A Labor of Love

gene's info 120For over three years we were pastors of a church in Springer, New Mexico that was 200 miles from our home. Some routes went through winding mountainous roads and took longer. Living in the hills in northern New Mexico and driving the 6-8 hour trip to church and back every weekend – while working 50-60 hours a week at a national laboratory – we were late for church only twice. You may ask “Why did you accept that challenge?” That, and the results of our efforts, is another story for another time. Today’s story is about the trips; and of the eight possible routes to church, we found six that we took quite often.

In all our travels in over 52 years of marriage, we have had fun. Even when we made a wrong turn or were detoured due to highway work, we made a mini-vacation out of it. Last December, traveling from Missouri to home, we decided to take some roads we had never been on. We discovered only one problem: highway 221 turned into a gravel road. We laughed, turned around, and went another direction which took us through Eureka Springs; so we stopped and had dinner before resuming our trek. We make enjoyable memories out of potential irritations in life. But back to the story.

One Sunday morning, one of our deacons asked, “Pastor, what’s on your hands?” I told him I was bleeding. He said, “Blood isn’t that color. What’d you do?” Carol quickly said, “We went through Mora, and picked raspberries yesterday.”

mora, nmOne of our routes to Springer was through Espanola and up the canyon through which flowed the Rio Grande. At La Cienaga we turned east toward Sipapu then over the mountains and down into Mora. And that is where my hands turned red – or maybe, purple. Mora is well-known for its raspberry farm, and Carol had often asked me to stop and pick raspberries. Each time I said something like: “I’m going to be preaching and teaching, and berry-picking isn’t on my mind.” Although that was true, it was also a smoke-screen: I didn’t want to pick berries.

Now, for all you who have never picked blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc., let me tell you: I don’t enjoy that activity. We reach inside the foliage to find the berries, and these bushes have thorns containing toxin. Picking berries was both painful and made my arms itch for over a week. Now you might understand why I don’t like picking berries.

But one weekend my Precious wife was so desirous for those delicious, reddish-purple clumps ofraspberries juice, and she was so gentle in her running commentary about how delicious those berries would be in ice cream or made into a berry jam, that my mouth drooled and I just had to stop. When Carol excitedly asked, “Are we going to pick berries?” I said, “Yes. I don’t want to, so this will be a labor of love.”

“Yeah, right! You just want berries and ice cream!”

She was at least partly correct.

That time of year the berries were ripe, and many of them leaked their contents because they split or crushed easily as we picked them. But we left with five quarts, and Carol kept her word: they were GOOD over ice cream, over angel-food cake, in fruit salads, and made into jam. In the long run, I was glad I stopped. (But my hands did get stained with the juice, and I itched for a week.)

But do you know that someone else performed a labor of love that far surpassed anything I could dscn0464do ever for Carol? Where I merely paused on my trip and received a few scratches on my arms, Jesus deliberately left His home in heaven and came to earth to rescue mankind from an eternal separation from God the Father. Jesus didn’t have mere scratches on His arms; the soldiers made a wreath containing inch-long needle-sharp thorns and jammed it onto His head. Jesus purposely allowed Himself to be killed in a gruesome manner in order to reveal the depth of the pain we would suffer eternally without God.

But Jesus doesn’t want us to suffer, and because of Jesus’ labor of love, we can have a home with Him forever. (Romans 8:35-39)

The results of my labor lasted only several months; but the results of Jesus’ labor will never end. I hope you accept God’s Love through Jesus Christ, our Savior. (Luke 19:10, John 3:16)

Ten Ways to Love

Years ago, I read Pastor Chuck Swindoll’s list titled, “10 ways to love.” It reminded me of the sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) titled, “How Do I love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways.” That poem speaks of the loyalty and attention that is required to fully love others. But I like Chuck’s list because it helps us to know HOWDSCN6609 we can manifest our love. Here is Chuck’s list with my brief commentary on each item.

     Listen without interrupting (Proverbs 18:13; “Anyone who answers without listening is foolish and confused.”) Interrupting others is our most common fault. Many people are insecure and need the approval of others, so they interrupt to share their own opinions. Others interrupt because they feel that the person speaking doesn’t have much to say. Yet others interrupt because they’ve been taught that kind of interaction at home. But interrupting is rude and unloving.

     Speak without accusing (James 1:19a; “Be willing to listen but slow to speak.”) Stephen Covey said in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Therefore, before we accost someone over an issue, we should first find out his rationale. Even if his action was improper, his motivation may have been right. Let’s encourage others, not be judgmental.

     Give without sparing (Proverbs 21:26b; “…Good people give without holding back.”) If you’re thinking of giving money, that is okay often needed; but this verse is concerned with giving of yourself. One of our greatest needs is to know that someone cares for us; and a caring listener can be a divine manifestation of God’s love.

     Pray without ceasing (Colossians 1:9; “…we have continued praying for you….”) This isn’t praying without stopping; it is praying every day – sometimes several times a day. Prayer is the greatest help we can do for others because the answer comes from God. Freda Bowers in her book “Give Me 40 Days” [of prayer] reminds us that God will take care of our needs as we pray and trust Him.

     Answer without arguing (Proverbs 17:1; “A dry crust eaten in peace is better IMG_3275than a great feast with strife.”) Unless you are trying to make enemies, let your verbal interactions reduce friction. Let your words be oil on troubled waters, not gasoline poured on a fire. Don’t let anyone goad you into an argument, either. Instead, allow him room to express himself in a non-threatening atmosphere.

     Share without pretending (Ephesians 4:15; “…we will hold the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ….”) In the ancient world, unethical potters filled the cracks in their pottery with wax, colored the wax, then sold the pottery as good-quality ware. Honest potters, selling only high-quality merchandise, printed on the base of their pottery “Sin Cere” – which means “without wax.” Always be sincere (truthful) with others, loving them with the love of Christ.

     Enjoy without complaint (Philippians 2:14; “In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing.”) “Knock it off! I can’t take it anymore!” That was the response from a friend of mine to the visitor’s unending complaining about the 105 F. heat. I silently agreed with him about the complaining, but his attitude was not appropriate. Let’s be kind to others, while making sure that we are not the complainers.

     Trust without wavering (1 Corinthians 13:7; “…love never gives up…and endures through every circumstance.”) This is a hard one: how can we continue to trust someone who has a history of letting us down? Romans 8:28 will help us here. It says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Seeing people and painful situations from God’s perspective will reduce the pain and disappointment.

     Forgive without punishing (Colossians 3:13; “…forgiving each other…as the Lord forgave you….”) Chuck Swindoll did not say, “forgive and forget.” Forgetting is not the issue; not holding the sin against the person is the issue. Forgiving reestablishes our love for the person, enhances our maturity, and builds our relationship with God.ATT02260

     Promise without forgetting (Proverbs 13:12; “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.) Breaking promises to a child teaches the child to be a skeptic; breaking them to others destroys our reputation. Let’s be living examples of Godly character by keeping our word.

Practice these 10 ways to love, and I am sure you will find other ways. 

Mel & Mary (M & M – a Sweet Couple)

We had the privilege of having lunch yesterday with Mel & Mary Hinz. They are 88 yearsDSCN6647B old, and are friends going back to 1968. Mel, a bi-vocational pastor, and I worked at Boeing in Everett, Washington together in the tooling shop; also called the jig shop. Tools, in this sense, are not hammers, screwdrivers, and pliers. Tooling is a specialized field, and those tools are what the production workers used to actually build the Boeing 747s.

Often on a Saturday, Carol and I would take our kids and visit Mel & Mary. They had 6 or 7 kids and lived south of Seattle in Federal Way. Their children are grown but Mel & Mary still live there.

DSCN0024BWe would have dinner with them, then spend the evening discussing theology, Bible doctrine, church beliefs, personal understandings of Scripture, and a lot more. When we discovered it was two in the morning, they told us to spend the night and ask Carol & me to sing for them in the church service.

Why am I telling you all this? I’m glad you asked.

Those weekends with Mel & Mary made a strong impact in our lives. Where I had beenPICT0184 quite firm in some of my beliefs – church beliefs outranked Bible doctrine at the time – Mel helped me to grow in my understanding of the Bible, and in understanding of Who Jesus really was – and is. Mel always talked about Jesus because Jesus was – and is – the most important Person in his life. Mary comes next.

Needless to say – but I’ll say it anyway – Carol & I love Mel & Mary Hinz (M & M – a Sweet DSCN8640BCouple) more than words can say. We are grateful that, in our formative years as a family, they invested valuable time into our lives to help us become who we are today. That is a primary reason that we, in turn, invest time into other’s lives.

Thank you, Mel and Mary, for your friendship andIMG_5089B love for us. But mostly we thank you for your love and devotion to each other and to our heavenly Father; for that is what made you who you are today.

We love you dearly.

I Am A What?

It was a warm summer morning in 1985. My wife (Carol) and I were on I-40 heading west. We were on vacation and had been visiting our friends, Jim and Frieda Denton in Tulsa, OK, when we got into another disagreement. It wasn’t a bad one – no hollering, yelling, or throwing things. But it was frustrating for both of us … and amusing for the Dentons.

We were long-time personal friends with the Dentons, attended church together, and had the freedom to say anything we wanted to without worrying about feelings. Therefore, as we were getting ready to leave that morning Frieda gave us a bag of audio tapes and said in her fun-loving, playful drawl, “Here. Take these and listen to ‘em. It might do ya some good.”

New MarriedCarol and I were married on my 20th birthday: August 22, 1966. Carol says, “Marriage is made in Heaven; but it comes in a kit, and you have to put it together here on earth.”  She is correct, and with God’s help we did a lot of “putting together” in our marriage.

Oh, you want to know about the bag that Frieda gave us? It contained some of the building blocks for our happy marriage.

When Oklahoma City was about twenty-five miles behind us, Carol pulled out “Tape #1.” Believe it or not, we finished all five tapes before stopping that night (and heard them several times again during the next five years). There were periods of laughing, periods of discussion, but a LOT of: “So THAT’S why you are that way!” After nineteen years of marriage, we were finally learning to really understand each other. The topic?  Florence Littauer’s teaching on Temperaments. This was a fun-loving study about why we act the way we do.

I asked, “I am a what?!” Carol said, “You are a sanguine-choleric.” Where I was impetuous, fun-loving, and slow to finish a project, at a moment’s notice I could be stern, authoritative, and hard to get along with. Where Carol was easy-going, a good listener, and full of ideas, she could quickly become an unbending critic. These were our major points of contention, and are why Frieda gave us the tapes.

There are several systems of explaining the four temperaments. The (over-simplified) traditional Greek concept is: choleric-leader; melancholy-analytical; sanguine-sociable; phlegmatic-quiet; but there are many variations and combinations. Other researchers (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Keirsey Temperament Sorter, and others) have developed their own systems and use different names; but they all help us to understand why we act the way we do.

Some folk claim that this approach to understanding human nature is pseudo-psychology or part of the occult. Taken to an extreme or studied without an understanding of fallen human nature, I suppose I could agree. But we view life through the lens of Holy Scripture. Here is a brief overview:

Man is born in sin. Jesus came to redeem us. Having accepted Jesus as our Savior, we are to study the Bible and grow in the Character of Jesus Christ. Understanding that we have been forgiven, we now need to break our bad interactional habits and form new ones. This does not happen magically or by accident. It takes time and effort. It takes about 21 days to form a new habit, but about 28 days to break an old habit. But if we mess up in the process, we might just have to start the count over again.

Where was I? Oh yes, learning about temperaments. We have now been married for over 52 years, and we have most the bugs worked out in our marriage. I said MOST bugs; but if you look close enough, I’m sure you can find a few still crawling around. Carol learned that I was not lying when I gave incorrect information at times: I merely forgot some minor details and subconsciously filled in with similar details. (I still doAfter 50 Years that sometimes.) And I learned that Carol was not being a demeaning tyrant who held me over the fires of hell every time I made a mistake. She was merely interested in truth: TOTAL truth.

That summer our understanding and love for each other grew tremendously. We learned to love each other for who we were – not for who we wanted each other to become. And as we both learned to stop pressuring each other, we DID begin to please each more fully. But it’s not over yet: maturing is a life-long process and God will help us if we let Him.

Don’t give up: as you learn about your temperament – not the same as personality – there’s hope for you, too.