Why Jesus Told You To Hate Your Momma

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”- Jesus, Luke 14:26 (ESV)

In the course of His time on Earth, Jesus said some pretty crazy things. Of these “hard sayings,” though, none seems quite as confusing- or as offensive- as the one that heads this post.

“Hate my family, Jesus? Seriously?”

Most of us read this command and react initially in shock, dismissing Jesus’ words as the ramblings of a religious fanatic who is thoroughly out of touch with reality. While this may be understandable, to do so would be a massive mistake. Rather than pushing away from the table in the face of Jesus’ words, we must instead lean in and engage Jesus on this matter, asking the question, “What’s behind this command? What is Jesus really getting at here?”

As we do that, digging beneath the surface of this seemingly extreme instruction, what we find is that Jesus, in giving it, is providing us with a warning about a grave but subtle danger regarding relationships, and in turn offering us one of the practically freeing principles available to us as His people.

You see, Jesus is using hyperbolic language here to speak to the issue of what is ultimate in our hearts, minds, and lives- in short, what we treat as our god. And in doing so, He is telling us that as much as we are to love people, care for people, and build healthy relationships with people, we should never, under any circumstances, make the crippling choice to worship people.

Magnifying people- that is, making another person the absolute most important thing in your life- actually sets the stage for wrecked relationships. It is a tremendous irony, but putting someone on a godlike pedestal in your heart is actually one of the most unloving things you can do for them. Why? The reason is actually pretty simple- Because there is not a person in this world who can bear the weight of being your god. It isn’t their fault; they simply weren’t created by God to fulfill that role.

When we magnify people, we do incredible damage in four specific ways…

  1. We rob ourselves of individual identity
    We believe the lie that our worth, value, and dignity is intertwined in others’ opinions of us and relationship to us, that outside of being someone to someone else, there is no true “us.” This deception that others can somehow “complete us” ignores the reality that we have inherent worth, value, and dignity simply because God has created us in His image, for a relationship with Him.
  2. We create crushing expectations of others
    Everyone- everyone– will eventually disappoint you in some way, and the higher you have elevated that person in your heart, the harder that disappointment will fall on you. Unfortunately, those whom we first idolize, we often later demonize when they fall short of the unfair expectations we have placed on them. One of the fastest ways to squeeze the life of a relationship is to remove from another person the permission to fail.
  3. We are motivated to exclude and even abuse others.
    If your identity is intimately tied up in another person or relationship, you will have no choice but to seek out and destroy any and all perceived threats to the security of that connection. Hear me well- It is important to love, provide for, and protect those whom God has placed closest to you, but be careful not to allow those good things to lead to justify neglecting or mistreating others.
  4. We devalue and displace God.
    As with all forms of idolatry, or false worship, the ultimate offense is against God Himself. To remove God from His rightful role in our lives, and replace Him with another person, is to commit an act of cosmic treason, of ultimate betrayal. It results in a trade of ultimate joy in our Creator for ultimate judgment from our Creator. Though the ripple effects of magnifying people are many, in the end it is ultimately comes back to a fracture between us and the One who made us for Himself.

So then, if Jesus isn’t actually telling us to “hate our families”- a command which, if taken literally, would directly contradict others in God’s revealed Word- what is He telling us to do? How can we love people well, recognizing their great value in our lives while maintaining a rightly ordered heart that worships God and God alone? To do so, we must build every human relationship we have on the foundation of a right relationship with God.

When we love God supremely, and allow our love for others to flow out of this “first love,” we actually set the stage for the richest, most resilient relationships we could ever know. Why? Because the only way to learn how to really love others is to be loved– and in Jesus, we have been loved perfectly! Recognizing the amazing grace of God toward you in the face of your failings equips you with a deep well of grace from which to draw and give to others when they inevitably fail you.

What’s more, when you have tasted the perfect love of God in Jesus, that ache for something ultimate is satisfied, and you no longer need others to be your functional god. This is incredibly freeing, enabling you to love others radically even in the face of their inadequacies, because you no longer need them to fulfill a need that they were never equipped to fulfill in the first place. No matter how many times others fail you, Jesus never will, and the more you come to recognize and live in light of that powerful truth, the more pressure and tension will be released from your human relationships.

This week, I implore you- Let God alone be God, and let people be people. Love Him first and most, and in so doing, you will be given more grace to love them than you could ever muster up for yourself. Go ahead and “hate” your Momma this week, because as Jesus defines it, it could be one of the most loving things you’ll ever do.

Cashing Out

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”…Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)

Early in our marriage, Kerri and I were mercifully introduced by some older, wiser friends to the work of Dave Ramsey. With his hard hitting, no nonsense style and a wealth of incredibly practical principles, Dave literally changed the face of our financial world, teaching us how to budget, save, and get out of debt in a way that was relatively simple, straightforward, and even at times fun. Additionally, he taught us how to understand our own unique personalities when it comes to viewing and using money.

Ramsey argues that there are two basic types of financial personalities, which he plainly labels “free spirits” and “nerds.” If you know me at all, you won’t be surprised at all to know that I land firmly in the “nerd” camp. I love to set goals, make plans, and work to turn them into a reality. There are few things, at least financially speaking, that are more energizing to me than to save now to spend later, to work a plan in the present that leads to a satisfying future payoff. Graciously, God gave me a smart and savvy wife who thinks much the same way, and as a result, we’ve been able to walk together in a unified effort to meet some significant goals in our years together.

Now that you know this about me, you can pretty easily imagine that one of the most frustrating, disheartening scenarios possible in my world would be to spend weeks, months, even years “storing up” diligently in pursuit of a goal, only to find on the back end that everything I had saved was gone. No goal met…no payoff to get…nothing. Only shattered hopes and the feeling that I had wasted a ton of time, energy, and resources. Even if you aren’t a “nerd” about saving like I am, you’d probably feel much the same way. There are few things more discouraging than to invest, and invest, and invest in something that in the end amounts to nothing.

This is why what Jesus says to us in Matthew 6 is so absolutely critical to wrap our heads and hearts around. He argues that all of us, everyday, are “storing up” treasure somewhere, in something, in the hopes of a future payoff. Two options are before us- we can “store up” treasures in the things of this world, or in the things of the world to come, on earth or in heaven. Our culture draws us- quite loudly, at that- to choose the former, to relentless pursue “more and better” of the seemingly endless trinkets and toys that this world has to offer us. Jesus, though, warns us that to make such a choice is to set ourselves up for one of the most disheartening ends we can imagine.

Jesus doesn’t pull punches here. He says to us that a life spent in the pursuit of this world’s “treasure”- as alluring as it is on the surface- ultimately amounts to nothing. Everything money can buy in this world will eventually decay to nothing (note the moths and rust) or be taken from us (note also the thieves). We can expend immeasurable energy acquiring it and accumulating it, saving it up and storing it up, and on the day we die (and make no mistake, that day is coming for all of us), it is gone in an instant. If our ultimate treasure is stored on earth, every day we live we grow one step closer to losing it all. That’s sobering.

Contrast this, though, to the alternative which Jesus proposes- “storing up” treasures in heaven. Such treasure, while perhaps less alluring and exciting in the short term, can’t be touched by the inevitable decay and destruction that awaits the things of this world. There is no “moth” that can overtake the Gospel of Jesus, no “rust” that can corrode the church of Jesus, and no “thief” that can steal the righteous reign and rule of King Jesus in this world and in the lives of those who trust and follow Him. An investment in a relationship with Him, and participation in His ongoing work in the world around us, won’t return void; quite the opposite! Indeed, if our ultimate treasure is stored in heaven, every day we live we grow one step closer to gaining it all. That’s encouraging, to say the least.

I think often, especially in our context of extreme American affluence, we read Jesus’ words here and mistakenly believe that He is trying to take something from us. But recognize that God is not in the business of making His people miserable. He loves us, and as a result, He is offering us a vision of something so much better than the cheap substitute peddled by our culture. He doesn’t want any of us to come to our end and realize that our lives have been wasted on the passionate pursuit of everything that doesn’t last. No, He desires instead that we would invest in a Kingdom that will never pass away, one whose “return on investment” is beyond anything we could ever ask for, hope for, or imagine.

The question, then, becomes clear- Where are you “storing up” your treasure? Are you setting your hope in the things that money can buy? Truth is, it will be satisfying to you- for a little while. But in the end, your hopes will be dashed when you realize that it all evaporates the day you die. I encourage you, echoing Jesus, to make your ultimate investment in the something- in Someone- far better. Enjoy God’s good gifts, but live open handed with them. Prioritize people over things. See past what’s right here, right now to that which lasts forever. “Store up” your treasure in heaven, and on the day you go to “cash out,” it’s guaranteed that you won’t be disappointed.

Under The Sun

Everyone- including you– is looking, living, and longing for something to make life matter.

We give that something a variety of different names- purpose, meaning, significance, hope, even God. It doesn’t matter much what we call it; what is critical to recognize is that we are all, without exception, searching desperately for it. No one, however much they may insist, sets out with a conscious aim of wasting the life they’ve been given.

Understand that this reality is no accident; we didn’t invent this search for ourselves. Quite the contrary, in fact. Each of us has been created by God with a natural desire to find ultimate meaning in something beyond ourselves. In a very real way, we’re all born with a “hole in our hearts”- a gap placed there by God Himself, and a gap that He desires to see filled.

Over the course of a lifetime, we try many different things on for size to fill that gap, to “complete” what’s lacking in us. Some of us look to stuff. Others of us look to success, however we define it. Still others of us set our hope in people and relationships. And yet, for all of our trying, none of us can ever seem to “get there,” to escape the nagging sense that there is something still missing.

Most of us, if we’re being honest, respond to this haunting reality with an internal conversation that goes something like this…

“So I’m a little unsatisfied with my life. But if I could just have ________, do ________, achieve ________, experience ________, then things would be different. If I had a different life, then I would be satisfied.”

Tell me you haven’t had that conversation with yourself more than once. I know I have. Problem is, it is rooted in a lie- a deeply deceptive and destructive lie that traps us in a cycle of futility that God never intended for us.

God, in His infinite wisdom and love, anticipated that we would think this way. And in response to it, He gave us a little book in the Bible’s Old Testament called Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is an undeniably difficult book to read, in part because it’s rather depressing, and even more significantly, because it’s a whole lot truer than most of us want to admit.

The primary power of Ecclesiastes- aside from the fact that it is inspired Word of God- is in who wrote it. Solomon, referenced as the “Teacher,” was one of the most impressive men to ever grace our planet. He was a man of nearly unparalleled wealth, power, skill, fame, pleasure, and wisdom, living the life that most in our world dream of living. Bottom line, Solomon had it all– which makes his conclusions about his life, recorded in Ecclesiastes, really uncomfortable, and really necessary.

Solomon tips his conclusion in the book’s opening verse, declaring everything in this world- “everything under the sun”- “meaningless.” His wealth? “Meaningless.” His pleasure? “Meaningless.” His achievements? “Meaningless.” His wisdom? “Meaningless.” Again, I can’t stress enough how seemingly perfect Solomon’s life was in nearly every possible way. And yet, in the face of it all, without hesitation he declares it all “meaningless.” What gives here?

It is important to recognize what Solomon is, and is not, saying to us here. He is not saying that none of what he had, did, achieved, and experienced was enjoyable and meaningful in its time– it almost certainly was. What he is saying, though, is that as quickly as that pleasure and purpose came, it left, and on the back side of every single thing he “auditioned” as ultimate in his life was the same nagging sense of dissatisfaction that with which he began. Like running on a treadmill, Solomon ran and ran- exerting all that he was in the pursuit of that “something” we’re all looking for- only to end up in the exact same place he started.

This is the trap of setting our hope in “everything under the sun”- as legitimately alluring as it may be on the surface, and as temporarily satisfying as it may initially be when we get it, in the end it leaves us as lacking as we were before. That’s what Solomon is attempting- in very strong language- to communicate clearly to us. It isn’t that God’s gifts in this world aren’t good; it’s that they aren’t qualified to be God. The only thing that can bear the weight of being God in your life is God, and the longer we persist in the cycle of “auditioning” temporary things in His place, the deeper our disillusionment with life will become. The solution to what’s broken in us simply cannot be more of what’s already broken in us.

When we magnify anyone or anything “under the sun,” we inevitably get burned. The quickest and easiest way to destroy something or someone- all the while destroying yourself- is to make it bigger than God ever intended it to be. Instead, we must learn to illuminate everything in the light of Jesus, looking to Him alone as our “sun”- the ultimate source of our hope and meaning- and allowing Him to set all things in their proper order. When we recognize God alone as God, it puts things in life in perspective, and enables us to fully and finally find what we’ve been searching for all along.

What are you magnifying in your life? Where has your God initiated search for hope led you? If this answer is anything other than your Creator God, be warned by Ecclesiastes- you’re playing with fire, and if you haven’t been already, you’re going to get burned, probably badly. Be honest with yourself today about what means most, and ask God to stir up your heart with fresh affection for Him. Set Him in His rightful place at the center of your heart and life, and cease the round-and-round “search cycle” of life “under the sun” for good.