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

Do you believe Jesus or believe IN Jesus? Just what is it that you believe?

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Words matter. And ubiquity weakens the meaning.

Take for example our use of the verb ‘LOVE’:

  • I love my husband
  • I love chocolate
  • I love to read
  • and my common email/letter closing of ‘love, Maria’

The overuse and cross-categories application of ‘to love’ has so watered down this affectionate inclination that when we are told to love God, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal.

Same with the idea of ‘BELIEVE’:

  • I believe that people are basically good
  • I believe in family
  • I believe in luck
  • I believe in love
  • I believe in being the best I can be
  • I believe that 2 and 2 are 4

The Bible takes the exhortation to believe VERY seriously. It actually seems to be a matter of eternal life or death, what we believe. So how should we think about it? Does it matter how we believe or what we believe in?  After all, the half-brother of Jesus taught us “…even the demons believe (in God) and shudder!” James 2:19b

Maybe a more precise question might be: How do we distinguish saving belief and simple factual belief?  And does that preposition IN make the difference?

Blue Letter Bible is the name of a website/app that provides a wealth of examples in how terms are used. In their discussion of the verb ‘to believe’ (Greek verb # 4100 PISTEUO) they consider contexts both in the Bible and in literature preceding and after NT days.  I found these nuanced meanings helpful:

  • to rely on
  • to place one’s confidence in
  • to embrace with joy
  • to make the foundation of your faith

In view of the richer and deeper concept of ‘to believe’ I now make a point to use one of these fresher substitutes. So in lieu of saying: I believe in Jesus, I substitute I rely on Jesus for all my needs.

I used to think many people were Christians when they said with easy confidence, “Oh I believe in God!”

But as I pointed out above, people believe in all sorts of things on a surface or shallow level, some of which are not even real (think – tooth fairies, conspiracy theories and a government that can fix our problems!)

I ask you then, does it matter what we mean by ‘to believe’?  Actually it does matter.  For what we believe and rely on….

Life and death balance

…..determines where you and I are going to spend eternity.

Here’s one example. When Jesus arrived at Mary and Martha’s house after Lazarus had died, Martha berates her friend by postulating that her brother would not have died had he arrived earlier.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

The question then is, does everyone who mouths the words, “I believe in Jesus” receive ‘forever-life’ with God?

Well, I’ll let you decide for yourself by sharing pastor John Piper’s view of belief in Jesus.

“Believing is coming to Jesus to be satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.”

From his sermon on 10th anniversary of 9/11

So I see belief in Jesus to be a reliance on Him as my constant and never-ending source for every need, desire, joy, anxiety, and problem.  He IS my treasure.  He IS my greatest good.  And His presence is rest and peace.  That is belief.

And what we believe in can actually be what we truly LOVE. I’ll let John Piper have the last word tying the two together:

“So the love of money is virtually the same as faith in money — belief (trust, confidence, assurance) that money will meet your needs and make you happy.”

Question:  What is it that you believe or base your life on?

‘The Big Fall’ into sin – again!

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I noticed the contradiction for a couple of days and named it. Preached it, even.
Then I fell for it.  And sinned big.  (Like in those days before I had heard about God’s biblical plan for wives.)
But back to truth.  Here’s the insight:
“It makes NO sense to believe in the sovereignty of God over every molecule AND worry about how I want my day to go.”  That is irrational and stupid.
But it’s been that kind of week.  I’m going out of town on Monday and the days were filling up.  I WANTED to do X, Y and Z and I saw only limited windows of time open for me to take care of those ‘important’ things on my list.  And I panicked.  Even though I know better.  Even though God patiently sets up this lesson time and time again so I can trust Him.
This past Wednesday, the day of THE BIG FALL, I even comforted myself remembering that God has ALWAYS provided in the past.  Without fail.
Not enough time
And yet…the banner over me was NOT ENOUGH TIME, so I grimmed up and grew hard.  Our conversation through dinner prep and on into the meal took on a combative edge.
That was when I found myself dishing back to him in like manner, feeling fully justified.  Just like during all those selfish years, when I would rationalize – “If he’s allowed to play the dramatic, then I should as well!”  But you know how THAT always ends.
Sin is a shortcut to what SEEMS like a good idea in the moment.  But it never satisfies.  Emotion short-circuits clear thinking. Praying to God didn’t occur to me in the midst of feeling sorry for myself.
So, how did it all end?  My husband chose the ‘mature’ card of love and softness toward me.  Having put as many chores as I could between my eventually wanting to absorb the cool mountain air of an evening in the Smokies I sat down next to him in silence.  He let no more than a minute go by before turning to me. His question drew me out, back to the truth of how much we love each other.  The humble features and pleading eyes showed me how much his heart has grown Christ-like since our last ‘raise your own barricades’ skirmish.
That glimpse and the remedial lesson in trusting God’s provision were worth the pain!
1 Corinthians 13: 7 (Love ….. )  always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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

 

 

Stressed out and exhausted?

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What if I could offer you a guaranteed cure for stress and anxiety;

a sure-fire way to enjoy harmonious, happy relationships with family members; a formula for a satisfying marriage; a method for navigating the frustrations of modern life; a technique for stretching your time each day, would you be interested?

And how much would you be willing to pay for any of those ‘tools’?

We have just moved to the Asheville, NC area.  Often called the Seattle of the East, Asheville is a magnet not only for hippies, liberals,

artists and foodies but also for the spiritual seekers.

People pay beaucoup bucks attending Deepak Chopra seminars, buying the latest book recommended by experts Dr. Oz or Oprah or learning new meditative routines. 

Consider an alternative:

Jesus offers a counter-intuitive/ outside.the.box solution to all of our problems and it’s free.

Hey there!  All who are thirsty, come to the water!  Are you penniless?  Come anyway – buy and eat!  Come buy your drinks, buy wine and milk.  Buy without money – everything’s free!  Why do you spend your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?  Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best, fill yourself with only the finest.  (Isaiah 55: 1-5)

How do you like the offer FIRST of wine and THEN of milk?  Celebration first and nourishment second – that’s the way things work in the upside.down.kingdom.

The membership offer, to be part of God’s family, entails NO cost to us.  And once we are connected in the permanent way, (well as you’ve heard it quipped by that giant credit card, ‘Membership has its privileges”,)   we are the happy recipients of many riches, as described by God in his promises.

One major privilege for Christians is the promise of transformation.  Without having to work for it, once inhabited by the supernatural Spirit at our new birth, we are gradually infused with new qualities.  These are the ones that 21st century humans are running around trying to buy or work for:

  • Inner peace that comes from being reconciled with the Creator and Judge of creation
  • Patience with ourselves and with others
  • Joy and contentment with the permanent things of life
  • Love of a different kind – feeling it and being able to act in a way that others feel it too
  • A gentle nature that understands the wounded nature of others and gives them space to ‘spaz’
  • A trusting attitude that even when things go wrong, God is still in control
  • A kindly disposed response-mechanism to angry and biting fellow humans
  • A good heart that desires to copy his or her heavenly Father
  • A mind trained to be reasonable and thoughtful in all situations

You probably recognize the list – yes, these are the 9 fruits of the spirit that are our new birth-right.

But you quip, you still lack them?  Or you live with a ‘so-called-Christian’ who doesn’t exhibit many of them?

Hmm…sounds like you or your companion need to imbibe some more of that holy wine and holy milk (aka Scripture).  Paul reminds us of the FACT that we DO become different as we reflect and rejoice in the facts of our adoption.  That is what he means by, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind!”

Now doesn’t that sound like an offer too good to pass up?  Drink up (soak in the Bible’s content)  and invite your friends to the party. (you can invest your money in something more lasting than quackery!)

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