Grandpa’s Gift

We were on one of our many treks up and down the I-75 corridor.  Living in Cleveland, Tenn. but hailing from central Michigan was the impetus that lead to many miles of familiar highway being traversed once again.  We had one great advantage – my wife’s grandparents lived in Muncie, Ind., which was just slightly more than the halfway point of our 12-hour journey to the homeland, if we made a slight detour.

Her grandparents were incredibly loving, generous and kind people.  Even if we could not stay long we always tried to map out our trip in such a way that warranted a visit.  This halfway stop provided a much needed reprieve from the road as well as a fun break for our kids.  No matter how short the visit, we still managed to squeeze in a game of croquet or a couple hands of euchre.  Grandpa could always make the kids giggle by allowing them to yank on his earlobe so that his hearing aid would emit an extended beep.  And I think Grandma always planned for our visits by stocking up on fresh grapes before our arrival knowing our kids would devour every one of them.

There was always something special about their home.  Each visit was full of laughter, playful picking on each other, and a lot of love.  One visit in particular I saw something that was a little shocking to me.  Her grandparents were in their late 70’s at the time.  I remember Grandma went into the living room where Grandpa was relaxing in his favorite chair. She promptly sat on Grandpa’s lap and threw her arms around his neck.  Now, this type of behavior may be normal for others.  But for me, it was a poignant moment.  It’s not simply that my wife’s grandparents were still affectionate after nearly 60 years of marriage.  Somehow, through all those years, with all of the inherent difficulties normally associated with marriage, these two lived out a deep and abiding love for one another for all to see.

With this image still fresh in my mind, the next morning I asked Grandma and Grandpa a simple question,

“What would you say is the secret to your long-lasting, loving marriage?”

Grandma immediately responded with some sage advice, “You have to remember, marriage is a 50/50 relationship.  There has to be give and take and compromise.”  I remember thinking to myself, “that makes a lot of sense.”

With his continual half grin, Grandpa interrupted her discourse by saying in his mildly raspy voice, “no, no it’s not.”

Everyone in the room was a little surprised, including Grandma.  It seems Grandpa had a philosophy even Grandma didn’t know about.  He continued,

“It’s 100/0.  Give 100% and demand nothing in return, and you will have a happy marriage.”

I have to tell you – this may be some of the most profound wisdom I have ever received.  At first glance this principle doesn’t seem to make sense.  Surely, a marriage involves give and take, right?  Isn’t a marriage about mutual fulfillment and meeting each other’s needs?  Of course it is.  It’s not that Grandma was wrong.  It’s simply that Grandpa had tapped into a deeper principle.

It is true that Jesus made the well-known statement, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38 NASV).  But, three short verses prior he made a difficult statement that brings some clarity to this verse.  Jesus declared,

“But … do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35 NASV).

At their core, our attitudes, actions and responses toward our spouses are an issue between us and God.  If our motivation moves from pleasing God to expecting something from our mate, we will probably end up disappointed.  At some point our spouse will not respond in the way we had hoped, leaving us hurt or frustrated in the process.  In that moment we place in our spouse’s hands the power to determine how we feel about what we are doing.  What Jesus is saying is, “interact with others in a way that pleases me regardless of what they say or do.  Do good, expecting nothing in return.  When you do, you reveal who you belong to.” The great invitation of scripture is to –

Give All of yourself and make no demands in return

When my head hits the pillow at night I want to know that regardless of how others acted or reacted, I lived my day in a way that pleased Him.  I want to live in a Christ-like manner regardless of the behavior of others.  I’m not always successful but, this is my goal.  Realizing my reward comes from God and not man takes the pressure off of my relationship with my wife.  It is liberating, for both of us.  It frees my wife up to love me back in her own way.

When both partners are giving and serving and expecting nothing in return is when God pours out His blessing and gives back to us “a good measure, pressed down, and shaken together.”

Thank you, Grandpa, for incredible godly insight that has forever changed my marriage and my family.

In Loving memory of Charles & Cleota Reece 

Love is in the Air.

Love Is In The Air!

Jesus was hanging out in the temple one day sharing stories as he was prone to do. Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests and elders were systematically grilling him with difficult questions in an attempt to trip him up and catch him saying or teaching something wrong.  Jesus handily deflected the verbal arsenal as each inquiry was launched at him.  Finally, one particular Pharisee, who happened to be a lawyer, scrutinized him with yet one more question.

“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?” he asked.

Jesus gave the standard answer that was often repeated by the religious leaders.  Quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, He replied, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  This was the answer the hearers would have accepted and expected.  But, did anyone really expect Jesus to just give a simple answer? As was typical with Jesus, He didn’t stop with just answering the question.  He added a statement that struck at the heart.  He followed up his first response by adding,

“And the second is like it:You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:36-40).

  This was a difficult thing for the religious crowd of His day.  They prided themselves on the outward appearance of their great loyalty to God and adherence to His commands.  In a single sentence Jesus challenged their devotion by adding this second component.

It has always struck me as odd that Jesus was asked one question but gave two answers.  Why did He do that?  I suspect that the reason He gave two answers was because in His mind, in the mind of God, you cannot really separate the two concepts.  The result of loving God is loving people.  Also, you cannot really love people unless you first love God.  You cannot separate the two.  If that is the case then His two answers are really just two parts of a single answer.

What that means is that church attendance, Bible reading, or even singing along with your favorite worship songs are not the truest measure of showing your love for God.  In fact, you might say that the best way to show God you love Him is  … to love people.  A better translation would have been “the second commandment is JUST LIKE the first one.”  In this passage it’s almost as if God was saying,

“If you really love God, you will love people.”

Gary Smalley one time said “Life is relationships; the rest is just details.”  Many times we mistakenly lead our lives thinking life is about our jobs, our finances, our position, our achievements or our notoriety.  We strive and contend.  We chase and pursue.  We are busy.    And there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with much of that.  But, at the end of the day, everything we do revolves around the people we do it with and the relationships we build along the way.  In fact, many times when we build relationships first, the success we desire will follow naturally.

What does it mean to “love” people?  Jesus actually gave some fairly clear instructions within the context of His response.  He said we are to love our neighbor the same way we love ourselves.  In another context He said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Mt. 7:12 ESV).  When I jump to conclusions, make mistakes, have an angry response and say things I regret, I want others to give me grace, forgiveness, and understanding.  Sometimes I want them to overlook my shortcomings and give me the benefit of the doubt.  Mostly, I want people to treat me with value and respect.  If I’m going to treat others the way I want to be treated, if I’m going to love my neighbor as myself, then I should give them the same.  Maybe that means is lending a listening ear the next time my teenager does something wrong instead of yelling.  Maybe that means giving grace when the cashier makes a mistake or the customer service employee treats me rudely.  Maybe it means not getting an attitude or shaking my fist when I’m cut off in traffic. Maybe it means seeking understanding when my boss is acting like a jerk.

With Valentine’s Day on the 14th and the National Marriage Week leading up to it, people are focused on their love relationships in the month of February, and rightly so.  Couples are intentional in February.  They make a “date” to spend time together, they give each other gifts, they treat each other kindly, and they see the best in each other.

But, everywhere around us are people who need many of the same aspects that we bring to our closest relationships:  time spent together, a listening ear, understanding, compassion and care.  Any relationship can be strengthened, enhanced, or healed when we are intentional and put into practice many of the same things that lead to a strong marriage.  Our kids need it, our parents need it, our neighbors need it, our employees need it, and our pastors need it.  The cashier needs it, the waitress needs it, and the homeless guy on the corner needs it.  And all of them are made in the image of God.  If we love God, we will love people.

It’s February so love truly is in the air. “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other” (John 13:35).