The Truth About Love



When I say the word “love” each of you have phrases, people, things, ideas, and more that come to mind. In this third of a series of three posts, I want to consider what love of country ought to look like and how crucial it is to sustaining our nation.


We look at the challenges, disappointments, and angst we feel about nearly every aspect of this country’s current state. Some of us have given up. We can be tempted to believe this is “the worst of times”. Whether or not that is true is likely debatable and not yet settled.


Those who suffered through the hard first winter after landing on the shores of this land might disagree. The trip had been tortuous. Many had died and now they arrived in November in the beginning of winter without lodging or adequate food, but God would have provision in an Indian named Squanto.


Those who risked their lives and livelihood to stand up to England and declare independence might also challenge our current view. How might Abigail Adams respond after the cost of years of separation from her husband in service of their country as she sought to run their farm, raise their children, face small pox, and also the threat of the British?


Abraham Lincoln stood at the intersection that would determine if this country would survive when half of it seceded over the desire to maintain freedom to own, buy, and sell slaves brought here against their will.


Lincoln stood to give his inaugural address on March 4, 1861, with sharpshooters on the roofs surrounding the area in the wake of rumors of plots to assassinate or kidnap the president. He stands determined to face what is ahead of him unflinchingly and as he closes says these words:


“I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touches, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”


Eric Metaxas says in If You Can Keep It, “Lincoln is speaking of something ineffable, something beyond mere logic or law…Lincoln is speaking of the thing that makes a people a people, that causes them to be something more than individuals living on the same piece of land or individuals under the same governmental authority and beholden to the same laws. What he speaks of has to do with a deep feeling that is yet itself more than a mere feeling. It is a uniquely human thing that cannot be put into a document or written into laws.”


When we look more closely the idea of the love for the United States would be the thing to heal us, bring us through the very dark days of slavery and the Civil War, and into the future we have been given.


Unfortunately, those have not been our only dark days. There have been many times since that each of us (even without a great knowledge of history) can list. How can we love a country that has had flaws and been guilty of so much?


We must not forget that as Dr. Os Guinness says, “Liberty requires the spirit of liberty and must remain forever as a habit of the heart.”


In the midst of so many wars, crises, scandals, and disasters, we seemed to steadily hold to a less negative view, a more loving view, that sustained us and gave us hope until about 50 years ago.


As the war in Vietnam escalated we began to view ourselves negatively. We looked over our shoulders to how we had treated Native Americans, the toleration of slavery, treatment of women, and horrible injustices that our nation had not abolished in total.


It was likely a good thing to look back and see the truth and own our part in the marred history, but it also brought division to us. Some of us started to only see the bad things America had done and continued to do and began to develop a narrative that made us the villain both at home and abroad. Others of us determined to only look at the good things and see us as the savior of the world. That has been the problem and soil of the division that has grown into where we stand today.


Metaxas states unequivocally, “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously.” He goes on to say, “The only question is whether, having seen both, we can repent of the one and rejoice and be inspired by the other. Or whether we will let one of them tempt us so far away from the other that we have a deeply distorted view.”


As I read those words, they resonated deeply within my spirit that this is the real issue and where we stand. We do not understand love in its highest and best form. As believers, we fall prey to this tendency in love of country as well as love of one another while still unable to avoid realizing that is not what Jesus taught, modeled, or left us to live out until He returns.


I love what Metaxas says about that:


“…to love something is to see it as we think God would see it—rather than as we, fallen human beings, are inclined to see it. To love something is to see in it the hope and the promise that are in it, which our cynical, tired selves cannot see but which by God’s grace we can see. We do not fail to see the sins and failings, but we also see past them to the hope and the promise. Seeing the sins and failings is therefore not final and fatalistic. We see them but we see beyond them to the possibilities of goodness and forgiveness and redemption. We recognize ‘the story’s not over.’ We see the hope on the other side of where we are.”


That is our challenge and our call. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He is not telling us to love evil or to love evil in our enemies. Metaxas puts it this way, “He is telling us to love what is beyond that, to love the goodness in them that He sees and that He put there. He is telling us that if we love that good thing, it will grow.”


Let me leave you with these final words from Eric Metaxas:


“In other words, what we love we change toward good—by loving it. That is the only path forward, if we care about what is good. We must choose what we look at; and we must choose what we look beyond. But if our focus is on what is ugly and evil and dark, we will strangely strengthen the ugly and evil and dark.”


The founders of this country wrote a brilliant first chapter. What kind of chapter will this generation write? How will the story end?




An Untended Foundation




As I have considered the state of our country (as so many of you), it can be easy to become disheartened. So many wonder what has happened to those aspects of the United States that seem clouded, tattered, and marred somehow. Values once held dear no longer seem to guide our path.


Many of us have been involved in conversations; brainstorming lists of things we think might be the cause and hoping for what might be the cure. This second of three posts looks a little more at what we are seeking to understand about our country and our responsibility to it.


No, it doesn’t always look so discouraging, but the challenges we appear to face as a nation have no quick or easy solutions. To many, it seems we have lost our mooring.


Perhaps too many of us have forgotten the foundations that were laid at the beginning of this new nation, things like the Golden Triangle I mentioned in my previous post. Sadly, some of us have not learned of them at all. Clearly, we have not tended to their upkeep.


Recently, I started reading the latest book by Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It. Page by page his words and research uncovers things long forgotten.


History buffs may well know the meaning of the book’s title. For anyone else, it is a story worth telling.


Its origins go back to the time when delegates came together in Philadelphia to strengthen the foundation of this fledgling nation. They knew The Articles of Confederation were not adequate to sustain the strengthening and development of a cohesive strong country. It was at this convention our Constitution would be formed after much wrangling and more than a few disputes.


The nation waited to find out what form of government would be chosen.


On the day the work was completed in 1787, one of the delegates from Maryland observed an exchange between Benjamin Franklin and a woman from Philadelphia whose paths intersected as Franklin came out of the building where the convention had been meeting.


The woman asked Benjamin Franklin what form of government had been decided upon, a monarchy or a republic. The delegate from Maryland observed and wrote down the words Franklin spoke, “A republic, madam—if you can keep it.”


Franklin understood the new nation’s government was fragile and what had been crafted was unlike any government anywhere in the world. The new nation would carry the opportunity and the responsibility of “we, the people”.


What had brought this group of men to a point of consensus had its origins many years IMG_1959earlier, however.


Those foundations were shaped in significant ways by an English preacher who first came to our shores in 1739. His name was George Whitefield. Many who had heard of his preaching in England had anticipated his arrival. What he did became known as The Great Awakening and it was!!


His preaching broke down the barriers and divisions that existed among people, denominations, and their view of government. His message was clear and so eloquent that he moved even Benjamin Franklin who had never claimed to be a Christian.


Thousands flocked to hear him. There was no room that could hold those eager to hear his words so most of his messages were spoken outside. He did not have the benefit of a sound stage, microphone, or speakers, but his voice resonated so well that those even at the edges of the crowds could hear him.


The centrality of his message was about the “new birth” and about being “born again”.


Listen to the words of Metaxas:


“This egalitarian “born again” faith fit well with the American character, because it supported the idea that different denominations could coexist and respect one another, that their similarities were more important than their differences.”


Later he adds:


“People were being offered a new identity that fit well with the American way of thinking. Some were German by background and some were French and some were English, but none of it mattered. They were all equal under God; they were all Americans. This was something new, an identity that was separate from one’s ethnicity or one’s denomination. To be an American meant to buy into a new set of ideas about one’s equal status in God’s eyes—and by dint of this to be accepted into a new community, to be an American.”


The messages and themes of Whitefield reduced the fear of authority and government that so many in the new colonies brought with them from the strong-armed governments they had left behind. The biblical foundation that all men (and women) were equal no matter their gender or ethnicity and could have a direct relationship with God stood in contrast to the official churches of the countries of their origin.


We have never been perfect nor have we been able to grasp what walking out the biblical truths should look like, but certainly one thing we would do well to consider before it is too late would be the foundations we have forgotten and left untended.


Metaxas writes about the place of Whitefield and how God used his preaching to bring this nation together.


“The Gospel of Christ was the most powerful sociological leveler in history, and although the message had existed for seventeen centuries, it would burst into full bloom only now—at this crucial point in history—under the watering can of Whitefield’s preaching. And over the decades this changed the colonies and created an American people.”


Beyond the pundits and politicians, I think we most need to pray that the Lord will raise up a George Whitefield for this day that brings the centrality of his message to unite us, shape our character, and make us whole.












What Was The Foundation?


I confess that I love reading. I confess I also love history and reading about history. That is evident by the number of books on our shelves as well as how many of them relate to history, whether in truth or fiction. I heard once that if we don’t know our history and learn from it that we are doomed to repeat it.


As I have listened to and been a part of numerous conversations about the state of our country (the United States), I heard on all sides more negative pessimism than I can recall. Christians have recognized it is time (long past time) to be praying and I agree, but there is something else that I think we would be advised to consider doing.


You see, we seem to be uncertain of how to “fix” the condition of our nation and how we arrived where we are. Many of us can be heard saying we do not recognize this country that we grew up in. As a result, along with numerous other books I have been reading to encourage my spiritual life and practice I have been reading a bit more in history to try to sort out what we all seem to be missing no matter what our political persuasion. I have been looking to hopefully discover some dusty truth that has been long forgotten if I ever knew it to better inform my understanding.


I won’t bore you with what I have been reading and continue to read, but one of the books I finished recently is If You Can Keep It by Eric Metaxas. I have always loved his writing and been challenged by it and his most recent book did not disappoint me. It has resulted in deeper thinking resulting in reflections that I want to share with you in this, the first of three posts.


Metaxas talks about a principle that I do not recall hearing prior to this book in regard to the foundation of our freedom called The Golden Triangle of Freedom that was a title framed by Dr. Os Guinness, cultural observer, that he wrote about and also spoke about at a meeting of Socrates in the City. The group meets monthly with various people and speakers to dialogue about “life, God, and other small topics.” (You can check out the website and listen to many of these at


Dr. Guinness quotes St. Augustine’s words “If you want to understand a nation, don’t look at the size of its population, the strength of its army, or the prestige of its universities. Look at its loved things that are held in common, the supremely loved things.”


The question gives me (and maybe you) much to think about. I wonder if any of us can clearly define what it is in 2016. If you look at how we spend our time, our money, and our gifts, I think it might look more like a collage as a result of our very individualistic preferences.


That was less so when this country was born. The predominant answer from the time of the Pilgrims through the founding of our country would be “freedom”. Those who came to start a new nation knew things we have forgotten. They didn’t want freedom only for then, but to have freedom for this country always. They also knew no free society had been able to stay free forever.


That understanding was foundational to the framers of our country. They knew they faced three tasks: 1) Winning freedom (1776, the American Revolution); 2) Ordering freedom (1787, the Constitution that set up policies and structure to last): and 3) Sustaining freedom.


The first two of these were clear and the path direct. The last of these would fall to those who would come after to the present time. Would freedom be taken for granted?


The framers knew why those other free societies had not survived. They identified three things: external enemies, corruption of customs, and time. Time would be the most deadly as the fresh breath of freedom would likely fade because nothing lasts forever that is temporal.


Those same framers knew the paradox that freedom is the greatest enemy of freedom when it has no mooring and erodes into permissiveness and license that would be sure to corrupt freedom. 


Dr. Guinness speaks a great deal about this in his address and refers often to the ideas IMG_1979from his book, A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, published in August 2012.


He uses the triangle to look at the foundation the framers understood because each leg of a triangle reinforces the other and strengthens it.


The first leg of The Golden Triangle is this: “Freedom requires virtue”. Virtue seems to be an outdated word for us today, but its root is courage and it looks at character. John Adams wrote in a letter, “The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue.” The belief was that people have a right to know the character of their leaders. There has been a lot of talk about character during this season, but as a whole we tend to value what we see as competence more than character.


The second leg of The Golden Triangle is this: Virtue requires faith”. In considering how to reinforce virtue, the founders looked at what inspired virtue. Even though this country was not setting a religious state they respected the Christian faith because as Dr. Guinness said, “it gave a thick notion of virtue”. The founders and framers were wary of a society of atheists even though they would be granted the freedom to live here and believe as they chose.


The third leg of The Golden Triangle is this: “Faith requires freedom”. Our First Amendment is unique for the list of freedom it grants. It broke 1,500 years of European tradition.


What I learned about how things had changed suggests that it began in the nineteenth century “when faith became privatized and publicly irrelevant” according to Guinness. The erosion started in the realm of faith, not in government. Then in the twentieth century our focus was on “proceduralism” in public life so that faith, freedom, and virtue were considered to be things that were personal and private. This led to the postmodern era where no such thing as truth became the driving force.


Now we live in a time where most notions of freedom are negative whether they are libertarian, liberal, or conservative.


As believers, these are sobering realities for us to consider since we are to be the salt and the light to any society where we live. We are to be the guardians of faith that guards and guides healthy freedom.


I wonder if that is why so many people in so many places have been sensing the Lord saying, “Repent”.







What Does the Truth Look Like?




If we can hold fast to the revelation of the truth I have been sharing with you for the past five posts, what difference does it make? How would we be different in our lives and the living out of that truth?


Would we cease striving, ever trying to do more to get closer to the Lord or gain His acceptance?


If we have fallen prey to doing so many things for a long time, we might find ourselves puzzling over what our day-to-day life might look like as we embrace the truth of our union with Christ.


We have all those things on our “to do” list, don’t we? What happens with them? What happens with all the spiritual disciplines we have learned we are to incorporate into our lives?


Good questions!


Throughout this series of posts I have often quoted Dave Hickman’s words in Closer Than Close because it was this book that impacted me so deeply that I wanted to share my reflections of it with you. His words once again give me direction for those pesky questions I just asked.


“Richard Foster, in his classic work, A Celebration of Discipline, speaks of the disciplines as ‘the path of disciplined grace.’ Prayer, Scripture reading, silence, solitude—they are each a grace because they are free. Yet they are disciplines because ‘there is something for us to do.’ And that ‘something’ has more to do with intentional positioning than constant pressing; more to do with conformity to Christ than proximity to him.”


Let those words soak in for a few minutes.


If I am clear on my union with Christ and my salvation being Him, then those things on my ‘list’ become less about something I must do, must not forget, and more about wanting to enjoy this union and celebrate it with Him as often as possible. Then I want to slip away to sense that level of intimacy without interruption. Then I will long for that time, not so I can be closer to Him but rather because I am as close as I can possibly be.


I can get more in touch with what Brother Lawrence meant about practicing being in His presence…. presence that was already there, but he was not aware of.


I can become more tuned into how many times and places I see Him throughout each moment.


In Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr, he talks about God’s presence in this way:


“We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness. Little do we realize that God is maintaining us in existence with every breath we take. As we take another it means that God is choosing us now and now and now.”


We all often talk about our busyness, sometimes busyness about very good things, and sometimes busyness about ministry things, church things.


Whenever we talk about busyness the word tiredness almost always follows. It can be physical, emotional, mental, relational, or spiritual tiredness. Often it is a combination of more than one of these.


As I consider the truth marinating in my heart, mind, and spirit during this series, I see that busyness becomes an enemy especially because it gets in the way of my awareness of Him and the ways He wants to show me Himself. If I am preoccupied with doing throughout my day, will I never notice how beautiful the sunrise was or that my new rosebush is blooming and what fragrance it is giving me…. fragrance that He designed.


I also will not notice or observe those around me, the expressions on their faces or in their bodies that give me clues about what may be impacting them and what He wants me to see in that, to be in that.


I also will not hear them or at least I will not hear them accurately.


I am sure you can guess the list can and does go on and on.


These truths also remind me of what I sensed Him saying to me some years ago that I wrote in my journal:


“I long to speak to you in these morning hours, to encourage your faith and lift up your heart. It has taken us awhile to come to these interludes and I most often just want to remind you that I long to speak to you. I always desire to speak to my children. I want them to know me so intimately that they will immediately recognize any false voice. In that way they will learn not to be ensnared by the subtle devices of the enemy.”



Our Identity—Settled!



The truth of that morning outside Joseph of Arimethea’s empty tomb and on that morning when the disciples had gone fishing and looked ashore to discover Jesus making them breakfast…that is what we need to hold onto. We hear the story, but we need to understand the meaning.


I never fail to be especially impacted by the conversation between the Lord and Peter on the beach that day. Peter had been so sure of himself before that long night in the courtyard when the Lord was being abused and mocked. He had vowed he would never betray the Lord and yet in those shadowy pre-dawn hours, the Lord’s words of prophecy to him had come to pass and he denied him three times before the cock crowed.


Peter had failed the Lord in those moments of denial. He had struggled in the aftermath of that day, shocked at his cowardice. But then as he walked to shore and saw the Lord beside the charcoal fire preparing breakfast, I wonder if he winced. It had been a charcoal fire in the courtyard that morning where his biggest failure had occurred. Only on these two occasions is a charcoal fire mentioned in the Bible. How poignant it must have been for Peter!


Then in John 21:15-19 we read of the conversation Jesus has with Peter. Three times the Lord asks Peter if he loves him. Three times!! It had been three times he had denied the Lord. How Peter’s heart must have ached as he heard the questions.


Peter assured the Lord that he did indeed love him and the Lord gave him his mission and commission to feed his lambs, care for his sheep and feed them. In those short verses, the Lord restores Peter to himself, to oneness with “the” One. He grants him his identity, something only possible because of the Incarnation.


Henry Scougal in The Life of God in the Soul of Man makes clear the main point of the Christian faith: “True Religion is a Union of the Soul with God. It is a ‘real participation of the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the Soul’, or in the Apostle’s phrase, it is Christ formed within us.”


That point, that union, for Peter was more important that morning than the dawning of the sun. He was forgiven on a level he could not imagine possible and made “one” with his Lord.


That is what we must hold fast to because those words are for us as well as believers in Christ. They are available to us even when we fail Him; fail Him miserably, if we recognize the price has been paid.


Too often we connect our identities to something or someone outside of ourselves. As long as we do that, we will struggle with our sense of worth.


In Closer Than Close Dave Hickman reminds us:

“But as believers united to Christ, our identities are not in what we do (or even in what Christ has done) but in who Christ is.”


Later Hickman notes:

“Being united to Christ affords us the grace by which we are now fully (and forever) included and accepted into God’s family as true sons and daughters. This is the heart of divine adoption. Knowing ourselves to be actual sons and daughters of God is central to our identity in Christ.”


In Knowing God by J.I. Packer he states:

“If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all…(For) our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption.”


Dave Hickman describes the dilemma too many of us have struggled with for far too long.

“Theologian Clark Pinnock once noted that ‘if salvation is union, conversion is awakening to love.’ The pinch of that definition is that until we understand salvation is union with Christ, we will remain unconverted to the reality of our identity as the beloved. We will continue to strive and not rest. We will continue to doubt and not believe. We will continue to hunger and thirst but never be filled. We will continue to peer into the all-consuming love between the Father and Son but never experience what it means to be the beloved ourselves. In short, we will continue to live our lives as orphans, unaware of how deeply and passionately we are loved of our Father.”


This changes everything! It changed everything for Peter on the shore so long ago and it does for us as well.


You and I are in union with the One! The unholy alliance in the Garden of Eden sealed with the eating of the fruit in the ceremony of covenantal relationship with Satan has been broken when we experience re-union with the Trinity through Jesus Christ.


And He gives us a reminder of that new covenant that we saw first in the upper room before His death. He gives us communion (committed union) that we can truly celebrate as evidence of His covenant with us.


Our identity is settled once and for all! Our re-union is complete (though not consummated until His return). Satan’s ploy and hope is that we will never recognize it.


Everything changes because of this truth. In the next and last post in this six-part series, lets look at how different we might look as a result of holding fast to this truth.