Tag Archives: relationships

The incarnation of Jesus and the thoughts of St. John

The apostle John was fixated on the physical reality of Jesus–on the fact that in Jesus, God became a man. In becoming a man, He loved John and became John’s closest friend, and John never forgot the friendship.

In 1 John 1:1-4, the apostle is giddy to be remembering Jesus. He repeatedly emphasizes the sight, sound, and feel of being with the Messiah (“heard… seen… looked upon… touched”), and how the physical reality of Jesus is related to John’s fellowship with God and with the people reading the letter (which includes you and me):

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched…the life was made manifest, and we… proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father… so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son… And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” -1 John 1:1-4 (ESV)

The reality of God in a physical body fascinated John for his entire life. In the verses above there are echos of the opening words of John’s gospel–Jesus was with God in the beginning; Jesus is life; and Jesus is the manifestation of God’s Word in physical form. 

When Peter and John were defending themselves in the temple in Jerusalem, the reason they gave for talking about Jesus was, “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20). Having seen Jesus was irrefutable evidence of Jesus’ reality as God, and John implies this in the verses above and in John 19:35. Referring to himself, John says, “He who saw it has born witness–his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth, that you also may believe.” Peter was also captivated by his physical experience of Jesus, as he mentions in 2 Peter 1:16 (“but we were eyewitnesses.”)

Perhaps Peter and John learned their fascination with Jesus’ physicality from Jesus Himself, who emphasized this to the disciples in the upper room in Luke 24:39-43 (“see my hands and my feet”) and famously to doubting Thomas in John 20:27 (“put out your hand, and place it in my side”).

But in 1 John 1:1-4, the apostle also refers to Jesus briefly as “the word of life–the life was made manifest.” Jesus himself also said that He was “the life,” and the reality of Jesus’ physical existence makes His life exuberant and powerful, powerful enough to light a fire under John, and powerful enough to unite distant Christians in fellowship with each other and with the Father.

And the power of Jesus to catalyze fellowship is why John is writing. As he says in verse 3, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.” In the friendship of Jesus and His disciples, the love of God began to spill over into humans, so that if we come to know Jesus, we also can have fellowship with the Father. And through fellowship with the Father, we have better fellowship with other believers.

This is why John was “writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” John already had fellowship with Jesus–it had changed and motivated the entire course of his existence. But his joy was completed when he shared this fellowship with other people, when he could participate in the work of Christ on this earth.

Jesus had spent time with John, and John shared these experiences with other people. These people told other people, who told other people. The cycle continued over millennia, while the Spirit worked in the lives and minds of generation after generation of believers, until eventually somebody told me, and now I am telling you.

I’m writing this post for the same reason John wrote His letter. Jesus is real, and He has lit my life on fire. When I meet other believers, or when I pray, or when I read Scripture, the energy is electric. The Spirit is at work in me, and He is at work in all believers.

“That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.”

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Why do people fight with each other?

On the day after Thanksgiving in 2008, Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, New York. The crowd had lined up for a sale, and Jdimytai was in the way, so they pushed him down and trampled him until he died. When the crowd was told they had to leave because someone had been killed, they didn’t respond in horror–they responded by complaining about how long they’d waited in line.

“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” –James 4:2 (ESV)

Think of the last argument you had. What was it about? What did you want that you didn’t have? All quarrels come from wanting. All of them. My last argument was with my wife–I wanted her to go to a movie, but she didn’t feel like it. I’ve seen people argue about being first in line, because they both want the first spot.

There is only one first spot in line. Everything you could possibly want is limited in supply. The items on sale at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart on Black Friday in 2008 were limited in supply. My wife’s time is limited in supply. If you want something that’s in short supply, you need to compete for it. You need to quarrel for it. You have no other choice.

So, how do we end quarreling? How do we create peace in the world? The only way is to stop wanting the things that are in the world, because all of these things are limited, and all of them will require us to quarrel with other people in order to get them. The only way to create peace is for each of us to want nothing.

The problem is that we all want things. It’s difficult to want nothing–in fact, it’s impossible to want nothing. We can’t create peace by wanting nothing.

We can create peace by wanting something that’s not limited. But the only not-limited thing is God–the eternal, all-knowing, infinitely-loving God. We can all want God, and we don’t need to quarrel for Him, because He’s available to us in unlimited supply. Actually, the Lord wants us to want Him: “He yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us.” (James 4:5, ESV)

He has made a spirit of wanting to dwell in us, and that spirit can only be peaceably satisfied when it wants Him and nothing else.

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But…a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions… Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

-James 3:16-4:8 (ESV)

Obedience is a sign that you love someone

God wanted a relationship with ancient Israel. In fact, God wants a relationship with each of us today. Because of this, He gave Israel–and us–His Law. But people have trouble understanding why we have the Law. They think of these rules as burdensome, unnecessary, and archaic. Why should what happens to us when we die depend on whether we’ve obeyed the minutiae of an ancient moral code? The fact is, obedience to the Law doesn’t save us today, and it didn’t save anyone in ancient Israel either.

The Law God gave Israel through Moses didn’t sanctify them. To sanctify means “to set apart for a sacred purpose” and “to free from sin” (from Merriam-Webster’s). The Law didn’t free the people of Israel from sin. God freed the people of Israel from sin:

“I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.”

-Ezekiel 20:11-12 (ESV)

The people would “live” if they obeyed the Law, but it was God who sanctified them. This is exactly what we’re told as Christians today–Jesus saves us from our sin (sanctifies us) and then we obey His commands because we love Him, but not because obedience saves us.

Read Ezekiel 18. The same idea occurs there.We’re told that if a person who’s done evil stops doing evil and obeys God, that person will live. If an Israelite person had sinned, that person could still have been sanctified if they stopped sinning and obeyed God–their previous sins didn’t condemn them to hell. But also, their current obedience didn’t get them into heaven. God sanctified them; they didn’t sanctify themselves.

Obedience was merely a symbol that a person was accepting God, rather than rebelling against Him. You see, the entire Old Testament is a history of Israel’s relationship with God. Obedience is an important part of healthy, loving relationships. We often think of obedience in relation to authority: children obey their teachers, people obey traffic laws, employees obey their supervisors. There is, obviously, an element of authority in God’s relationship to us, but I think it’s often more valuable to think of God as a friend or a spouse. The entire book of Hosea depicts God as a faithful husband and Judah as an cheating wife. In Ephesians Paul uses Jesus and the church as an example of the relationship between a husband and wife.

If my wife asks me to clean the kitchen, and I don’t do it, I have wronged her. She’ll be disappointed. She may wonder if I’m upset with her. It’s not a matter of whether I’ve obeyed or disobeyed some insignificant rule (e.g. “Thou shalt keep thy kitchen clean”), it’s a matter of whether I love my wife enough to do something she would appreciate. Do we love God? If so, we’ll do the things He tells us to do in Scripture. We’ll undoubtedly fail, but that’s okay as long as we try, because God sanctifies us, and our sanctification isn’t dependent on our obedience, but rather on our willingness to accept God’s invitation to be in a relationship with Him.

The same thing was true in ancient Israel. God had spoken to Abraham, Moses, and other Israelites. Would Israel obey the Law given to Moses and thereby show God  they were accepting His offer of a relationship? Or would Israel dismiss the Law as full of insignificant, unnecessarily-burdensome rules?

The Law was merciful. The Law was God’s plea with Israel to be His people, to be His bride on this earth, to be protected and loved by Him. There were provisions in the Law for failure. The sacrifices and Sabbaths were there to remind Israel that God saved them even though they didn’t always obey. Obedience to the Law was a symbol of love, not a mechanism of salvation. Just as I demonstrate my love to my wife by doing things she appreciates, Israel demonstrated their love to God by obedience.

Today, things are no different. Jesus has come to earth to plead with you, to ask you to follow Him, to ask you to be His disciple. You only need to pray and accept His offer. If you love Him, you’ll begin to obey Him, and it won’t be burdensome. When I do things for my wife, she gets excited. Her eyes sparkle, she gives me a big hug, and I feel loved. But God loves me so much more than she–or anyone else–ever can.

“All that is gold does not glitter”

The first nine chapters of Chronicles are boring.

These chapters are all genealogies. There are a few details about various people’s vocations, or where they lived, or what happened to them during their lifetimes, but for the most part these chapters tiredly recite who was the son of whom.

But my life is at least as boring as Chronicles. I was born, I’ll hopefully have children. I’ll live somewhere and do something, and then I’ll die. But the first nine chapters of Chronicles assure me that these kinds of things matter. God works through ordinary people doing ordinary things, and in Scripture He has recorded His work in people’s lives for all of us to see.

There in Scripture is a march of names, some who served the Lord and some who didn’t, but all of whom displayed His glory. God’s will was done in spite of the people who opposed Him, and His will was done through those people who submitted to Him. God worked through each life, through their relationships, activities, and conversations. He can work through my life too, if I submit everything, boring as any of it may seem, to Him. The same is true for you.

People like people

There must have been at least ten of us all crowded into her room. She seemed very sick, and she probably would have rather kept sleeping. I felt bad waltzing in with my classmates to startle her, but our attending physician didn’t seem to care.

“How are you feeling today?” He said it cheerfully, as if he were seeing an old friend for the first time in awhile.

She whispered that she was feeling a bit better than yesterday. A few of us said hello, and she nodded slightly.

The doctor asked her to lean forward. She did so–painfully–and he moved her gown aside to expose her back. One by one, we placed our stethoscopes over her lungs and listened for a few moments while she breathed. By the time it was my turn, she seemed more alert.

“That’s a pretty shirt, sweetheart,” she said to one of my female classmates. The girl was a little surprised, but she smiled and thanked the old woman. Our attending physician then began explaining what we were hearing–I think he had a chest x-ray and some other data on the computer, but I wasn’t really paying attention. The woman had woken up a bit more, and she was now curiously looking around the room. She seemed relaxed.

“Okay?” said our physician.

My classmates nodded that they had understood whatever he just explained, but I was watching the old lady, who was now reaching across her table for a small plastic bag full of Dum-Dum Lollipops. She picked it up, and extended her the bag with a smile, the IV lines dangling from her forearm.

“Want some candy?”

We all smiled, and a few of us took a lollipop. As we walked out, the lady settled back into her bed, and she seemed more peaceful than she’d been before.

I’ve seen this often. Unless they’re very ill, people who are at first tired and sick often perk up when a troop of medical students walks into their room. I don’t think they’re startled; I think they just like company. People like people–strangely, it took me until college to realize this. So for the past few years I’ve been trying to talk to strangers and new people, because everyone seems to appreciate the attention. I’m not very good at it yet, but I’m getting there.

“The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Mark 12:31-34

[Just FYI, none of the patients I talk about are real–they’re composites of various patients and people I’ve met over the past four years or so.]

The invisible work of being married to me

I get a variety of responses when I tell people I’m a medical student

“Wow, you must have worked hard.”

“You’ve got to really want it if you’re going into medicine.”

Most people tend to praise me, but almost none of them praise my wife. Awhile ago, my wife and I were having lunch with a mutual friend. Somewhat randomly, this friend looked at my wife and told her that she must be a wonderful lady, that it must take a lot of strength and patience to be married to a student, and that she deserves a lot of credit.

My wife takes compliments about as well as I do, so she smiled a shy smile and spoke a quick “thank you.” Later, she told me how much she appreciated someone recognizing what she does. For all the successes of the feminist movement, people still fail to recognize all the effort and energy my wife puts into being what women have classically been–a wife (and someday a mother). She has a pretty impressive job, and people are more likely to remark on her achievements in the workplace than on the effort it must take to be married to me. She already knows she’s a star business woman, but it was a breath of fresh air to hear someone recognize that she’s a star wife as well.

Because being married to me means sitting alone while I study in the other room. It means finding hobbies she can do without me. It means worrying about where we will go when I graduate, what kind of doctor I’ll be, and how I’ll perform on the next test. It means going to bed alone three hours before I sleepily tumble into the covers next to her. It means scheduled date nights, quick dinners, and vacations constrained to scheduled academic breaks.

Yet somehow, she still manages to love me in a way I’ve never been loved. With her, I can talk about anything–even the interesting tidbit I learned in class or the strange experience I had with a patient. We share vacation memories, watch shows together, play games. She encourages me when I’m doing well, cries on my shoulder when she’s frustrated, and laughs with me about the ridiculous things in life.

She’s a wonderful lady, and she deserves for more people to recognize the effort she puts into our relationship. At the very least, I can take note of what she’s doing for me, because I certainly couldn’t make it through medical school without her.

“When I’m a rich doctor…”

The list of things my wife and I are going to do “when I’m a rich doctor” has gotten rather long. Actually, we never really used this phrase seriously, but we do throw it around in jest quite a bit. We’ve thought of graduation from residency as the time when I’ll be what my wife calls “a normal person.” I’m not quite sure what she means by “normal person,” but as far as I can tell, a normal person is someone with time and money. Money is something I don’t need much of, but time is something I could use.

During medical school, I’ve seen less of my friends, and I’ve struggled to spend time with my wife. I haven’t exercised as much as I should. Perhaps worst of all, I’ve struggled to find time to pray and study Scripture.

“I can do all of these things when I have more time,” I usually tell myself. The problem is, life starts now. I may not ever have more time than I have now. No test, class, or student group is as important as my relationship with my friends and with God. Training to be a doctor is my life for the next seven years, and if I let my friends and family fall to the wayside, I’ll be very distant from them “when I’m a rich doctor.”

Married young?

[Note: I posted this earlier, but when I read it over again a few days later, I decided it was a terrible post and didn’t at all say what I meant it to say. This is a revised version that’s a little more on target–my apologies to whoever read the first one!]

I was married at age 22, and marrying my wife was the best decision of my life. I haven’t once regretted it, and I don’t anticipate that I ever will regret marrying my wife. This is in contrast to what people seem to expect when they say things like, “Congratulations, but you look like you’re about 15.” (And yes, that was a comment someone actually made to us–on our honeymoon of all places.)

I imagine that’s the type of person who wrote this New York Times article. It’s a very long article, and rather poorly argued, so don’t read it unless you’re bored. The argument was this: In our current society, people aged 20 to 30 are going through an identity crisis, and they just can’t make up their minds about what they want to do. “Kids” these days are living at home longer, changing jobs madly, getting more education because they can’t find anything else to do, getting married later, etc. Because of this, goes the argument, we should consider 20-something-ness to be a sort of second adolescence, and we should find ways as a society to make it possible for them to travel, explore jobs, stay a little under their parent’s wing, etc. That might be the sentiment people have when they remark that I got married young–my brain just wasn’t well developed enough to make those sorts of decisions!

Now, I think finding ways to further prolong adolescence is a terrible idea. My generation is getting married later, and we’re getting more educated and living at home longer and whatever else. However, this isn’t because we need more time to grow up or develop further. Most of my friends who are living at home don’t want to live at home–they just can’t find a job. And all of my friends who can’t find a job desperately wish they could find a job. Before I started medical school, I worked in the food industry, which isn’t a bad job, but it’s a bad job when you have a college degree. Young adults who move from job to job aren’t doing so by choice; it’s just a little hard to make ends meet.

As for getting married older? Well, most of us are responsible people, and we wouldn’t get married until we can support ourselves, until we’re satisfied enough with our future to be able to plan ahead a bit, and until we’ve met the person we want to spend our life with. (As an aside, I know plenty of people who were married younger than I was, and 22 doesn’t seem young to me at all.) This is something everybody wants to do eventually, but we can’t get married if none of us have jobs. If anything, society needs to make the transition to adulthood easier and quicker, rather than drawing it out longer–the article was just terrible. I sincerely hope you didn’t read it.

For me, marriage has been a way to become more mature and to understand another person in a profound way. Marriage has made me a wiser person, and it continues to make me a wiser person. Things have gone the same way in other parts of my life also–getting a job, paying bills, making a budget work, etc. It’s not that I needed to grow up before I got a job–it’s that I needed to get a job in order to grow up.

I got married because I met the woman I love more than anyone else in the world. I went into it knowing that there would be hard times, and that everything wouldn’t be rosy and happy like it was when we were dating. Armed with the knowledge that arguments, money problems, and even worse things will come, my wife and I are doing just fine. But I certainly have learned a lot. In fact, I think I wouldn’t have learned these lessons unless I got married, meaning that if I waited until I was 35, I would still need to learn the same lessons without being any wiser to begin with.

My wife has a built-in relationship health detector

My wife has a built-in relationship health detector. I’m not sure how it got there–I don’t remember installing it–but it’s there. I know she has one, because it went off yesterday morning. Usually, my wife and I wake up together and spend a few minutes cuddling each morning, telling each other how attractive we are, saying “I love you” way too many times… I’ll spare you the mushy details.

At a beach in MaineHowever, lately I’ve been waking up at about 5 am to read, write blog posts like this one, and review a few materials for medical school. For the past few days I’ve just kept reading until she was awake and having breakfast. Yesterday, after she was all dressed for work, she shuffled over to me, gave me a cozy hug, looked up at me with her pretty blue eyes, and quietly mentioned that it might be nice to do a little cuddling in the morning.

This sort of thing usually works on me immediately, as my wife’s blue eyes are very pretty. Somewhere along the way in our two years of marriage, someone told me about these relationship health detectors, and I’ve learned to pay attention to them. Without my wife, I have no doubt that I would immerse myself in studying all the time, reading all the time, or doing any number doing any number of things that don’t matter nearly as much as human relationships. God designed us for relationships with other people, and I’m fully convinced that anything meaningful we can do in life involves doing something kind for other people. My wife is the most important “other person” in my life, and her relationship health detector is very reliable, and very important.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
-Ephesians 5:25