Category Archives: Love

Context

DSC00080This is Rudy. Obviously, he was ecstatic to have his picture taken. I have always enjoyed photography but recently my interest has narrowed to focus more on street photography. Since I will be doing more traveling in the near future, I wanted to learn how to creatively capture the people, culture, architecture, landscape and even animals that I encounter. I am definitely not a professional but have enjoyed learning a new technique and creative perspective. One of my favorite street photo blogs is by Eric Kim. He has a depth of knowledge and shares it in a down-to-earth way.

Classic photojournalism is shot from a 35mm perspective. There is a reason the old film rangefinders would come standard with a fixed 35mm lens often with a max 1.8 aperture. It was unassuming, fast and able to capture people in the context of their natural environment. I am currently using a 30mm f2.8 pancake lens attached to a compact mirrorless body for my street photography. It’s the closest I could come to a small 35mm given my limited parameters of size and budget.

It’s easy to get caught up with the equipment but in the end it always comes down to the image. How can you capture your environment in a way that is both accurate and memorable? For a very brief time, I was interested in shooting landscapes but lost interest in capturing backdrops without people. After having children, I was interested in shooting close-ups and portraits. But again, over time I lost interest because cute faces are nice but eventually I wanted to remember the circumstances surrounding the photo. What makes street photography unique is that it records people in context. Context is vitally important. Without it, we fail to capture the moment because life doesn’t unfold in a vacuum.

Take for example, Rudy. His face is very ordinary but captured in full context, it makes for a more meaningful picture. He’s tightly tethered to his owner’s chair on a busy street where no one’s paying attention to him. No wonder he looks that way!

RudyContext is key not only for photography but also for growing in love. Love always has a context. This may not sound profound, but it is for me. Subconsciously, I assumed growing in love happened instantly and quietly, almost in private. That if I simply asked God to make me more loving, he would somehow pour “love juice” in me and “tada!,” I’d be instantly compassionate. But love rarely develops that way. It forms within a tapestry of people and relationships. More specifically, it mushrooms in the tension and conflict of these relationships.

If a tender heart is my prayerful desire, then the Father will often allow me to be in relationships where love is not natural or easy. This is not limited to my enemies but most often includes my closest friends. No matter how good the relationship is, eventually there will be tension. Suffering in relationships is love’s context. At times, my contexts have included, adoption, marriage, fatherhood, pastoring, sonship, brotherhood and friendship.

This paradox makes love feel awkward. The harder things get, the more I realize how loving I am not. The more I realize this, the more discouraged I get. The more discouraged I get, the more frustrated I get that God is apparently not answering my prayer. Yet, it is when I finally come to the end of myself that I truly begin to beg for God’s love to flow through me. Owning my inability is an invitation for God’s love to slowly fill the deep voids of my heart with that which I lack desperately. Surprisingly, it’s just when I think my heart is hopelessly wilted that God’s love sprouts from the ashes of my scarcity.

This shouldn’t surprise us. God’s love for us was not sealed in a Heavenly vacuum. The context of the Father’s love was the pain of this broken world. God became flesh and dwelt among us. He lived with us. He suffered like us. He died for us. So if we want to love like He does, then why wouldn’t our path be similar to his? Why wouldn’t it include suffering, sacrifice and surrender? This is the way of the gospel. It is the shape of love.

What I appreciate about street photography is that every day life is the backdrop. Rather than a clouded studio background, street photography captures people in everyday settings. While it is nice to have photos of birthdays, weddings and trips to Disneyland, those moments are not what fills out most of life. Street photography forces us to stop and remember the unique gifts of the ordinary in life. In that case, every moment can be a special occasion worth capturing.

Because love bubbles up in the affairs of daily irritations and annoying conflicts, growth can happen anywhere and anytime. All of life can be the context for God’s love to grow in you. In fact, in the most trying seasons, growth can be subversively continuous. No wonder it’s so exhausting! If you’re currently in one of those seasons, remember what may feel like a problem may very well be God’s answer to your prayers. Rather than fight it, instead embrace it. It might be the context of love God has tailored just for you.

Tagged , ,

Learning From Sam

My wife’s brother, Sam, has a cognitive delay. I have written about his specific limitations in the past, so I won’t revisit the details. An over-simplified description (not diagnosis) is that Sam is high functioning in many ways but has a simplified perspective of the world similar to that of a young teenager.

I don’t see Sam often as we’re separated by 400 miles of California coastland but when I do, we often go out for coffee or breakfast to “socialize” (as he likes to put it ). Sam is very open about his struggles, fears, likes and dislikes. In many ways, I considered our times together as an informal opportunity for me to disciple him but over the past eighteen years, I realize more often the roles are reversed. In Sam’s child-like faith, he disciples me.

Pastor Lee Jong-rak of the famed “Drop Box” says,

“Disabled children teach many people, change many people, and help people reflect upon themselves, which is why they are the educators of society.”

Sam is not a child but he is disabled and he is an educator. He teaches me to slow down. He teaches me core theology. He teaches me to be child-like that I might inherit the kingdom. He teaches me to worship.

Sam

First time I met Sam…oh, so long ago

Yesterday, Sam tutored me in the car while we were driving to pick up his brother from the airport. He was feeling really bad about a reoccurring sin that he currently wrestles with. He said, “I don’t know why I keep doing that (sin)! I don’t want to do it but I do.” Sam has read the entire Bible many times so Romans 7 could have been flowing from his heart or his memory. Either way, I could identify with his frustration with the old self. Sam wondered out loud if his sins were really forgiven even though he does the same thing over and over again. I reminded him that grace, not works, saves and secures his salvation. That was the limited extent of my discipling. Then we subtly switched roles.

Sam: “I think maybe because I’m slow, I can’t understand why God would keep forgiving me over and over and over again.”
Me: “It’s not because you’re slow, I think most Christians, including me, have a hard time believing that.”

Sam: “Yeah, a normal person wouldn’t do that. If I hurt another person over and over again, he would stop forgiving me a long time ago.”
Me: “You’re right.”

Sam: “That’s just craa…”
Me: “Crazy? That’s crazy?”

Sam: “Yeah, that’s just crazy love!” (no need to read Francis Chan, Sam already gets it)
Me: “It is! Do you realize when we were singing ‘Amazing Grace’ yesterday, that’s what we were singing about?”

Sam: “Yeah…”(looking off into the distance)

Sam looked pleased. It was the satisfied look of child-like wonder. Like rediscovering the vibrant beauty of a rainbow following a few rainy days. His response moved me to pause, look up in the sky and worship as well.

Yesterday, Sam taught me that God’s grace IS truly amazing. That His forgiveness is NOT normal. And that His love is just PLAIN crazy! As he did so, I discovered that a mini-van on the 101 fwy could be sacred space if I would just allow God to disciple me through the faith of my brother-in-law. Too often, I am too busy and too informed to behold God’s greatness in everyday life. I thank the Father that He sent Sam into my life to gently shame my shallow wisdom that I might rediscover the beauty of His grace. I can’t wait to see what Sam will teach me next…

(By the way, Sam gave me full permission to share our conversation. Thanks, Sam!)

Tagged ,

Learning to Lament

A few more thoughts on the book of Ruth…

While Ruth is the primary focus, in many ways her mother-in-law, Naomi, is actually the one many of us can relate to. Naomi suffered great loss. She lost her husband and then she lost her two sons. This was devastating. The family name, land ownership and personal inheritance was carried on through the males in the family. So in a matter of a few years or less, Naomi lost her entire family, her housing, her financial security and her social security. She was utterly ruined.

If Naomi’s story feels familiar, it’s because we all know that tragedy is real. We see it everyday in the news and experience it personally on small and large scales. Ruin, loss and suffering is part of life. As Christians, we live in a broken world but we still have hope that God is in control. At times, this can be comforting but often times, it can create tension. How do we respond to a sovereign and loving God when we live in a world of ruin?

Continue reading

Tagged

Love is Foolish

Last month, I shared this story of the “Little Red Hen” with our church family. I think most of us can appreciate this familiar fable because of the important life lessons it teaches. Work hard. Don’t be lazy. I like it because there is a sense of justice. You get what you pay for. If you don’t work, you don’t eat.

This story reminded me of Naomi and Ruth. In Ruth 2, both widows were confronted with a practical need: food. They had none and they were hungry. We’re not told explicitly but all things indicate that Naomi was depressed. She lost her husband and sons and returned to her hometown empty-handed. Even if she was hungry, Naomi had no desire to go out to get food. Rather than sit around and do nothing, Ruth acted. She traveled into the fields and gleaned whatever grain she could. Reaping grain was hard work. It involved endless hours bent over in the heat of the day gathering stalks of wheat. It was dangerous work. As a single woman with no husband to cover her, Ruth was vulnerable.

In some ways, Ruth was like the Little Red Hen: working hard, with no help. Naturally, we may wonder, “where was Naomi?” Naomi was older but probably only 45-50 years old. She was still capable of working especially in such desperate times. Like the Little Red Hen’s friends, she was doing nothing. At this point, I want to shout, “But, that’s not fair!” When it comes to things like this, don’t we always have a scale in our minds? I know I do. Minimally, the give and take should be equal. If I can give less and take more that’s called a profit. It’s not fair but when it’s in my favor, it’s a positive thing in my mind. But what happens when I give more and take less? That’s called a loss and when it’s not in my favor, it’s a negative thing.

The scale was totally imbalanced for Ruth. She sacrificed everything for Naomi: her identity, her gods, her safety, her comfort, her entire life without even a “thank you” in return. Then Ruth worked in the fields to provide for Naomi while she stayed home.

How would we feel if the story of the Little Red Hen ended differently? When the Hen asked, “Who will help me eat this bread?” and all her friends said “I will!,” what if she not only let them but also gave them so much bread that they had leftovers to take home? How would we feel about the story then? That’s totally unfair?! You betcha! Yet, that’s exactly how the story ended for Ruth.

So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah  of barley. And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied.

Hesed is unfair. It’s totally unbalanced. It gives with no return. In fact, hesed is foolish, really foolish. If bankers managed their investments according to hesed, they would be bankrupt within minutes. Hesed is a foolish investment. Love, especially lavish love, always is.

Maybe that’s why I am afraid to love in this way. If I keep giving with nothing in return, what will happen when my love runs out? The reserves in my love tank can barely get me out of the parking lot let alone down the highway of hesed. If I love this way, I will lose everything. I will lose myself. It feels like a really short-sighted investment. It will and does feel foolish.

So why even try to love? Because this unbalanced, unfair, uncanny way of relating is the way of the gospel. Jesus literally gave us everything and got nothing but our punishment in return (LOSS). We literally gave nothing but got everything in return (PROFIT). His loss in our gain. Totally imbalanced. Totally the heart of God.

Because of Christ, the scales are totally tipped in my favor. In relationship to God, I have all profit and no loss. So when it comes to loving others, why wouldn’t I be able to suffer some loss for their sake? Why should I worry about the balance of the scales lest I be like the unmerciful servant who was forgiven everything but could not forgive (Matt. 18:21-35). God made a foolish investment when he showed me hesed yet I’m so grateful that he did! Thanks be to God that his foolish ways are not my ways!

Tagged , ,

The Crucible of Love

james-tissot-ruth-gleaning

At our church, I am currently preaching through the book of Ruth. It is primarily a love story but not just about any kind of love. It’s all about the Hebrew concept of hesed. OT scholar, Daniel Block, defines hesed this way,

A strong relational term that wraps up in itself an entire cluster of concepts, all the positive attributes of God-love, mercy, grace, kindness, goodness, benevolence, loyalty, covenant faithfulness; in short, that quality that moves a person to act for the benefit of another without respect to the advantage it might bring to the one who expresses it.

Deep down inside, don’t we all long to experience and express this kind of love? This is something that I’ve been asking the Father for in my own heart. But, little did I know what I was getting myself into! For some reason, I naively thought it would be a simple and pain-free process. I thought it wouldn’t take long. That somehow, I could just swallow a “love pill” and God would instantly produce compassionate feelings within me. But that’s not how it works.

“Suffering is the crucible for love,” says Paul Miller, author of The Loving Life. Love is not created in a vacuum. It always has a context and most often that context is pain. Ruth’s story of love is spread across a landscape of suffering. Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, both lose everything, literally everything (Ruth 1:1-5). They lose their husbands. They lose their families. They lose their financial security. They lose their hope for the future. Yet, it’s within this real-life tragedy that hesed begins to take root and blossom. Out of the ashes rises God’s love for two widows and Ruth’s love for Naomi.

The way of love is the way of the gospel. If the cross of Christ was the crucible for God’s love to be revealed, why would the pattern be any different in our own lives as followers of Jesus? Ever since I started asking God to make me more loving, life has gotten harder rather than easier. Relationships have become more prickly than pleasant. My comfort has been disrupted and my confidence has faded. I am trusting that this is the context for hesed to be produced in my life.

Why is love produced out of tension? Because suffering reveals the log in my own eye that blocks compassion. Because pain highlights that apart from the love of God, I don’t have what it takes to truly love others. Because tension forces me to anchor my love in the riches of God’s covenant faithfulness rather than the fair-weather intentions of my waning feelings.

Naturally, most of us are adverse to suffering and seek to avoid it at all costs. But in doing so, we might miss the opportunity to grow in love. Yes, we avoid the sting of pain but we also miss out on the joy of love. After all, it’s through the valley of the shadow death, not apart from it, that God’s love is with us. I am slowly learning this lesson in my own life. It’s slow and at times, I wonder if anything is really changing. But by faith, I am learning to follow Jesus through the desert to learn to love like he does.

Tagged , , ,