Driving Under the Influence (of Love)

Love influence

Last year I wrote some blog posts about the intoxicating power of love, describing some of my friends who’ve recently entered the hazardous world of dating.

In the right setting, romantic love is a very good thing—something designed by God Himself. If you doubt me on this, just spend some time reading the Song of Solomon…

However, like all intoxicants, romantic love is also quite dangerous. It can impair our judgment and slow our reaction time. Those under the influence of romantic love may feel invincible, when actually they’ve never been more vulnerable.

So what can a person do to minimize the dangers of this powerful intoxicant? Picture a guy named Joe who drove to an uptown bar and had far too much to drink. Finally, it’s 1 a.m., and he’s in no condition to drive home. Here are Joe’s main options:

  1. STOP. Don’t go anywhere until the intoxication has worn off. When it comes to a relationship, you need to assess whether it’s fundamentally healthy and life-giving or toxic and detrimental. If it’s toxic, the only sane option is to immediately end it. If you’re not sure, you may need to back away until some of the intoxication has worn off.
  2. CALL UBER. If you’re wise enough to recognize your impaired condition, you’ll call Uber, a taxi, or a “designated driver” to get you home safely. If you’re experiencing an intoxicating relationship, you may need to call in some trusted friends who are still sober. Recognizing that your own judgment is questionable, you must surround yourself with sound-minded advisers who can offer you objective feedback.
  3. GO EXTREMELY SLOW. Here the analogy breaks down a little, because you shouldn’t be driving at all if you’ve been drinking. But although you shouldn’t throw away a promising relationship because of fear, you should proceed with caution…i.e., slowly. If your judgment is clouded by the exhilaration of romantic love, you are putting yourself in real danger if you trying driving down the freeway at 70 miles per hour. Your chances of a collision are much less if you travel at a mere 25 mph.

If you are single and seeking a mate, my prayers are with you. May God direct your paths, as He’s promised to do when you trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6). The Bible teaches that “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18) and “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). God is the ultimate Matchmaker, after all.

If you are married, maybe you can’t relate to this blog post at all. Perhaps it’s been many years since you’ve experienced the joys and perils of intoxicating love. How sad! Yet it’s not too late for God to restore some of the “first love” intoxication you experienced in your earlier days. Will you open your heart today—both to Him and to your spouse—allowing His amazing love to rekindle your original passion?

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So, What Are You Afraid Of?

When my friend Jacob recently entered the world of online dating, he found it to be a terrifying experience.

“Jim,” he confided, “you wouldn’t believe how different the dating scene is than when I was in my twenties.”

Jacob’s marriage of 30+ years had ended several months before, and now he was embarking on a mission he never expected: the search for a new wife.

Sensing his discomfort with the whole situation, I asked, “What are you so afraid of? Why don’t you just relax and enjoy the ride?”

“That’s easy for you to say,” he replied. “You just don’t understand…”

“OK, explain it to me then. What exactly is so terrifying about meeting new people and going on dates?”

Lots of things are terrifying!” Jacob said, clearly irritated that he had to spell things out for me. “Some days I’m afraid I’ll never find the woman of my dreams. Other days I’m afraid I will find the woman of my dreams, but I’ll mess things up and she won’t love me in return.”

“Sounds like a real dilemma,” I acknowledged.

As our conversation continued, it became clear that my friend was still hurting from his unhappy marriage and the rejection he felt when his wife left him. But I encouraged him that God had a plan and he shouldn’t give up.

“You’re still dealing with the grieving process, Jacob. That’s normal after what you’ve gone through, but as you trust the Lord in this, I know He will keep working to heal your heart.”

Just a few weeks later, Jacob called to say that my prayers for him must be working.

“Jim, I’m so excited. I found this amazing woman on Match.com, and she has agreed to meet me for coffee tonight.”

I told Jacob I was happy for him and asked him to let me know how things went on his big date.

Sure enough, my friend called on the way home from meeting this beautiful and successful woman he had found online.

“We talked for nearly two hours,” Jacob gushed. “It was going really well until we got to the part where we asked each other what we’re looking for in a partner.”

“That sounds like a fair question. So what did you tell her?”

Apparently Jacob gave this lovely woman a lengthy description of how he wanted someone faithful and kind…affectionate…loving unconditionally…never holding a grudge…grateful for the little things in life…and always glad to see him.

To his horror, she replied somewhat indignantly to his wish list, “It sounds like what you really need is a DOG!”

After I got done laughing at my friend’s plight, we ended up discussing the many benefits of having a dog while going through life’s transitions.

“You’ve got to admit, Jacob, dogs can be pretty cool. They’re low maintenance, easy to please, and they lick your face for no reason at all…”

Well, I probably shouldn’t have laughed at my friend’s anguish. But Jacob’s online dating experiences have given us some good opportunities to discuss two universal forces in life: FEAR and FAITH.

On the one hand, the Bible assures us that God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). However, that certainly doesn’t mean He won’t place us in scary situations from time to time.

Remember the shepherds in the Christmas story? (Luke 2:8-20) They were just minding their business one dark night when “an angel of the Lord” woke them up with a terrifying divine encounter.

The shepherds’ experience follows a pattern found throughout the Bible: First, God puts us in circumstances that cause our fears to rise, and then He comforts those fears by telling us, “Do not be afraid” (v. 10).

Isn’t that pretty funny?

Jacob and I have concluded that fearful circumstances are simply part of God’s healing process to REVEAL and then HEAL us of our fears. It’s all part of His love for us and His determination to uproot anything that’s keeping us from His BEST for our lives.

So the next time you sense fear rising in your heart, don’t shy away from it. Face it head on and recognize it for what it is: God’s plan to set you free from fear so you can enter into His highest purposes for your life.

Remember how the Israelites cowered in fear on the brink of their Promised Land (Numbers 13)? They didn’t realize it at the time, but their FEARS were actually pointing the way toward their FUTURE. Unnecessarily, they spent 40 years in the wilderness before they were willing to confront the fear and unbelief lurking in their hearts.

So, what are YOU afraid of today? It’s probably a clue to an important breakthrough God wants to give you in some area of your life.

Yes, you may want to get a dog too. But that’s only a temporary solution.

 

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Why Jesus Would Be a TERRIBLE Candidate for Online Dating

My friend Joe recently dove headfirst into the online dating world. We had an enlightening conversation about why that approach never would have worked for Jesus.

“The first step in online dating is to post some great photos of yourself,” Joe explained. “If you don’t have any photos, the website will just use one of those generic silhouettes, which always look pretty creepy. No one ever responds if there aren’t any photos.”

We agreed this would present a problem for Jesus, since no photographs were possible back then. And we also debated whether Jesus would have been a fan of selfies or other photos of himself. He never was an advocate of self-promotion. Instead of putting his best foot forward, he often seemed to go out of his way to do the opposite.

“What if we just used some of the artists’ drawings of him?” I finally asked Joe.

“That would be problematic too,” he informed me. “People get outraged when the online pics don’t really look like you. Most of the artwork about Jesus is pretty ridiculous, especially the paintings with the rosy cheeks and a halo. And it would be a real turn-off to include any of the bloody scenes of his torture and death.”

We both paused to think about some of the awful paintings we’d seen of Jesus. Finally, Joe suggested that we might just want to put a description of how handsome the Lord was.

At that point, all I could think of was the description of Jesus in The Message paraphrase of Isaiah 53:2-3: There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over…One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum.” I could envision a line in Jesus’ profile that said, “One of my friends described me as being so ugly no one even wanted to look at me!”

“Joe, I don’t think a description of Jesus’ physical appearance is a very good idea either,” I concluded. “We really don’t know much about what he looked like anyway.”

“Well, what about the line that asks for his age?” Joe wondered. “That might present some problems too.”

“How about this, I offered:

‘Although I’m only 33 in earth years, I’m actually a lot older than that. In fact, one of my nicknames is Ancient of Days.’

“That could be pretty confusing,” Joe said glumly.

I decided to move on to the profile section, hoping things would get a little easier. “We’re off to a bad start on the photos, physical description, and age, Joe. What kind of relevant information could we provide in Jesus’ online profile?”

After thinking about this for a moment, Joe broke into a belly laugh. “That would be hilarious. I can picture it now:

‘My friends say I’m the Son of God and Messiah. My enemies say I’m an imposter and blasphemer. You must choose which of these is correct.’”

“Oh, my,” I groaned. “I’m not sure how people would respond to that.”

“Well, there’s usually a section about the person’s favorite things to do. Maybe that part of the profile would go better,” Joe said. “How about this:

‘I like to take long walks on the beach, hanging out with my 12 friends. Sometimes we attend parties, and I’ve been known to turn water into wine.’”

“Hmm…” I replied. “While that’s all true, it could paint a misleading picture unless we add more.”

“People love to mention visiting the mountains,” he replied confidently. “I guess we could include something about that.”

“Yeah, but in all honesty, we would have to describe it like this:

‘I frequently visit the mountains—either to pray all night or to be tempted by the devil.’”

Joe and I concluded that it might be best not to mention the mountains in Jesus’ profile. We went on to the section that asks about occupation and income.

“I guess Jesus would have to list his occupation as ‘retired carpenter, now an itinerant preacher and miracle-worker,’” I said. “And the income part would turn off most of the potential respondents too. He would have to say something like ‘income variable—living by faith.’”

“Yeah, I’m sure that would go over well,” Joe chuckled. “It would also be impossible to impress people by the kind of house he lived in, because he admitted at one point he had nowhere to lay his head. And people love to show off their fancy vehicles on the online dating sites, but that wouldn’t work either. Jesus would have to say, “I prefer to walk most places but occasionally borrow a friend’s donkey for special occasions.”

“Wow. I guess we better leave those sections blank or say, ‘I’ll tell you later.’ Is there anything else we can include in the profile?” I wondered.

“Most websites ask what people can expect if they get together with you. For example, ‘What would happen on your ideal date?’”

“Oh, that would be fantastic, too,” I said sarcastically. “Jesus would have to say something like this:

‘Those who come with me must deny themselves and take up their cross daily, forsaking all else.’”

After thinking for a moment, Joe came up with another alternative. “I think maybe we should go more with the ‘abundant life’ approach. How about something like this:

‘When you come with me, you will surely experience YOUR BEST LIFE NOW!’”

“That’s certainly more appealing,” I admitted. “But it doesn’t seem to be as accurate.”

Our discussion then drifted further into frivolity as we thought about some possible punchlines for Jesus’ profile. We eventually settled on this one:

“I’ve been waiting for my Bride for thousands of years. Don’t miss out!”

Thankfully, Jesus won’t need to opt for the online dating scene. His personal representative, the Holy Spirit, is actively recruiting prospects for his Bride. It will be a match made in heaven, to be sure.

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4 Tips for Finding the Needle in Your Haystack

In a vivid dream recently, I was frantically searching for something that seemed very difficult to find. A huge stack of stuff was in front of me, but the object I was looking for was very small.

As I was about to give up my search, someone happened to walk by. Sensing my frustration, he asked, “What are you trying to find?”

“I’m looking for a needle in the haystack,” I said in dismay.

Unfortunately, the dream ended there, leaving me to reflect on the profound question: How can someone find a needle in a haystack?

This old word picture is pulled out whenever a search seems daunting, if not impossible. But as I’ve reflected on my dream, I think there are some other insights as well. It’s doubtful that any of us are looking for literal needles, so the issue is more about our quest for the important things in life amid all the superfluous “stuff.”

I’ve concluded that there are four keys for discovering the needle buried in our haystack:

  1. Separate the plentiful from the rare. Hay stands for something very plentiful, while needles are comparatively rare. Plentiful things have less value than something rare, and that’s why coal is less expensive than diamonds. Example: Why was the Proverbs 31 woman worth more than rubies? Because, sadly, a woman like that is very rare! So the principle here is to rid your life of the plentiful, less-expensive things. Instead, focus on the rare and exceptional things that are of much greater value.
  2. Separate the nonmagnetic from the magnetic. If you have a strong enough magnet, you might be able to attract the needle instead of wearing yourself out trying to find So if you’re upset because you can’t seem to find what you’re looking for in life, you might want to change your approach. Instead of working so hard to FIND something, put your focus on BEING something. You just might attract the missing “needle” in your life.
  3. Separate the light-absorbers from the light-reflectors. When light hits a needle, it shines. In contrast, hay merely absorbs the light, with no significant reflection. So in order to find a needle, one tactic would be to shine more light into the haystack. The needle will reflect more of the light back, especially if you do the experiment at night. The point here is that you’re called to reflect God’s light and glory, and you should eliminate the things in your life that don’t enable you to do that.
  4. Separate the temporal from the eternal. One of the other differences between hay and needles is that hay burns up in fire, while needles are purified by fire. That means if you want to find a needle from among the hay, all you really need is to start a fire! You see, when everything else is burned away, the needle will become obvious. However, I’m afraid most of us are far too attached to the hay to take such drastic measures. We have far too much “clutter” in our lives—temporal stuff that wouldn’t survive the fire. If you’re serious about finding the needle you’re looking for, you have to honestly ask yourself: Am I willing to allow the Lord to burn away the hay (the temporal things) in my life in order to reveal more of the eternal?

My dream about needles and haystacks ultimately led me to an even more sobering question: Is the underlying problem that we actually LOVE the haystack more than we want to find the needle? If so, we’ll never allow God to burn up the hay so the needle can be revealed.

If we love the hay (the things of this world) more than we love the needle (the eternal work God wants to do in our lives), we will inevitably face frustration. We’ll find ourselves so attached to the world that we’ll be unable to change the world.

Many of my fellow baby boomers are facing this uncomfortable reality. In our younger days we set out to be world-changers, but now we’re merely adapters, content to blend in with the haystack.

The apostle Paul wrote about this kind of thing in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, when he warned us to be careful about the building materials we use to construct our lives. Will we be content to build with “wood, hay, and straw,” creating nothing more than big haystacks? Or will we choose the more enduring materials instead, “gold, silver, and precious stones”?

Someday most of what we see around us will burn up. What will remain? The answer is being determined by the priorities and values we live by today.

 

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If the World Didn’t Give It to You…

Several months ago, my friend Ron was ecstatic when he met the woman of his dreams at a Christian leadership event. “Jim,” he told me at lunch one day, “meeting Jill was magical…like a Disney movie or something.”

Ron went on to describe all the circumstantial evidence that God had brought this woman into his life. “I’m SO thankful to the Lord!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t have to go out looking for the perfect match. Nor did I have to spend hours on a bunch of dating websites or go on countless dates to find the right person. She was a gift sent from God, right when I least expected it!”

Since it’s hard to talk any sense into a person who’s so in love, I mostly just listened to Ron’s story. But he clearly was convinced this new relationship was heaven-sent, and his heart was definitely all in.

However, when I met with Ron a few weeks later, he was beginning to have some doubts. Although he was still crazy about the woman he had met, he was wondering whether she would love him back after she became aware of his many flaws.

“Jim, I need to lose some weight,” he said with a scowl. “Jill deserves someone who’s in better shape.”

As the conversation continued, Ron went on and on about all the other reasons Jill might reject him in the end. He questioned the size of his house, the make of his car, his wardrobe, and his income, among other things. He was beginning to conclude that someone of Jill’s caliber couldn’t possibly settle for a person with so little to offer.

Again I listened. The more Ron talked, the more I could see he was correct about his limitations.

But then an old Gospel song came to mind: “The world didn’t give it to me, and the world can’t take it away.”

Recalling Ron’s description of how GOD had brought Jill into his life, I said with a grin, “I think I see what is going on here. Although you were totally convinced that the Lord supernaturally brought Jill into your life, now you’re coming up with all sorts of ways YOU must work to hang on to her.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” he conceded. “So what should I do?”

“Well, look Ron, if you weren’t responsible for bringing Jill into your life, then perhaps you need to quit acting as if you’ll only keep her in your life by your own efforts and worthiness.”

Ron looked down for a moment to gather his thoughts. “Jim, I see what you’re saying, but let’s be honest: There’s a real chance she will be disillusioned once she gets to know me better.”

“Very true!” I acknowledged. “But you have to go back to the question of whether God was truly the one who brought you together in the first place. If so, you can relax and be yourself. You’ve got nothing to worry about!”

Still rather exasperated, he replied, “Okay, man, I see what you mean. But what if we discover that God really DIDN’T bring us together?”

“That would be great too, Ron,” I assured him. “Then you can walk away knowing you didn’t initiate the relationship, nor were your flaws the reason it ended.”

At that point, Ron breathed a huge sigh of relief, as if an enormous weight had been removed from his shoulders. He said with a smile, “Wow. That’s awesome. I can just be myself and trust God with the rest. If He truly has brought Jill into my life, there’s no need for me to worry about losing her. And if it turns out He really hasn’t brought her into my life, I don’t have to worry about losing her in that case either!”

So why did I share Ron’s story with you? Because it’s a parable about several different aspects of our relationship with the Lord.

Were we saved by our own efforts? No! Our relationship with God began through His grace alone, on the basis of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). And just as we were initially saved by God’s unmerited favor, we can trust Him to keep on loving us all along the way. Thankfully, we don’t have to fear His rejection when He finds out more about us—because He already knows EVERYTHING about us. (Go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief!)

Ron’s story also reminds us that we can rely on God to keep things safe when we’ve entrusted them to Him. The apostle Paul said it this way, I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day”  (2 Timothy 1:12). Instead of feeling fearful and insecure, treating his relationship with Jill as if it were something quite fragile, my friend should have simply entrusted it back into God’s care.

Finally, what are we to make of Ron’s claim that Jill was a gift from the Lord? Well, the Bible clearly says, EVERY good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).

Isn’t that good news? Our Heavenly Father doesn’t vacillate. He’s not like a shifting shadow, bouncing here and there. Since He is the SOURCE of every good thing, we can also trust Him to be the SUSTAINER of every good thing. Wow. What an incredible relief.

So take a moment to ask yourself: Is there something you’ve been struggling to entrust to the Lord?  If so, remember: The safest place you can put things is in the loving hands of God.

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