What is love?

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Nestor Haddaway’s run-away hit posed the question in the ’90s. But it was ‘the head-bobbing, nightclubbing-addicted Butabi brothers’ that popularized the single on Saturday Night Live and later in the film Night at the Roxbury.

Love as a right, concept, ideal, and standard gets a lot of play in culture these days and it always has.  Just consider one of William Shakespeare’s many lines:

  • “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind” from A Midsummer Night’s dream.

Today, however, one seems to assume the liberty to define love any ‘ole way.  But does that make it right? And speaking of rights, who gets to define such weighty matters, anyway?

Listen in on a conversation between an imaginary Cultural Cathy and me:

Cultural Cathy – I have the right to define love as I see it

Me – Really? well how do you define love? and whose standards are you using?

CC – You must not have heard me, it’s up to me.  Right now, I feel a strong bond with Denise.  What we have is the ‘real thing’.  And it feels right.  So it is right for me. I feel loved and so does Denise.

Me – But you call yourself a Christian.  Don’t you have to submit to what the Bible teaches on love?

CC – But I AM following the Bible.  It says all over the Bible that  ‘God is love’.  And I actually can quote a verse, 1 John 4:7.  It goes like this: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

Me – Good for you for knowing Scripture.  But we have to use God’s definition if we invoke His Truth.  Furthermore, it’s never enough to find and isolate one verse.  We have to see what the Author meant by looking at the context and other written evidence of what He thinks.   In this case, the Bible also teaches that God is Truth.  Do you remember how Jesus went around saying that He was the truth?  It follows then that Jesus is the standard of the truth.  And if you and I consider ourselves to be Christ-followers or Christian that implies that we stay to stay within the boundaries that Christ set.

CC – what’s truth have to do with love?

Me – good question.  Since you quoted John’s first letter – let’s just turn back a few pages to chapter 3, verse 18.  He writes: Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

CC – hmmm, so your point is??

Me – the deed part is the point.When we ‘love in deed and in truth’ we actually put God’s propositional truth (what He says and teaches, as the Bible documents) into action.  We DON’T get to choose or decide on the propositional truth that suits our temperaments.

David teaches us in one of his Psalms: Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;  Psalm 86:11

**

I don’t know what a Cultural Cathy would say in my fantasy conversation.  If we’re having this exchange at all, she likely would find a way to discount my points.

But we Christians need to know how God defines truth and love.  They are NOT relative. The world may claim authorship rights in determining definitions, but if someone calls himself a Christian, then we should at least be willing to engage with knowledge.  But as Peter exhorts us…with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

My first duty of the day – to make myself happy in God

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bible-reading-in-the-am

My hero in the faith is George Mueller, the 19th-century British pastor who together with his wife established and ran orphanages for four to five decades.  He intentionally journaled throughout those years in order to encourage the ordinary Christian to live and work by simple but powerful faith.  He wanted the average Christian to KNOW that learning to pray in reliance on Jesus was a tool and blessing that all could learn to do, with powerful results.

One of his personal resolutions that he followed to the benefit of thousands goes like this:

“The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.

Life may be falling down around us, but to be a Christian means to be the possessor of the most precious and lasting treasures imaginable.

It’s probably like this for you, but when that morning alarm breaks into my oblivion, it’s like I have forgotten all that is true and unchanging.  What hits me is the immediacy of the day’s circumstances.  And given this suffering and corrupted world, many days seem to loom difficult and heavy-laden when I get up.   If I let my feelings take their cue from those first thoughts, I will stay depressed throughout the day.  Or I will use something created to distract myself, what God calls an idol. (food, email, escape reading)

God offers an alternative if we but follow it.  Christian are called to rejoice always (1 Thess 5:16). Therefore, Mueller’s advice is not optional if we are to obey our Father in heaven.

I don’t intend to talk about how I go about making myself happy in God.  What I rather mention is why God wants his children to be happy they belong to him.  I’m learning the reason God commands me to exult in him is because joy in God is key to loving others.

Listening the other day to a sermon by John Piper I actually felt capable for the first time of LOVING OTHERS.  You remember how Jesus summed up the Law in Matthew 22:40 by saying in effect:

  • Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength
  • Love your neighbor as yourself

Because I seem to be wired more as a rational person than a loving, emotional person, I’ve struggled with what love looks like according to God.  I often feel guilty that I don’t FEEL love towards my neighbors.

But the way John Piper explained love, it sounded doable for a Christian empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Piper explained what God means by love like this: “Love is the overflow and expansion of joy in God, which gladly meets the needs of others”

Given THAT definition, making myself happy in God each morning is not only life-preserving to me, but equally necessary for those around me.  When I have re-established and reconnected with WHY I can be happy no matter how crummy the day’s circumstances may be, then I have strength and energy to move out of myself toward others.  That is the ONLY way to love others.

Have you ever had someone do something for you out of duty?  How does that feel?

It’s like when we tell a child, “Tell Sammy that you are sorry!”

and the child’s “Sorry” doesn’t satisfy at all.  It’s not from the heart.

Same with our deeds done to meet a neighbor’s needs.  If we help out of obligation, it’s not the same as initiating something out of the energy and God-given strength borne of joy in Him.

Joy in God is a pervasive and persistent theme in the Bible.  It doesn’t seem optional or healthy to neglect.

May this truth from Nehemiah 8:10b find its roots in you and me:

“Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”

 

Is worry normal or is it a sin?

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Worry

Yes!

Yes, anxiety is normal and yes, practicing anxiety is a sin.

And there is good news.

I’m being trained to look behind a statement in scripture to reason about the condition of the author.  For example, yesterday morning I paused at verse 4 while reading Psalm 86:

  • Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

Since it was a rainy, gloomy Saturday morning I immediately asked God to gladden both my and my husband’s hearts.  But afterwards I realized that the only reason the Psalmist would have penned such a request was because he was struggling with the blahs or worse and knew he could count on God to help him!  Why ask for something of which you have no need????

Here’s another verse from Matthew 6:25

  • I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.

Why would Jesus dedicate these minutes to expound on worry if He didn’t SEE or KNOW that worry was present in the hearts and minds of those listening to Him?

How about the command NOT to fear?  I read in the on-line Christian Post (5 Nov 2014 blog post entitled Faith over Fear) that Jesus’ primary teaching was: to love others. (125 times taught in the Gospels) According to the writer of the post, Jesus presented and organized His teachings by theme.  And the primary theme (21 times) for His instruction was about FEAR.  Do not fear; don’t be afraid; be courageous; be firm in your faith.  This means that Jesus exhorts us to LOVE by NOT FEARING.  Hmmm, could it be that fear drives out love?  Is that the reason that the apostle John pens in 1 John 4:18?:

  • There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,

And why would Jesus repeat such a message if it weren’t a glaring problem?

So YES – worry and anxiety are normal, but they are neither GOOD, nor HEALTHY, nor appropriate for Christians.  In fact, worrying is a sin since God commands us NOT to worry.

So how does it help to know that worry is both a sin AND a normal reflex?

Because God doesn’t leave us to battle it on our own. There is supernatural power to fight sin.  And we are called to enter into warfare every day of the Christian life. Through daily practice similar to our workouts at the gym, we will strengthen our reflex to rely on His promises and character, growing more like Jesus.  But let’s be realistic; we will not eliminate anxiety 100 %. Therefore, we can expect to have to engage this enemy of the faith daily, WITH the resources God provides. Even my hero of the faith, George Müller, admitted that the decade of his 90s were the hardest.  I imagine his struggles had to do with declining health and increased physical limitations.  There are always new fears to confront.  But God promises fresh mercies each day (‘our daily spiritual bread’)

It’s not for rhetorical reasons that Paul exhorts young pastor Timothy in his first letter, chapter 6, verse 12:

  • Fight the good fight of faith 

This same Paul is the one who explains how to dress daily for the warfare.  Besides defensive armor, he reminds us that there is ONE offensive weapon – God’s word.

The only way to drive the worry dragons away is by saying or singing or shouting or meditating on God’s many promises to BE our strength, to BE our peace and then to bank our life on those promises given to us by a Loving Father whose character is trustworthy.

Here’s one more look at a desperate psalmist and how he deals with danger or suffering

  • If your law had not been my meditation I would have perished in my affliction. Psalm 119:92

The fact that he mentions his affliction is significant.  Like us, he had a choice of mediating on how bad his circumstances were and how he couldn’t see a way out OR he could chew on the truth of God and what He has said.  This Old Testament man of faith makes it clear had he chosen the former course of limiting his view to the present, he would have died.

Aren’t we blessed to have the Bible which does not sugar-coat life’s sufferings?  Instead, it tells us that pain is real and there is help that is equally real and available.

I’ll leave you with an ‘oldie-but-goodie’ sermon link of the man who is teaching me to read my Bible and mine it for MORE than the explicit words:

You can either read or listen to the sermon here

How to act around ‘pagans’ aka un-believers

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I was meditating again on the fruit of the Spirit, those qualities that the Holy Spirit nourishes and grows in us as we stay connected to Jesus.

Fruit of the Spirit

God had given me a large window of time to mosey around in Scripture, a true gift.  Chaperoning the 8th grade trip meant that we spent a fair number of hours on a comfortable touring bus last week as we took in a few college visits, cultural experiences as well as caving and zip-lining.  I had not expected to have 2 seats to myself on the bus and time to read and meditate.

During my study the Holy Spirit connected the fruit of the Spirit description in Paul’s letter to the Galatians to God’s explanation to wives regarding how they should conduct themselves daily with their unbelieving husbands.

  • Wives, in the same way (as Jesus trusted God and submitted to misguided but wicked men), be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the Word, they may be won over without words by the BEHAVIOR of their wives

Just what does this behavior look like?  Like the fruity verbs of the Spirit!  When – empowered by supernatural divine power – we react with love to others’ attacks, mean-hearted comments or inadvertent damaging acts, we catch them by surprise.  The world operates on a tit-for-tat basis.  You cut me off in traffic, I give you the finger or worse.

But a counter-worldly response characterized by joyful, gentle, patient self-restraint will stop someone cold in their tracks.

We all know that, even if we can’t DO it.  But nothing is impossible with God!  And here is a new thought that might make you at least WANT to try out this response again.

While away from Mike on the 8th grade trip, I experienced a nightmare.  I don’t usually recall my dreams, but this was vivid enough to stay with me upon awakening.  We were fighting, my husband and I.  One of those verbal and emotional encounters where I was checked by my superior sparring partner.  Mike is far more articulate, able to think quicker on his feet and empowered with rhetorical and emotional bullying flourishes.  In my dream I FELT humiliated and frustrated and stomped on.  What a relief to wake up and know it was only a dream!  To be fair to my beloved husband, these ‘fights’ rarely happen and have tapered off over the years as the Lord claims more of us, inch by painful sanctifying inch.

Out of this dream, however, came a powerful remedy for the next time someone hurts me or tries to browbeat me.

  • Peter encourages Christian wives married to pagans (unbelievers) to respond with Holy Spirit empowered behavior.

But here is what’s so cool!  Even when CHRISTIANS treat other Christians poorly, this remedy can work.  That means that when

  • another brother or sister-in-Christ in the office
  • my husband
  • my adult children
  • my mother-in-law
  • a church family member
  • a Christian girlfriend

…..’spews’ over me or hurts me, I can choose to say

If he’s going to act like a pagan, then I’m going to treat him like a pagan…….

– with LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS AND SELF-CONTROL.

Why?

  • it’s a startling, unexpected tactic that will prove far more effective than trying to use the same weapons as my opponent
  • this response promises to bring my adversary, ANEW, face-to-face with the unearned, POWERFUL and totally surprising gospel love of God (and we all need reminders, daily!)

I’m not ASKING God for a fresh experience of ‘meanness’ from the world, but this is the world I live in. So I don’t think I will have to wait long.  I just pray the Holy Spirit will bring this better response to mind in time for me to head in that direction rather than default to my natural and well-worn groove of retaliatory meanness.

What about you?  Have you tried this and want to share what happened?

Bottom line – if someone acts like a pagan, let’s treat them like a pagan – with the powerful weapon of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control!  If nothing else, our response will surprise the ‘hell’ out of them – hopefully!

 

Love on grumpy days

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First he was out of sorts and turned inward.  I’m not sure why.  It was probably a whole lot of little things. Isn’t it always?

Grumpy

When those moods hit, I’ve learned that choosing to show love outwardly is the best response I can offer.  I’m ashamed to admit that I used to show him annoyance.  Like: YOU DON’T HAVE THE RIGHT to be annoyed.  QUIT BEING ANNOYED!

Now that really helps, doesn’t it!  Someone is just going to snap out of a funk on command.

But on Tuesday when I did show outward love, He didn’t respond.  I couldn’t tell that it made any difference. It felt like my words and softness dissolved into the ether.  It reminded me of those times I offer a sincere compliment to certain family members and friends and they don’t acknowledge my words. My words just float away.  (I’ve since learned that ‘Words of Affirmation’ are NOT how they receive/perceive/feel love.)  However, my husband, on the other hand IS a man who feels loved when affirmed with words.  But on Tuesday, he just wasn’t showing it.  He couldn’t.

Here is where God came in (not that He is ever OUT of the picture).  The very next day, Mike felt better (some loose ends got pinned down).  But all of a sudden, the tables were reversed and I felt out of sorts.  Does that surprise you, that 2 selfish sinners can mope around at times?  That we LIKE moping around at times?  No need to pretend – not trying to impress anyone – we’re no different than you!out of sorts cat

 

 

Nonetheless, I think MY funk caught him by surprise.  But here is where his love kicked in.  By the end of the evening as I continued in my ‘blah-ness’, he started radiating soft words, a kind face and understanding gestures, all the while giving me space.  I didn’t sense any expectations, just love.  Despite how comforting it was,  I could not bring myself to communicate that it was helping, that it felt like soft rain on a parched ground.   All I could do was soak it in.

The next day I felt like my old self and could relate in my normal soft way to my husband and best friend.  My down day coming on the heels of his was valuable.   Here is what I learned:

  • Outward shows of love DO make a difference
  • It takes time to be able to let someone know that it has helped
  • Therefore, we should ‘love on’ even when there is no response or visible impact on the other
  • Love is never wasted
  • The energy sacrificed to be soft, especially when someone is hard and tight, is worth the expense
  • People who are cold and prickly are at those times most in need of love
  • Our normal reaction, if we let our selfish nature guide us, is to say: That’s it! I’ve given you a measure of gratuitous love.  If you’re not going to show any appreciation or reaction to my ‘gift’, then I’ll turn it off!
  • I’m so glad God doesn’t treat us that way!  He keeps loving us especially when we don’t deserve it.  (do we ever ‘deserve’ God’s love?)
  • They say the purpose of marriage is to make us more Christ-like.  I’m encouraged that after 34 years of sinning against each other in marriage, Mike and I can occasionally lurch forward in grace-filled moments.

These insights were worth 2 days of the dumps!

Despondant Cat

 

 

Could it be that bearing fruit is really about looking up?

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John 14: 15  – 17 “If you love me, you WILL (emphasis mine)  keep my commandments.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,  to be with you forever, (that is) the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

Do you know what happens to the ‘Dauphin’, the Heir Apparent, when his father the King dies and he is still too young to rule?  A wise, strong and capable regent is appointed to work with the young monarch.  This is what happened to the Sun King when his father, Louis XIII died.  Louis XIV was not quite 5 years old at the time that he assumed the reins with the Cardinal Mazarin at his side.

King Louis XIV as a boy

What does that have to do with us as believers obeying God and having the Holy Spirit as a counselor?

Today, I glimpsed a different way of looking at those verses in John 14.  I’ve always viewed them as an evaluative test of whether (or how well) I actually loved God.

  • You think you love God?
  • Then prove it!!!
  • Be obedient to all his commands.

Talk about discouragement!

I can’t even be ‘good’ for five minutes!

But what if we interpret the verse following the following logical flow of good news for believers in Christ

  • God loved us, so we are now capable of loving (1 John 4:19 – we love, because he first loved us)
  • If we love God, then we are guaranteed power to keep his commandments
  • Since once we are born again, we are babies in Christ.  It follows that we need a regent, a counselor
  • Jesus promised and then DID send the Holy Spirit to act as counselor
  • We look to King Jesus and we rely on our counselor’s prompting and we grow up in our faith.
  • We start to produce good fruit
  • But…if we take our eyes off of King Jesus and we look at the roiling waters, we sink at the impossibility of doing the very thing we are carrying out!

What good news!  We don’t have to prove something that we know for a fact is not true.  If you’re anything like me then you will probably agree that we don’t keep God’s laws and we don’t love him with a whole heart.  But we don’t have to – in our own strength.  We’re WELL encompassed by expert counsel and have the King’s favor.  He’s training you & me to be capable royal sons and daughters who will one day rule with Him.

What’s the take-away?  We WILL produce fruit to the extent that we keep looking at the King and relying on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, direction and power to grow into our role as a royal and holy priesthood.

Shoo away that horrid American philosophy, “If it’s to be, it’s gonna be up to me!” 

Love rolls downhill

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“Love me, love my dog!” were words we often heard when we would have dinner with my dad.  He had 2 spoiled poodles that he adored.  And that love was definitely requited!

It seems to me that God, the Father exhorts us likewise:  “If you love me, then you’ll love my Son!”

I’ve been reading a book about the Trinity.

And already, having enjoyed my way through the introduction and into Chapter 1, I’m hooked!  Michael Reeves asserts straight away that a primary characteristic of God is His Fatherhood.  He’s always been Father. And for Him to BE Father requires God the Son to have eternally existed as well.

We know that for God to BE God means that He doesn’t change.  What follows then is this:  He couldn’t have been single God who created the Son, thus adding ‘Father’ to His résumé.  God as Father and God as Son have co-existed since eternity.  (I won’t expand this discussion today by delving into God the Holy Spirit)

Of course I pray most often to God as Father. Furthermore I know that the Bible is replete with references to God as Father.  Yet, I’m seeing divine Fatherhood in a wholly/holy different light.  I’m noticing how often God is really called Father in both the Old and the New Testament. Although more developed in the NT, the Fatherhood of God is nonetheless THERE – for example:

          “The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place.” (Deuteronomy 1:30-31)

          “But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

So….you say, what’s new about that? Just that, Father-love is different than love between equals.  Hear me out…I’ll try not to be heretical or introduce the idea that God the Father and God the Son are not one.  They ARE one and they DO exhibit the same essence and same nature, BUT…their roles are different.

·         The Father loves the Son and the Son delights to obey the Father. But it doesn’t stop there.

·         The Son loves the Church and the Church is called to lovingly submit to/obey the Son.

·          Husbands love their wives and wives are called to delight in respectfully and lovingly helping (and submitting when necessary) their husbands.

·          Moms love their children and children are to respectfully and lovingly help and submit to their moms. (Dads are to train their kids)

·         Humans love their animals and their animals, if well trained, will devotedly and joyfully follow their masters.

In other words, love flows downhill.

I used to feel guilty because I sensed that I loved people unequally.  For example – I always knew my mom loved me with an intensity that I didn’t reciprocate. Yet when I became a parent, I understood that kind of love.  I think Mike and I love each other differently, too.  And we definitely love our cats MORE than they love us. (Think about our fears as our pets age!)

What does the fact that God loves us more and differently do for our security? (Take as a given that His love for us is qualitatively/quantitatively beyond our capacity to imagine.) For one thing, it lifts the guilt I have always felt?  And I feel more reassured and secure that God’s love won’t ever depart from me.  He can’t NOT love me;  it’s His nature to love His children.

I’ll leave you with this question– How do you see love between friends?

 PS:  I’ve just started a blog entitled about Logic for the ordinary person – in it I discuss in bite-sized measures what I have learned from teaching formal and informal logic to young teens.   Surprised by Logic

 

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