Monday, March 20, 2017

Love Is...Part 2

This foray into 1 Corinthians 13 started a couple of weeks ago when I made the assertion that my duty and joy as a disciple of Jesus is to love. It seems simple enough. But what is love? What does it mean to love? If I can’t define it, how can I do it? I opened up my dictionary app and looked up the word love. There were nine different definitions listed, a few with multiple sub-meanings, each highlighting a different facet of the word, none of which helped me put into words an adequate definition to help me move forward with actually “loving” God and my neighbor. That’s when I turned to 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

So to love God and my neighbor, I must be patient and kind, never envious or act out of self-importance. My words and actions must never dishonor or come from anger. I can never hold a grudge and or be driven by self-interest. To love God and my fellow man, I must not seek out or celebrate evil—but search for and revel in truth. I will need to safeguard those who are precious to God and never give up in my zeal for the Lord. Because of who God is, I will believe the unbelievable and count on what I can’t yet prove.

1 John 4:16 says “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”  So not only does 1 Corinthians teach me about how I am supposed to interact with God and others but it teaches me something about God himself:  God is patient and kind, never envious or acts out of self-importance. He never dishonor, acts out in anger, holds a grudge, and is never driven by self-interest. He does not seek out or celebrate evil, but revels in truth. He safeguards those who are precious to him and never give ups. Because of who God is, He makes the unbelievable believable and gives that which has yet to be credibility.

It seems love is hard work and a skill I will need a lifetime to master. It’s a good thing I have such a perfect example to follow in Jesus.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Love Is...Part 1

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Social media is filled with too many resounding gongs and clanging cymbals these days—So many people voicing their opinions about what is right and wrong. People arguing in the comment sections like it is their duty to explain to the “moron” who commented last how foolish and flawed they are in their thinking. I’ve seen it happen not just on controversial posts but in the comment section of completely unrelated, harmless items like a cute video of puppies or a condolence to a family suffering hardship and the celebration of a group’s achievement. It’s almost like we believe our condescending, harsh comments will make a difference, change a mind. But even if I am right and can prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt, blindsiding others with my righteous indignation only serves to push people further from the truth. As the saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Yet it’s so easy to get caught up in one of those kinds of useless debates before I know it is happening. A few years ago, I got into a heated discussion with someone because I made the mistake of assuming that if I just explained my position, the other person would understand. To my surprise, she didn’t and having made the same assumption, she answered by explaining her position. The discussion quickly became an argument with neither of us listening and both of us desperately trying to “enlighten” the other. We ended up hurting each other in a way that led to the eventual end of our friendship.

Being a Christian isn’t about being right! Being a Christian is about recognizing how wrong we are without God as the center of our lives. It’s about loving God in response to the love he has for us and the grace his love for us has fostered. It’s about reaching out to others in that love with the skills and gifts God has provided and encouraged us to develop. God is and provides the love that is the glue that binds us together in our differences and it is the propellant that pushes us beyond our limitations to extraordinary actions of faith that can and do make a difference.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Chapter 13 Love

A friend recommended a book to me called When Christians Get It Wrong by Adam Hamilton. I found it reflected my own sentiments when it comes to some of the hot topic issues and it was nice to read that I’m not all alone in my stance that my only duty and joy as a Christian is to love. With the social and political atmosphere these days, I really needed that affirmation. It seems simple enough—all I have to do is love and I’m good. But how am I to love? And who?

Do I even really know what that unassuming four-letter word means? I love my family and friends. I love sparkly jewelry and I absolutely love pizza even if it doesn't love me! I love poetry and music and often walk out of the theater exclaiming my love for the movie I’ve just seen. I love my new dark rinse jeans and I love even better how they make me look!! I love ideas and I love lazy Saturdays in my pajamas. I say it a lot! But for all that, I am hard-pressed to come up with an actual definition. The dictionary isn’t much help either as it provides numerous meanings making it difficult to pin down what love really is.

1 John tells us that God is love. God = love. That means that if I can understand love better, than I will know God better. This of course led me to that most famous bible passage on love—1 Corinthians 13. So over the next few weeks, I am going to take a closer look at this all too familiar passage and invite you on the journey. 

We often hear it read at weddings but this passage wasn’t originally meant as advice to couples on how to live together. It was advice from a pastor to his church. Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth teaching the infant church there, giving them a firm foundation in their faith to allow them to continue to grow and mature after he left, and in his absence, things had pretty much fallen apart. Cliques formed separating the church into factions. The Corinthians slid back into some nasty moral habits and their gatherings had less to do with worshiping God and more to do with attaining individual religious status and prestige in the pursuit of supernatural spiritual gifts. These words are Paul’s advice to a local congregation on how to interact with each other. 

The passage starts out in the last sentence of chapter 12 which says “and now I will show you the most excellent way.” That’s what I want—the most excellent way to interact with my brothers and sisters in faith and with every human. I want to know love well enough to be able to define it, because then I feel as though I will really grasp the meaning of the word that is the very nature of God whom I want to know and emulate.

Next week: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Monday, February 27, 2017

Battle of Wills

Then [Jesus] said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23

My mother always encouraged me “You can do anything you put your mind to.” I’ve heard it thousands of times and it only took 49 years but I finally and truly believe her. The human spirit is remarkable. It can survive and overcome some of the most unthinkable assaults. It’s what gives us the drive to better ourselves, to stand up against injustice or succeed in our ambitions.

This same enduring human spirit is what tore us apart from God and what gets in the way in our relationship with him. We struggle in desiring our will over God’s perfect will. We want one thing while God’s will quietly demands something else. Bending our will to his never seems easy. Sometimes it feels as if we are bending so far we will break. Maybe we will and that’s okay because I’ve seen God work wonders with brokenness.

The problem however isn’t really the human spirit but rather what we desire. We say we want God’s will to be done here on earth as in heaven, but do we really? Honestly? What is it we desire? To the core of our being, do we desire God’s will above our own? If I’m being honest, the answer is no. I don’t. I want what I want when I want it. And like a two year old, sometimes I tell God so. That’s where God’s grace comes in and mops up the mess, bringing me back into pristine relationship with him.

So when my desires conflict with God’s will (which is almost constant) I can take courage in the fact that, like my mother always says, I can do anything I put my mind to. I can make the decision that even though I crave my own desires, I can choose his will over mine. I can deny my own longings in obedience to his will because he has freed me to do so. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Faith and Works

Is faith without deeds really faith? And are deeds alone evidence of faith? Faith vs. works has been debated since the 1st century. Last week, in a friendly conversation, I found myself explaining why I don’t “advertise” my Christianity which eventually brought these questions to mind. I don’t have a fish symbol on my car. I don’t wear those “witness” t-shirts with pithy sayings. In fact, I rarely wear jewelry bearing Christian symbols. I’m not ashamed of my faith. I’ve always felt that if I am to be known as a person of faith, I want it to be known by how I live my life and not by the symbols on my car or my clothing.

To the casual reader, the Bible seems to be self-contradictory on the subject.

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:28-29

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Romans 3:28

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 28-10

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. James 2:14-26

The gift of faith in Jesus given to us by God is the key to our redemption and salvation. When we accept that gift we are changed by the presence of the Holy Spirit into something new. This absolutely cannot happen by any power or action other than God’s. Humanity cannot force it, re-create it, or cause it to happen.

Faith is a living part of us. It is a conduit by which God interacts with his creation—both us and those around us. Giving to the poor, helping someone in need, standing against injustice and loving the unlovable are actions of faith done, not to earn or prove something, but as a matter of interaction with and by God in this fallen world.

I do nothing apart from Christ and I am compelled by overwhelming gratitude to act in response to God’s grace, in the name of Christ, for the sake of those he loves. Faith must act because it lives and it lives because God birthed it in each and every one of his children.

You can have one without the other—but they will be weak and ineffectual to their purpose. Faith and works are not incongruous, but rather two integral intertwining parts of God’s plan to redeem his creation.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Love Changes You Revisited

 This week I celebrated my son’s birthday by going through some old photos and enjoying the memories they conjured. He was born at 2:33 AM and I spent so little time with him that before they whisked him away to count fingers and toes, etc, that I needlessly feared I wouldn’t recognize him later that morning when they wheeled him into my room. One photo of my then one-year-old son tickling my feet made me laugh out loud as I heard the echo of infectious laughter. And the photo of him sporting his happy meal tiger nose with a great big smile filled my heart with joy. My son will always be a huge part of my life even though he is no longer with us. Sometimes that will make me happy and sometimes it will bring me to tears. I may have given birth to him, but he gave me life and a unique understanding that I wouldn’t have had otherwise of who God is and who I am to God.

It was in experiencing the world anew through my child's eyes that God opened my eyes to the miracle of life all around me. And it was in caring for Bryan that God taught me selflessness and sacrifice. It was in coming to and knowing Jesus that gave that selflessness and sacrifice true meaning and purpose. Much of what I know and understand about my Heavenly Father, I learned from my relationship with my son. I know the all-encompassing love I had for my child and therefore can to some small degree comprehend the love God has for me. In forgiving Bryan's childhood indiscretions, I learned a little bit about the forgiveness of God–how he never stops loving me in my sinfulness but reaches out to me to embrace me in his grace. And it was in enduring the event of my sweet child's death and in living life now devoid of his presence that I can begin to fathom, at least on a human level, the great pain of separation that God knew when I was lost in my arrogance and rejecting his love for me and denying his rightful place in my life as loving God and Savior.

So many more things I have learned about God and about my relationship with him as his child through the relationship I had with my precious boy and I am so grateful to God for the twelve years Bryan was in my life. My son's presence in my life changed my entire existence. Perhaps that's the greatest lesson of all–love changes you. And the perfect love of Jesus changes me to the very core of who I am.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:9-12 (NIV)

Part of this blog was originally posted in February 2014.

Monday, February 6, 2017

God Is Faithful

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)

As you may know, I started this blog as a faith discipline during a dry time in my faith journey—a way that to ensure that I would deliberately seek God’s presence in my life at least once a week. Over the years, it has been a blessing, a chore, a light, and on occasion, the only time I connected with God in my daily life. No matter what was going on in my life or in the world, my only goal was to seek out and share hope I have in God. Why? Because I lived in the prison of hopelessness too long to ever again take hope for granted. Hope is power—it’s a flicker of light in unending darkness, the assurance of a great emptiness being filled. Hope fills your lungs with the air of a cleansing sigh and makes the heart beat with anticipation.

I’ve learned through trial and error what not to base my hope on:  money, relationships, material possessions, government. I remember those first days of my faith journey when my trust had been broken beyond repair by those things I had foolishly put my hope in. I asked God how I was supposed to trust him to keep his promises, to not abandon or mistreat me. How was I to trust he loved me as he said? His answer may surprise you. He told me that he didn’t expect me to give what I didn’t have. If I gave him all the trust I had, no matter how little and fragmented it was at the time that would be enough. Over the years, he has proven himself to me beyond doubt. And from that unbreakable trust is born hope. Hope for all God has promised. It’s a deep abiding hope that cannot be diminished no matter life’s circumstances or the social and political atrocities we are witnessing on a daily basis. Why? Because this hope is not based on what mankind is or does but on who and what God is and does. God is faithful!

If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)

The glory of God’s faithfulness is that no sin of ours has ever made Him unfaithful. (Charles Spurgeon)

Don’t let headlines or personal challenges ever sway you from the foundation of our hope—God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)