Valentine’s Day. Seven days. Men, order flowers – now!

In that spirit, a question: What was your dating experience was like? One word describes mine: lame. The ladies man, I was not. I’d like to say I kept them guessing. Trouble is they weren’t wondering in the first place. Thankfully, God brought rescue to my bachelorhood in the form of absolute wonderfulness (cue the sighs, or gags).

Fond memories surround my courting of Katrina. A true romantic, I took her to Terminator 2 on our second date. I then pulled-out all the stops. We spent night after night at my parent’s house watching mindless TV shows. Oh, yeah! Together. Sitting close. It was terrific…at least for me. For her, a little pizzazz in our shared experiences would have been nice. You now see why my dating life was lame.

Our relationship transitioned to the long distance type. Katrina lived in a mediocre apartment in Grand Rapids. I roomed with four other guys in a dumpy, spider-infested, un-insulated, turn-of-the-century excuse for a house at Michigan Tech. I was love-struck. I lost days – maybe weeks – of productive work. Daydreaming was my primary activity. Engineering studies ran a distant second. When I wasn’t solving differential equations I wrote letters to Katrina. When I wasn’t writing, I was reading her letters. And re-reading. And talking on the phone. Laughing, crying, and pining for each other. Absence, indeed, makes the heart grow fonder. No matter the circumstance, my thoughts boomeranged back to Katrina. In the words of Pink Floyd, I was “comfortably numb” in my affection for her. I was, and am, infatuated.

Ah, memories. Looking back reminds me of this quote: “I couldn’t get Him (Jesus) out of my head. Still can’t. I spent three solid days thinking about Him. The more He bothered me, the less I could forget Him. And the more I learned about Him, the less I wanted to leave Him.” (Life of Pi, 57) Sounds a bit like dating. Thoughts always churning, speculating, dreaming and hoping. Near obsession at times. What we think informs our attitudes, actions, beliefs and desires. As Katrina and I pondered and prayed about our relationship, we were moved into conversations – conversations that steadily brought us to the realization that we would form a household together.

John Owen said, “How can we say we love Christ and spiritual things if we do not spend much time thinking about them? That which you set your heart on is that which you will think about most.” (Spiritual Mindedness, 238) It’s easy to think a lot about my wife. My kids. My finances. My project list. My worries. My career. The next vacation. What people think about me.

But I am a Christ-follower: a Christian. My thoughts should reflect that. That’s challenging. How often is Jesus part of my self talk? Is He part of my scheming and planning; my hopes and dreams? Do I trust Him fully with my triumphs and failures? Or do I think of Him only when I need something? Is He my lucky rabbit’s foot or the Lord of my life?

I want Jesus to get stuck in my head. To rule my thoughts. To bother me. To distract me from myself. To draw me into His story. I want to learn things about my Savior that create an ever increasing desire for Him and His Kingdom. An infatuation, of sorts. How about you?

Love, Truth and the No Man’s Land Between

I bought the world’s tiniest but most ah-mazing dot-to-dot book for our kids. They are handing that thing around like a pan of gold. Since I am a giver, I don’t want anyone feeling left out. Here’s a dot-to-dot of quotes about compassion and truth and what has nothing to do with either. Get out your favorite pen and have-at-it.

From  R.C. Sproul Jr. via Dec 2010 Tabletalk: “Compassion, rightly understood, means entering into the passion, or suffering, of others. It means setting aside our own concerns, our own fears, our own needs, and not just supplying but feeling the needs of those around us. This, ironically, happens not when we have all that we need. It happens instead when we come to understand that we have nothing and that we need nothing. Compassion flows not out of the well-satisfied but from those who have not. There is, in turn, only on way to do this—die to self. When my aspirations, my hopes and dreams, my wants are crucified, I enter into liberty. I am free to take up the concerns of others. A dead man has no need to protect his comfort. He has no need to protect his wealth. He has no need at all to protect his reputation. Perhaps Janis Joplin had it right: freedom may just be another word for “nothing left to lose.””

From Louie Konopka’s (my pastor) messages on Ephesians: “If you are like Christ, you move toward people.”

From Epicetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher: “This is our predicament. Over and over again, we lose sight of what is important and what isn’t.”

From C.S. Lewis: “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

From Flannery O’Connor: “The fact is that if the [person’s] attention is on producing…a work that is good in itself, he is going to take great pains to control every excess…He cannot indulge in sentimentality, in propagandizing, or in pornography and create a work of art, for all these things are excesses.  They call attention to themselves and distract from the work as a whole.” *

From Federico Garcia Lorea, a Spanish poet, dramatist and theatre director: “Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think.”

From Louie on Revelation 2:1-7: “We cannot grow beyond love. We must grow into it. Truth is the platform to get us there. When you do this you recognize each person as an image, give them their rightful place in life, do what is right to/for them.”

*I’m only going to editorialize this one thing. The Flannery O’Connor quote is about writers, but I’ve included it because I think a great danger and misuse of compassion is found from sentimentality. Sentimentality is dangerous like judgmentalism or pornography. When you are motivated by sentimentality, the image of God is distorted in men and therefore, truth is marred and then the balance is lost and you begin to abuse relationships.

Affection Revolution

I’m a recovering perfectionist. My recovery began several years ago with a “slap.” A slap of truth that woke me from dreams of a perfectly controlled life. A slap that caused me, for the first time, to ponder my affections.

I have affection for many things. Among them my wife, kids, old books, strong coffee, quiet mornings and bacon. My affections govern my thoughts, words and actions. My love for strong coffee results in frequent visits to Starbucks. I can’t resist a used bookstore. I hug and kiss Katrina and the kids. I like my bacon a bit soft. Affections are the energy – the voltage – that pushes us along the path of life (I’m also a recovering electrical engineer).

The transition to a new year offers a distinct opportunity for starts, stops and changes. This year I’m pondering, again, what I love. To who or what do I give my affection? My review is upwelling more regret than celebration. I’m finding that I still love things I shouldn’t, don’t love what I should, and am making my story the only story. I’ve found hints of perfectionism I thought were dead. Such discoveries bring disappointment, frustration and flashes of anger.

But amidst my unwelcomed discoveries glows a warm and steady hope. Hope fueled by the Great Affection. An affection for me that offers a chance to start, stop and change – not just at the transition to a new year, but every day. “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV) What great truth that is for this recovering perfectionist! Despite my failings, God’s compassions – His affections – never fail. Oh God, why do you extend to me your patient love? Why are you faithful when I prostitute my heart? When I love me more than You? When I give you leftovers instead of the first and best? When I refuse to be quiet, rest, listen and submit? Father, I don’t understand your Great Affection for me, but thank you.

In response to God’s love, I’m declaring 2011 a year of revolution: an “Affection Revolution.” This revolt is against my misplaced affections. Affections that want to love Chris more than Christ. Affections for the temporal with hope of gaining significance and security. I want to live more fully the greatest commands: to love God and love people. I want to grow in grateful giving. Jesus said we give our heart to what we love (Matthew 6:21). In perfectionism, I love myself – first. Such misplaced affection brings a lonely self-worship. I’m revolting against such selfishness. I pray that 2011 brings a more intimate walk with God that starves my affections for lesser things while fostering a greater affection – a first-place affection for Jesus Christ and His Church.

In addition to the verse from Lamentations above, the following quote from J.C. Ryle turns-up the voltage on my Affection Revolution. Perhaps you’d like to join my revolution and grow our love for Jesus Christ in 2011 – together?
“The man whose soul is “growing” takes more interest in spiritual things every year. He does not neglect his duty in the world. He discharges faithfully, diligently, and conscientiously every relation of life, whether at home or abroad. But the things he loves best are spiritual things. The ways, and fashions, and amusements, and recreations of the world have a continually decreasing place in his heart. He does not condemn them as downright sinful, nor say that those who have anything to do with them are going to hell. He only feels that they have a constantly diminishing hold on his own affections, and gradually seem smaller and more trifling in his eyes. Spiritual companions, spiritual occupations, spiritual conversation, appear of ever-increasing value to him. Would anyone know if he is growing in grace? Then let him look within for increasing spirituality of taste.” (J.C. Ryle – Holiness, p. 107)