Something More than a Half-Hearted Love

I’ve got a weird feeling in my heart. It’s a lump of grief without tears, an uncomfortable tickle urging me to cough, a thick feeling I”d like to swallow away and yet when I try I find it lingers on in the back of my throat. All over my Facebook feed, I’ve been reading about World Vision’s decision to begin employing homosexuals in an effort to unify the church. Jon and I sponsor 3 children through World Vision.

Sigh.  Now what?

This question has been floating around my head since I first learned the news of World Vision’s change of policy. Do we continue giving to World Vision? Does their policy on homosexuality truly matter in the long run as we aren’t basing our family’s theology off of World Vision? What happens if I stop sending our financial gifts to World Vision? Will those 3 beautiful girls in the photos stop receiving services? I pondered about what I should do in response to this new information.  Surely, by partnering with World Vision and giving financially to their programs, I am loving the “least of these” … Right?

Figuring it was too early in the morning for such deep thoughts and wanting to ease my stress, I decided to check my email.  But doing so only made my heart ache worse, for in one of the emails I read about Wesley and his story.                                                      ( http://mad.ly/4bca94 )

Wesley ... wanting a family; waiting in China.
Wesley … wanting a family; waiting in China.

Wesley isn’t an orphan exactly. He’s an abandoned child. Left at the gate of an orphanage by his family at age six … no note, no explanation given.  Just a boy, alone.  He will turn 14 in August … at which point he will age out of the system, no longer able to be adopted, destined to live his life without a family.

After reading about this boy “whom no one cared for,”my instant thought was to pray for some other person to come love him. And then, like a small shockwave to my soul, I heard a whisper in my heart, saying, “What about you? How will you love my sheep? Are you willing to do more than give a little bit of half-hearted love?”

Quite honestly, my involvement with World Vision has been just that … half-hearted. Oh, a couple of times a week I pause to pray for Samanise, Manahel and Julian by name, if I don’t forget. Each month the money flows out of my bank account, never really missed.

Somehow it feels empty, this giving without engagement. There’s no cost to me really.  Even though I do pay out $100 or so a month, it’s rather easy come, easy go money.  I don’t even know the exact amount. I rarely think of it. I just pay and go about my own business.

How is this loving someone else in the name of Christ?

Please. Don’t misunderstand me or my heart this morning. Giving is wonderful. God expects us to give, even give sacrificially. I am grateful for those people who have poured into my life, often financially or materially, when I needed it. I believe whole-heartedly that God loves a cheerful giver. There is nothing wrong with financially supporting ministries and it is something my family is blessed to be able to do regularly.

Yet deep down I know that for me the act of giving money to World Vision is no more loving than giving away my old, discarded clothes to Goodwill is an act of love.

So why do I bother? Perhaps to feel better about myself? Maybe to convince myself and others that I really do care?

The Bible says that Christians will be known by their love. (John 13:35)  So why is it that most days I don’t feel loving? I feel a lot of things: stress over money, worry about raising my kids right, concern for the direction my nation is heading. But it saddens me to think I don’t really feel loving towards others, especially people who aren’t in my little world, which revolves mostly around me and my activities.

This year, my family has been working to memorize the love chapter of the Bible.  I’ve always enjoyed the flow of this passage of scripture. Normally, the rhythm of the words lilt along, leaving pleasant sorts of thoughts in my mind.

1 Corinthians 13: 1, 3

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. … If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Not this morning. Today the words stung, prickling my heart, mostly because I know what love looks like:

Reid & Eli, Dec. 2013
Reid & Eli, Dec. 2013

It looks like my brother Reid and his wife Heather, who put money, time and tears into adopting Eli.  Now, our entire family is richer for this blessing in ways I cannot even begin to describe.

Uncle Curt in Uganda
Uncle Curt in Uganda

It looks like my Uncle Curt and Aunt DeDe, who picked up and moved to Africa to serve as missionaries. They left behind aging parents, beautiful grandchildren, and a comfortable life, simply because they know Christ and wanted to share His love with those who didn’t.

It looks like my friend Marcia, who I’ve never met face-to-face, but if I did I’d immediately hug her neck and tell her what an inspiration she is to me. Instead of just talking big about being pro-life on social media, Marcia and her husband are actually stepping out in faith by helping one young pregnant woman choose life by adopting her baby. (Here’s the link to her story:  http://marcia-underhiswings.blogspot.com/2014/03/happy-anniversary-were-having-baby.html )

Love isn’t half-hearted, and it isn’t empty either. It is action. It is involved. It is compassion and truth mixed together. While love isn’t all about fuzzy, feel-good moments, it fills the giver and the receiver up and makes a mark on the soul.

Because I know what love looks like, I am challenged to do more than give a little half-hearted love. I ask for your prayers as I seek for God to reveal to me how I can love others with His love.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

 

Can You Lose Your Faith?

Once a homeless meth addict … now the chaplain at an inner-city mission.

An overweight couch potato … now runs 5K’s.

A high school drop-out … now has a college degree and working toward a Masters.

People with the guts, motivation and inner character to make a complete 180 in their life are inspirational. I want to hear their stories for in them I find motivation for my own life struggles.

But a charismatic preacher turned atheist who now leads other atheists? 

That’s not inspiring. Perhaps baffling or intriguing, but definitely not a story which would influence or encourage me to become someone better.  In fact, after reading the NY Times online article about just such a pastor (who oddly enough used to be an acquaintance of one of my former college friends), I was left with far more questions than anything else.

What could possibly cause a pastor to leave his church and so completely abandon his faith in God that he becomes an atheist? Why would this atheist now want to start conducting meetings similar to church services for atheists? And why on earth would an atheist want to attend anything remotely like a church service anyway?

The article did spark some lively lunchtime conversation though. Jon and I bantered around ideas about what sorts of things might happen in an atheist “church.”  Somehow Jon, Joel and Nathan began to make up songs which might be sung, such as “I’m a god, you’re a god, wouldn’t you like to be a god too” to the old Dr. Pepper commercial tune.

Later, once the joking stopped, our questions and thoughts turned more serious. Abandoning faith is not a pleasant thought for any Christian. It’s like divorce, only from God and not from another human.  And trust me on this because I’ve been there … no matter how bad the relationship or what Biblical reason you might have, divorce from a human you once professed to love is hard on the heart and soul. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be to divorce one’s self from God Almighty, especially if your life was once devoted to sharing His love with others.

As we continued to talk more in depth about the idea of losing one’s faith, Jon brought up Job, the man from Uz who was blessed immensely by God and then lost everything he had in the span of a single day.  All of his children, all of his wealth … gone in an instant. Yet his faith didn’t waiver.  In fact, it is recorded in Job 1:20 that he “fell to the ground in worship.”  Not long after this, Job lost his health as well. When his wife suggested he should “curse God and die,”  Job responded, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2:9-10)

As we talked, I shared how the story of how the old hymn It Is Well With My Soul came to be written. Horatio and Anna Spafford were happy. Life had treated them well: five children, Horatio’s thriving law practices, lots of investments in real estate around the Chicago area, wealthy even by American standards. But in 1870, the Spafford’s charmed life fell apart. Their only son died of scarlett fever at the age of four.  In 1871, Horatio lost much of his real estate investments in the Great Chicago Fire. But he didn’t lose faith in his Savior. In fact, the Spaffords made plans to join the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody on a revival tour in Europe. When it came time to set sail for Europe, Horatio sent his wife and four girls ahead, planning to follow on a different ship a few days later after attending to some business that could not be neglected.  Unfortunately, the ship carrying his family across the Atlantic was struck by a British steamer and sank in just 12 short minutes. All four of his daughters drowned. His wife was one of the few passengers to survive the ordeal.  A few weeks later, Horatio made his way across the Atlantic to join his grief-stricken wife. As his ship crossed over the location of the tragic sinking, Horatio retired to his cabin and penned the words:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way; When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say: It is well, it is well with my soul.

We sat in silence for a few moments, pondering the faith of men like Job and Horatio Spafford, who had it all, lost it all, and never truly lost faith in God. And then, Jon asked:

“Do you think there is anything you could lose that would make you lose all faith in God?” 

Nathan (who is 11 yrs old)  immediately replied, “Well, maybe something like losing my mind … if that happened, I’d probably lose my faith because I just wouldn’t remember anymore.”

I didn’t quite know how to respond to his comment, but I knew I didn’t like it. The very idea of being able to lose my faith for any reason is unsettling, but especially for a reason that I can’t control such as losing my mind … well, it is almost more than I can stand to think about.  My thoughts went to my grandmother, whose life of faith has a strong influence upon my life. She suffered from Alzheimer’s for 10 years, ever so slowly slipping away, her mind gone long before her body.

Just last week, I visited with my grandfather, the two of us spending some time remembering my grandmother and her particular love of singing hymns of praise, not just at church but as she went about her daily activities as well. I told Papaw how that even now, seven years after her death, whenever I think of the words to a hymn or play the notes to an old church song on my piano, I hear the sound of my grandmother’s rich alto voice singing the words in my head. “I supposed it will always be that way,” I commented.

Papaw nodded, looking out the window for a moment or two. Then, he spoke, sharing with me how in the last couple of years of her life, when my grandmother no longer recognized him and rarely spoke audibly at all, she never forgot the words to the hymns she had love to sing in worship. He said, with a wistful smile, “Every Sunday afternoon I would take your grandmother down to the church service in the nursing home, and I never once knew her not to sing along to the hymns … and she always knew the words. That was something she never forgot.”

 She never forgot.

 I pondered those words, remembering my grandmother, her strong faith before the Alzheimer’s took away her mind, her voice singing hymns even when she couldn’t remember my grandfather. She never forgot because she never lost her faith in God. She never lost her faith because it was real in her heart.

 So why did the pastor turn his back on his church, abandon his faith in God, and become an atheist … the very antithesis of the man he used to be? What caused him to lose his faith?

Well, I can’t say what life events might have occurred to spark such a change of heart, but I do know what the Bible has to say situations like this:

Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they heart it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. Luke 8:13

No, Nathan … nothing — not even losing your mind — will cause you to lose your faith in God, if your faith is real and rooted in Christ.

 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, no any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39