The 4 Levels of Love

Bernard of Clairvaux, a man who led a renewal movement in the 12th century European church, has an incredible insight about the “levels of love” as we relate to God and understand ourselves.

God is love, and because we were created to resemble Him, we, too, have an impulse to love.  But that impulse first leaks out in a badly perverted form.

Level #1: I love myself for my sake.  In other words, we’re selfish.  That’s true of every child born into the world.

And then we hear about a God who is good enough to do what no one else would, to look after us.  Good.  It’s about time.

Level #2: I love God for my sake.  That’s how most people who believe there is a God regard Him.  Each thinks, He is Someone who exists to make me happy, to make my life better.  Now I can go to church and worship God without any real sense of sinfulness or any significant dislodging of my selfishness.  I can go to church with the same expectation that carries me into a restaurant: feed me well. I want what you serve me to taste good and be good for me.  I’ll leave a big tip if you deliver.

Eventually it becomes appallingly clear that I can be a little hellion who loves no one but myself.  And a new word enters our vocabulary–wrongI’m wrong.  And when I realize that I’m wrong, another new word occurs to me that I need: Forgiveness.  Maybe then we hear about Jesus and what He did for us on the cross.  Before, goodness meant my receiving whatever I wanted.  Now that same word is measured by Someone sacrificing His well-being in an act of utter selflessness for the well-being of someone who is utterly selfish.

Love level #3: I love God for God’s sake.  When I realize who He is and who I am, when I see that He loves me when I use Him, and died to forgive me for being so self-centered, I become a Christian, a forgiven sinner who loves God for who He is, a lover like no other.

Bernard’s insight into the Christ life reaches still higher.  Gratitude begins to stir.  A longing rises up.  I want to do something for someone else, for God.  I look at what I have, at who I am.  Perhaps I have musical talent.  Perhaps I’m relational difficulties.  The longing takes shape and I realize that everything I have (those gifts AND those trying circumstances) is an opportunity to release my gratitude to God.

Love level #4: I love myself for God’s sake.  Now everything in me (weaknesses and strengths) and in my life (trials and pleasures) becomes an eagerly received opportunity to bring Him pleasure by trusting His goodness, counting on His promises, and living to delight Him).

Suffering is transformed from pain requiring relief into a costly opportunity to delight the God I love.  Blessings, all the good things I enjoy, no longer remain sources of pleasure to enhance and exploit, but now stretch before me as avenues for displaying my love for God, both by accepting them with gratitude and by sharing them with joy.

So what level are you on?

Dear Couples…

Don’t set yourself up for disappointment; 2 imperfect people can never have a perfect marriage.

God uses the imperfections in each of us to constantly remind us that the true source of joy and satisfaction is not in our spouses but only in Him.

At the same time, it’s not our job to inform our spouses about every blunder we find in every situation.  When we find fault in something our spouse has done, we are usually adding a negative element to our relationships.

The dominant response to consistent criticism will ultimately cause the other person’s personality to close up and go silent.  There needs to be twice as much affirmation as criticism.  At LEAST!

Jennifer and I are very different.  But “imperfect Marcus” gets to celebrate with “imperfect Jennifer” our common love for the “perfect Christ.”

What is an Idol?

God is clear: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below (Exodus 20:4).”

So what is an idol today?  Tim Keller defines it as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”

In other words, an idol is a counterfeit god that has such control of your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.  It’s basically “spiritual adultery.”  We can locate them by looking at our daydreams.  What are our fondest dreams?  AND because idols give us a sense of control in life, we can locate them by looking at our nightmares.  What do we fear the most?  Because they replace God as lord of our lives we can locate idols by looking at our most unyielding emotions.  What makes us uncontrollably angry or anxious?

How do You Become a Pharisee?

Pharisees start with the right intentions: seeking obedience to God’s commands in an atmosphere of cultural patterns and behaviors that were growing increasingly contrary to those commands (sound familiar?).

Eugene Peterson explains it this way:

Imagine yourself moving into a house with a huge picture window overlooking a grand view across a wide expanse of water enclosed by a range of snow-capped mountains…. Several times a day you interrupt your work and stand before this window to take in the majesty and the beauty…. One afternoon you notice some bird droppings on the window glass, get a bucket of water and a towel, and clean it…. Another day visitors come with a tribe of small dirty-fingered children. The moment they leave you see all the smudge-marks on the glass.  They are hardly out the door before you have the bucket out…. Keeping that window clean develops into an obsessive-compulsive neurosis.  You accumulate ladders and buckets and squeegees.  You construct a scaffolding both inside and out to make it possible to get to all the difficult corners and heights. You have the cleanest window in North America–but it’s now been years since you looked through it.  You’ve become a Pharisee (The Jesus Way, 211).


The Evils of Voodoo in Haiti…and other things Preachers are allowed to talk about

Many of my clergy friends have heard the joke of the young seminarian beginning his ministry at his first church.  After the initial sermon, where he preached against tobacco use, one of his lay leaders took him aside to remind him that he was preaching in Kentucky and tobacco was loved by many a farmer in that church.

The next Sunday the seminarian chose to preach against hard liquor.  Again the layman took him aside and reminded him that he was in Kentucky and many of his members worked at a local distillery.

His third sermon dealt with gambling and especially horse racing.  Once again the layman came to the seminarian and said that he could not preach on that either.  After all, had he not heard of the Kentucky Derby?

Finally, exasperated, he asked the helpful layman what he could talk about.  The reply: “Next Sunday preach on the evils of voodoo in Haiti.  Everyone will like that.”

What’s the First Thing I Think About in the Morning?

What do I ACTUALLY value?  Well, what’s the first thing I think about in the morning?  What do I find myself talking about the most?  What’s the last thing I think about when my head hits the pillow at night?

When you boil it down, questions about priority are questions about faith.  If I have faith that God will care for me, it frees me to live with a certain set of priorities (that don’t have a lot to do with money, possessions, or leaving a good impression).

God does not demand of me that I accomplish great things.  He does demand of me that I strive for excellence in my relationships.

God Has Invested in You!

Paul prayed for the believers at Ephesus that they might know what God called them to do and understand the “riches” he had invested in them (Ephesians 1:18).

  1. God knows what he’s invested in you. He doesn’t redeem you one day and take you to heaven the next. He calls and equips you to fulfill a certain PURPOSE in this world. Christ taught that some of us are five talent people, some 2 talent people, and some one talent people (Matthew 25:15ff). That’s why it’s a mistake to draw comparisons with others. It’s not what you have that determines your reward, but what you do with what you have. It’s when you bury your talent that you get into trouble with God.
  2. God protects what he’s invested in you. Do we sometimes disobey God? Yes. And our response to him can either lengthen or shorten our season of discipline. But does God abandon us? Never! (Romans 11:29).
  3. God expects a return on what he’s invested in you. When you get to the end of your life, what will you have to show for it? God gave you time, talent, and treasure. Are you using them selfishly or to serve God and bless others? (2 Corinthians 5:10).