Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The only thing that counts

Galatians 5:4-8, 13-15 (NIV)

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” I am ashamed to admit I cannot recall reading or hearing this verse before tonight, yet it so succinctly summarizes my intended approach to life. That phrase far better clarifies the sentiment I tried to express in yesterday’s post, and while it’s probably never a great idea to take any Scripture out of context, it’s going to be awfully hard to keep me from going back, time and again, to these words from Paul: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

As clear as this directive is, there are two different ways to take it. The first, provided contextually, is as something of an admonition to anyone trying to be justified by the law, which to me means obeying commandments or adhering to religious rules that don’t exactly have a direct connection to an abiding faith. After all, most folks can keep rules, even the arcane inexplicable kind. But abstaining from a certain kind of food or adopting a certain style of dress are, independently, just physical actions. While I don’t begrudge anyone who follows such instructions because the feel it deepens their faith (who am I to judge what works for another?), I maintain such obedience, of itself, does not express faith through love.

The second way to take the directive is as an invitation for self reflection. If you, like me, are thrilled to be told “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love,” then perhaps you owe it to yourself to examine whether your faith expresses itself through your love. “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” is a beautiful, even haunting tune. But it’s far easier to sing than to do.

I mentioned weeks ago I planned to ask Jack how he knows Kristie and I love him. I had the chance Saturday, and the answer was because we say so. While it wasn’t quite what I was going for, I appreciated knowing he does feel loved (especially since he often accuses everyone of hating him). I’d asked Max several days before. His answer? “Hugs.” In talking with Jack, I shared some stories of things people do that I think show their love for him — such as how my mom trusts him to mess around with all the computers at her house, or how Kristie’s mom makes sure his favorite treats are in her pantry when we visit — or how either of them will drop just about anything to make him a pan of noodles and broth. I did not get into how he knows his parents love each other; I’ll have to remember that for next time.

Yet while it is immeasurably important to make sure your children (and spouse) feel loved, it also is immeasurably easier to show love to your wife and kids than it is to express your faith in Christ through the way you love everyone — not just your family. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:46 (NIV), “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”

If I thought I was opening myself up when I asked Jack, “How can you tell I love you?” imagine if I asked, “How can you tell I believe in Jesus?” If the answer to that one is “Because you say so,” or, perhaps, “Because we always go to church,” I’ve clearly got some room for improvement.

And yeah, I’m a guy who reads Bible passages and writes about them every day (you know, for about two months now), but that takes about an hour. And while knowing I’m going to spend an hour each day on this project has helped me shift focus for the other 18 (I don’t sleep much), I can’t honestly sit here and proclaim to be great at expressing my faith through love. I express my faith through words, and I am moved to tears my certain songs. But what do I do about it? What do you do about it? It’s not a contest of course, but at some point I think we all ought to reflect on if we express our faith through love — and conversely, if we act in ways that project just the opposite.

I don’t want to tell anyone how to live or what to do. But I do want to share what concerns me as I try to be a role model for my kids. I am not overly concerned with how the world sees me, but I am deeply concerned with how my children see me. And the wonderful thing about your own children is you can’t fool them — not when it counts. They might not know I’m the tooth fairy, but they know if I’m a jackass. So in order for them to see me in the light I intend, I actually have to live that way and not just pretend.

I love having them around to keep me accountable. I cringe when they speak or act in a way that tells me I’ve messed up, and it happens far too often. They are a mirror to my soul, and I must force myself to look, day after day after day. And then I have to learn from the experience.

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

A prayer for June 13:

Lord, I apologize for all the times I failed to express my faith through love. You present me with countless chances, day in and day out, and I fall short far too often. Please help me adjust my perspective to see not just the opportunities to do something meaningful, but to simply live every moment as an expression of faith. Help make it so faith is not simply a part of me but my very essence, revealed through acts of love to those I encounter. Give me the perseverance to turn word to deed, to live what I write and to be the husband and father my family deserves. Amen.

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