This Thing Called Love

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My Musings – Love. Little else is as captivating or inspiring as love. It is, perhaps, one of the most sought after and motivating experiences that anyone can have. As a subject matter it permeates movies, songs, books, television and advertising. Yet it is often misinterpreted, misunderstood, mislabeled and misused. We say that we love this and that we love that. In the process we devalue something that is of such worth that it prompted God to send His Son to die for us.

The depth of that love seems far beyond our ability to fully grasp or adequately comprehend. But Jesus calls us to know it and be filled with it in our love of God (“with all our heart, soul and mind“) and for each other (“as ourselves“). All that is written in the Law and Prophets (the Old Testament) as well as the Gospels and Epistles (the New Testament) “hang on” these two commandments. If that were not sufficient enough to underscore how vitality important love is in the born-again experience, Jesus said that it was the primary and most distinctive characteristic by which all men will know that we are His disciples. It is the litmus test of how well the previous eleven steps of discipleship that we have examined are doing in making changes in our lives and character. For example, what causes us to desire what God desires? How do we know we are becoming more like Christ? What compels us to serve others? Why are we motivated to resist temptation? When we witness to others, what prompts us to do so? What causes us to unite with other believers in a local church? The common denominator, or at least it should be if we are growing as disciples, is love – love for God and for one another.

God calls us to the highest degree (agape) of love. Agape refers to a selfless and unconditional type love. It is the highest of the four types (Eros – sensual; Philia – brotherly; Storge – family; and Agape) of love in the Bible. That is not to say that the other three types do not have their proper place. But unlike these other three types of love, agape has less to do about involuntary desires of love and more about voluntarily desiring to love.

It is a motivation for action that we are free to choose or reject. It is a sacrificial love that willingly suffers inconvenience, discomfort, and even death for the benefit of another without expecting anything in return. How do we know it is the highest degree? Jesus said “as the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you,” and for us to “love each other as I have loved you.” It cannot get any higher than that. Jesus told us how to identify this type of love when He said “greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends.” Then He provided the ultimate proof that He was more than an itinerant preacher of the warm and fuzzy when He laid down His own life on the cross and died for our sins.

This is unmerited love – we do not deserve it. It is love that bore a very high cost – the sacrifice of the Son of God. It is love that is often rejected – not everyone accepts the free gift of salvation. It is love that not always returned – many do not serve Him the way that they should. Of course, relatively few believers will be called upon to literally lay down their lives for Him or for a fellow believer. But there are many ways that we can figuratively lay down our lives (serving Him, obeying Him, caring for those that He cares for, to name just a few). Paul refers to this kind of love as “the most excellent way.

Excellent means something that is of the highest or finest quality.

One might think this is definition enough for the kind of love God calls us to. But Paul affixes a superlative (most) in front of something that is already defined as highest and finest (excellent). Most means greatest in degree. So the love we are called to as Christ’s disciples is one in the greatest degree and of the highest and finest quality. As we look to some of the more challenging people in our lives we can begin to appreciate how great a challenge this might be.

Because the love Jesus refers to is of the highest degree, it is difficult for sinful man to understand it, much less to attain it. But perhaps we can gain a clearer understanding by knowing a few things about it. In what has become known as the love chapter of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), Paul describes this type of love in terms of the positive characteristics it has (what it is) and the negative characteristics it does not have (what it is not). The positive characteristics it has are: patience, kindness, truthfulness, protectiveness, trust, hope, perseverance and trustworthiness. The negative characteristics it does not have are: envy, boastfulness, pride, rudeness, selfishness, anger, bearing grudges and a delighting in evil.

Interestingly, Paul’s discussion about love comes immediately after his discourse on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. In conclusion Paul instructs his readers to “eagerly desire the greater gifts.” He then goes on to show us “the most excellent way” in 1 Corinthians 13.

In doing so he tells us that even extreme giftedness is of little value
if it is not accompanied or motivated by love.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love. I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV 1978)). At some point the gifts may fade or disappear, leaving us with only faith, hope and love, of which love is the greatest.

LOVES ME CHARACTERISTICS

Love is patient, love is kind. Love rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8. NIV 1978).

Is Patient –  Endure evil, injury & provocation without thoughts of resentment, indignation or revenge.

Is Kind  – Not only takes advantage of opportunities to be kind, but looks for such opportunities.

Rejoices In Truth – In the truth of God and the Gospel. Rejoices to see loved-one molded by these truths.

Always Protects – Unwilling to expose loved-one’s faults to others. Also translated bears all things, i.e., will put up with much injustice without harboring anger or seeking revenge.

Always Trusts – Believeth all things. Always sees the best in loved-one. Allows for circumstances. Keeps the faith when it is easy to believe the worst.

Always Hopes – Refuse to take failure as final. When trust or belief begins to give way, hope takes over.

Always Perseveres – Not resigned acquiescence, but rather an active positive fortitude. Willing to endure persecution for sake of, or even from loved-one.

Never fails Gifts will cease to exist or be needed. Love will never cease to exist or be needed.

LOVES ME NOT CHARACTERISTICS

Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV 1978)

Does Not Envy – Not grieved at good or prosperity of loved-one, but rather rejoices in it.

Does Not Boast – Windbag. Fair words without regard to the truth, or any intention for good.

Is Not Proud  – Puffed-up, proud of oneself at the expense of another (i.e., pride in yourself obscures feelings for loved-one).

Is Not Rude – Base, vile, disgraceful, dishonorable, indecent.

Is Not Self-Seeking Not seeking own interests to the neglect of loved-one. On the contrary, often neglects own welfare for the sake of loved-one.

Is Not Easily Angered  – Not touchy or eager to take offense. Not angry without just cause. Hard to be angry, eager to be reconciled.

Keeps No Record Of Wrongs – Does not take into account wrongs done. More likely to disbelieve accusations of wrongs about the loved-one. Does not give way to suspicion based upon appearances.

Does Not Delight In Evil – Resist human nature of delighting in the misfortunes of others. Sins of loved-one rather bring grief.

My Advice – We live in a fallen world. Because it is fallen, it is imperfect. Because it is imperfect, our love is also imperfect. There is still a tendency towards harshness, quarreling and jealousy. All of which are signs of an immature love. But we need not lose heart. As we continue to grow as disciples, our love will continue to grow as well – our love of God and of each other. As Christ is reflected in us more and more we will find ourselves giving way to gentleness, peace and kindness. Where we once loved to fight, we will fight to love. Love is the litmus test of how we are growing as disciples. So how are you doing with this thing called love?

 

Keep In Mind

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My Musings – Jesus passes the love that the Father has for Him on to us.  In the same way, we must pass this love on to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  In this way the world will know that we are His disciples.  If, in seeing this the world hates us, it is because the world hates Christ (and by extension, the Father as well).  Why? Because although “light has come into the world, men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.”  (John 3:19-21,NIV 1984).  As followers of Christ, we are to reflect the light.  So if they hate the light, they will hate us to.

My Advice – Walk in the light as He is in the light.  We can bear the hate of the world as long as we have the love of the Father.  Evenso, keep proclaiming the truth.  In so doing, some may ultimately come into the light.

 

Nor Could The Scroll Contain The Whole

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My Musings – If the cross is not enough to convince you of God’s love, and it should be, these verses should blow you away.  Friends may abandon you when you times are difficult and you are in need (trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword – the list is not exhaustive).  But God won’t.

It’s not that these things won’t happen. They will.  But, He loved us before, He will love us “in,” and He will love us through them.  For “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Sounds pretty all-inclusive to me!  No room for, “but what about this.”  There is no “this” that the above does not cover.  The only “fine print” is “anything else in all creation.”  That leaves only the Godhead (not in creation) as a possible exception.  But even “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13, NIV 1984).

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Even that screams the incomprehensibility of God’s love for His children.  Not just conquerors (one who is victorious), more than conquerors.  How can one be more than a conqueror?  They cannot.  It merely underscores the fact that no love can be more than the love God has for us. Love does indeed conquer all, if it’s the love of God.

“Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made; were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade;  To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry; nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.” (The Love of God ~ Frederick M. Lehman 1917).

My Advice – Don’t pass up this love.  No better deal will come around.  Now is the day of salvation.

 

 

 

Where Can I Go?

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My Musings – I see two possible reactions to this – Indescribable peace for those who are resting in Him and uncontrollable anxiety for those who are resisting Him.  We are either relieved by His ever-present watchfulness over us, or disquieted for our inability to escape His presence.  Comfort or conviction.  Nothing to fear or everything to fear.  Love or loathing.  There is no neutral ground of indifference.

My Advice – Seek peace, rest, relief, comfort and love.  Perfect love drives out fear.

The Wretched Refuse

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My Musings – Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land; here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus).

If these words sound familiar, they should. They are lines from a sonnet she wrote in 1883, and whose lines are inscribed on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty is a famous landmark and symbol of freedom in U.S. history. Located on Ellis Island in New York harbor, millions of immigrants passed through the Ellis Island Immigration Station seeking a better life.

Now I really do not intend for this musing to be a political statement, or otherwise be offensive, although many will take it as such.  It is rather, an appeal to compassion.  For who among us cannot trace our roots to someone among the “huddled masses” that found their way to these shores? Were our ancestors not aliens once “yearning to breathe free” (we breathe free because they dared to come)?  Were we not grafted into the vine?

I can fully understand the desire to protect our borders and our land from those with motives other than a “yearning to breathe free,” who otherwise wish us ill and desire to destroy our way of life, or who are only seeking a free-ride with no desire to contribute.  But surely there must be a way to humanely take in the tired, poor or homeless who are tempest-tossed, but are willing to embrace their new land and make a contribution?  A way to separate the sheep from the goats?  A way to pull out the weeds without uprooting the wheat?

“America represents something universal in the human spirit. I received a letter not long ago from a man who said, ‘You can go to Japan to live, but you cannot become Japanese. You can go to France to live and not become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey, and you won’t become a German or a Turk.’ But then he added, ‘Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American’ …
This I believe is one of the most important sources of America’s greatness. We lead the world because unique among nations, we draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world … Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge; always leading the world to the next frontier …” (from Ronald Reagan’s last speech as President).

My Advice – “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.‘”  (Zechariah 7:9–10, NIV 1984).  For “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” and “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:40 & 45, NIV 1984).

Finally, anybody (even “wretched refuse”) from any corner of the world (yes, aliens) can come to Christ and become a Christian.  “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37, ESV 2016).

 

No Disappointment

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My Musings – There’s a lot packed into these few verses.  Today, I want to focus on the linkage between peace and suffering.  How is it that some people can be subjected to so much suffering and yet still experience a “peace that surpasses all understanding?

Like a good mystery novel, you need to unravel the clues.  Follow the trail of evidence to wherever it leads.

Faith – We gain access to faith through God’s good graces.  Without faith it is impossible to please God, and yet we only have it because He gives (a gift) it to us.

Justification – Only by exercising the faith that God has given us, through His grace (also given), can we be justified (by grace we are saved – justified – through faith).  While exercising our faith is an action, it is not a work, because we know we are not saved by works.  It (salvation) is a gift.  Yet we do not have the gift just because it is offered.  We have to accept it.

Peace – We can only have peace (not as the world gives peace) if we have been justified (reconciled to God).  Genuine peace with God can only happen through reconciliation, which means eliminating the differences that separate us.  These differences would otherwise be irreconcilable if Jesus had not died to satisfy (eliminate) what caused the differences in the first place.  Caused by us (our action), eliminated by the cross (God’s action through HIs Son), offered to us as a free gift (God’s grace), and accepted through faith (our action).

Hope – Hope in the hereafter, where “we shall be like Him,” (“of the glory of God“).  Hope is desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.  Just like peace is not as the world give peace, hope is likewise not as the world experiences hope.  For the world, hope is a desire for something but no assurance.  For the believer, there is belief and expectation (assurance) because of Him who made the promise.  A “hope that does not disappoint us” because of Him who pours it out in love.

Suffering – Curiously linked to both peace and hope.  For the world, peace and suffering rarely coexist.  And hope seems almost futile.  For the Christian, suffering need not destroy hope.  If often magnifies it.  And while suffering does not bring peace, the Christian can experience peace while suffering.  That is what we can rejoice about.  Not that we are experiencing it, but that it magnifies hope and need not rob us of our peace.  Something that truly surpassing understanding.

And All The Rest – A Christian’s hope and peace are not merely intangible feelings.   They have tangible results – perseverance, character and (more) hope.

Another Gift – The Holy Spirit, who lives (and so much more) within us.

And where does the trail of evidence lead? To God. The faith we have is from God.  It is His grace that justifies us through the gift of HIs Son’s death and resurrection.  It is Him who gives us peace and backs up our hope.  The trail of evidence clearly points to Him.

My Advice – Don’t give up hope.

Go and Do Likewise

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My Musings – “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

What indeed?  I’ve done it.  Maybe you have too.  The stranded motorist all alone.  Well, who doesn’t have a cell phone these days?  They can call someone.  It’s a busy road, someone is bound to stop.  I’m running late, I can’t be bothered this time, I’ll get the next one.  What if it’s a ruse, I could be putting myself in real danger.  On the other hand, what if they don’t have a cell phone?  Would it be a bother even if I did have the time?  What if it’s a not to well-traveled road?  What if I don’t stop to help, they could be left in real danger?

How about the shabbily-dressed person on the corner with the crudely lettered sign “any amount will help?”  They’re probably running a scam.  They’ll probably use it for drugs or alcohol.  Why don’t they go out and look for a job?  What if they’ve tried it all and just want to feed their family just for this day?

Without getting too political (too late), what about the refugee seeking a better life?  They’re probably here for free benefits.  They just want to come here and change things to the same as what they left.  What if they belong to some sleeper cell?  Why don’t they just come here legally?  What if they really did flee a life and death situation?

Maybe some of the concerns and objections above are legitimate.  After all, there will always be those looking to take advantage. Many of the situations we face will be tough calls.  But do we really want to turn a “blind-eye” to those who might be truly in need because we are afraid of what might happen to us or skeptical hat their needs are genuine?  While we need to be wise and wary, at the end of the day we are responsible for our hearts and actions and not the other person’s motives.

My Advice – We all know that immediately after the above question “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Isn’t it interesting that the two in the parable most likely to lend a hand did not (maybe they used some of the above rationalizations), and the one least likely to care at all (the “hated” Samaritan) cared enough to act.  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37, NIV 1984).

Maybe the ones we find in apparently needy situations are our “hated” Samaritans.  Should it make a difference?  The point of the parable is no.  They are just as much our neighbor as the ones we visit with over the white picket fence.

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