voice.
Looking back at the conflict with my friend, now I would guess he has the personality type of guardian and maybe the spiritual gift of administration. His anger was created out of his fear for the wellbeing of our church, and his concern that things were not being done in the right way. Arguing with him, or meeting his anger with my own upsetness was not going to help. He needed to know I had heard the concern he felt for our church. It’s only when someone feels heard that they can be willing to hear a differing opinion. He also needed to hear that I cared about him and his opinion. 1 Corinthians 12:25, “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”
I care about people. And when we disagree I’m learning to “hear” through each one’s personality type and “hear” through their spiritual gift. I can care for people I am different from, even if we disagree. I hope they can care for me too.

1 Wickman, Dr. Charles A. Pastors at Risk, 2014.
2 https://www.keirsey.com/4temps/guardian_overview.asp
3 https://www.keirsey.com/4temps/protector.asp
4 https://spiritualgiftstest.com/spiritual-gift-administration/
5 https://www.xpastor.org/new-xp/essentials/the-senior-pastor-executive-pastor-team/
6 https://www.churchgrowth.org/do-you-have-the-spiritual-gift-of-administration/

What To Wear

What To Wear

Recently one of our family members came out of their room frustrated saying, “I don’t have anything to wear!” For many of us we have pretty strong opinions about what we wear. We have our favorite outfits. We feel frustrated if the clothes we want to wear aren’t available And worse yet, we get upset if someone like our spouse tells us we can’t wear that!
I’m part of a very diverse church that includes men who wear suits, women who wear hats, men who wear shorts and crocs, and women who wear jeans. Occasionally I will hear conversations and opinions about “What is appropriate for church?”
Recently I was reading about a missionary to China named Hudson Taylor. He struggled in obscurity and isolation for many years. “One day a man asked Taylor to explain why he had buttons on the back of his coat? Taylor realized then that his western-style dress was distracting his listeners from his message. He then decided to dress like a Mandarin, a Chinese teacher. He was amazed at how dressing Chinese allowed him to travel more freely and be accepted more readily by the people. Taylor’s goal was not to have the Chinese become like English Christians, but to have them become Chinese Christians.”1
This presents many questions for me as an American pastor. The first set of questions may include…Do I expect people who come to our church to dress like me? Do I show respect for God when I dress up for Him, or do I show respect for the gospel when I dress down for someone who doesn’t know Christ? Do I show respect for God when I judge what someone else is wearing as legalistic or disrespectful? And are dressed up Christians more reverent than casually dressed Christians? Or are casually dressed Christians more relevant than dressed up Christians? And should we come to a conclusion on those questions and pick one or the other and expect everyone at church to dress that way? Or are we all missing the point?
In reflecting on Hudson Taylor’s ministry I think the second set of questions may be, “Am I willing to change the way I dress so someone could come to Christ? “Who are the lost people God is calling me to bring to church and how do they dress?” And what do they hear by the way I dress?
I confess for me honestly, I get so distracted debating the first set of questions, I don’t think I know the answers to the second set of questions. And maybe that is what is really disrespectful to God and His Gospel?
In 1 Samuel 16:7, when Samuel saw who he thought he was supposed to anoint as the next leader, God intervened and said, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” -1 Samuel 16:7
This is what I know, I hear a lot more about what man looks at than I do about what God looks at…

For other articles by this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

1 http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/hudson-taylors-heart-for-chinas-millions-11630493.html

The Rest of God

rest area
While talking about road trips with our dear friends Dick and Bev, Stephanie and Bev were laughing about how Dick and I hate to stop while traveling. “Do we have to stop here or can you hold it until the next rest area?!” Why don’t we like to stop and rest?
At our house, we often have the most conflict over bed time. “Really, I have to go to bed (like this is the first time we’ve ever done this)?!” “Can’t we stay up?!” And you can ask my dad and mom, I faught bedtime and naps everystep of the way growing up too. Why are we so resistant to rest?
Genesis 2:1 says that God “rested on the seventh day from all His work that he had done.” Does this imply that Almighty God was tired? I don’t think so.
A collegue asked me to listen to a message by Tim Keller entitled “Work and Rest.” Keller suggests physical rest won’t do anything for us if it is not accompanied with soul rest. He said, “Entering God’s rest is being completely satisfied with what’s been done and who we are in Christ.” He points out that at the end of the days during creation, “God saw that it was good.” Keller suggests we find the meaning of God’s rest in Genesis 1:31, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”
This was a light bulb for me! When we have time to slow down and rest, a key component is being able to take a step back and see that life is good! God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3)
Recently I have been with a family by the bedside of their deceased loved one. I have sat across the high security glass of a friend in prison. I have talked with a dear friend estranged from family members who refuse to talk with them anymore. And I have prayed with a dear friend who struggles to understand why God would ask them to work at such a difficult job. All of these situations are heavy and overwhelming, and I would not have been surprised at all if they could not see the goodness of God in their lives.
But each of these friends have told me how good God is to them! They are thankful for the work God has completed for them in Christ Jesus (forgiveness, the peace of the Holy Spirit, the hope of heaven). We can also be thankful for what God has provided for us each day. And we can be thankful for the good things God has prepared for us to do each day. The friend in prison is sharing the gospel with those they interact with there.
How bout you and me? What circumstances, disappointments, or frustrations compete to keep our souls from rest? Can we enter the rest God has for us and see that life is good right where we are?! Next time my kids tell me they’re not tired, I’m going to ask them to go lay in their beds, and think of how many things they could say, “Life is good!” That is the rest of God.

for more articles from this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

What is Love?

Water
“What is love, baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.:” –Haddaway
I’ve heart a lot of opinions about love in my lifetime and I would sum up our world’s definition of love as relationships void of pain. But is a relationship void of pain really full of love?
After a difficult ministry season my wife and I went on a quiet retreat. I had experienced great conflicts, unfair accusations, and was held in resentment by people close to me. While normally pretty resilient, I was beginning to crumble inside. I spent time in prayer asking God to immerse me in His love and give me the courage to continue in these difficulties. It was then I found myself singing an old hymn.

The Love of God is greater far than any pen or tongue can tell.
It goes beyond the highest height and reaches to the lowest hell…
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky…
The love of God so rich and pure, so measureless and strong,
it shall forever more endure, the saints and angel’s song.

He reminded me that responding to the love of God would guarantee that people would hate us (1 Jn 3:13), and that to continue in this loving relationships with Him by faith I might feel abandoned by Him from time to time (Job 13:15). His loving plan for my life might even involve painful experiences (2 Co 12:8). Dr. Henry Cloud points out in Boundaries in Marriage that “ just because someone is in pain doesn’t necessarily mean that something bad is happening…. (Is it) pain that leads to injury? (Or is it) pain leads to growth?” I realized the pain I was experiencing was not leading to permanent injury, even the fact that it led me to cry out to God was indicating it was pain that was leading to my spiritual and relational growth!
I prayed that He would cast me so far into the oceans of His love that I couldn’t swim back to my flesh even if I tried. I prayed that He would plunge me into the depths of His love so far I couldn’t swim back up to the surface of earthly resentments even if I was tempted to.
In “The Lego Batman Movie” the Joker is trying to convince Batman that he is the villain Batman hates the most. Batman says to Joker: “I see what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to entrap me into a relationship.” Joker says to Batman, “Do you realize, [in all these years], you’ve never once said, ‘I hate you, Joker.’? Listen to this, ‘I hate you, Batman.’ Now your turn.” And Batman replies, “Me too.” To which Joker replied, “I am not going to be part of a one-sided relationship any longer!” I sat there considering whether you can hate without acknowledging love? Can you be an atheist without acknowledging there is something not to believe in?
The Bible doesn’t define love as the absence of pain. Infact, Jesus willingness to experience a painful crucifixion is His demonstration of love for us. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life.”  Sounds painful to me!  The Bible defines love as the absence of fear (1 John 4:18).  So while love may involves pain, we don’t have to be afraid of the pain.  Love covers a multitude of pains!

for more articles by this author see http://www.choosemercy.org