When love is difficult

February: the month of love. Well, that and Black History Month…and the celebration of a couple of presidents’ birthdays… and of course Groundhog Day…. Ok, so it’s not really the month of love… but that’s the theme of all the greeting cards at Target so we’re sticking with it.

But what if thoughts of Valentine’s Day cards, celebrations, and even hard, chalk-like candy inscribed with likely semi-toxic red ink doesn’t inspire you to love?

For all the display of romantic red hearts, February is often a month where we’re reminded that the ability to love is sometimes difficult. Worse than that, in February we’re often smacked in the face with the reality that we’re not as loving as we should be. And we know we should be more loving.

Husbands know they should be more loving of their wives, and vice versa. Parents know they should be more loving of their kids. Kids (I think) know they should be more loving of each another. But what if you can’t? What if you and they just don’t have it? And what if you can’t even fake it? Because, let’s be honest, sometimes you just don’t want to fake it.

What if you’re there? In the month of February. Is it even possible to become more loving?

The short answer— no, no it’s not. At least not on your own in an authentic and long-term way.

Because, as Warren Wiersbe points out, “love is not something we work up; it is something that God does in us and through us.” Love for one another only grows “when we permit God to perform His ‘good work’ in us.”

Romans 5:5 tells us that, “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” In 1 John 4:19 we read, “We love because [God] first loved us.” And in Galatians 5:22 we see that, “the fruit of the Spirit is love…”

What does all this tell us? Real love, the kind of love we desire, dream about, and even long to give away, is only from God. When you and I feel unable to love it’s because at that moment we are not filled with the love of God. We’re empty.

Speaking of marriage, Timothy Keller puts it this way, “You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm. If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love ‘in the bank’ to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.”

Love between human beings is great. But Keller’s point is that our greater need is the love of God. God’s love sustains us when human love fails us. God’s love enables us to carry out acts of love to others even when others are not carrying out acts of love toward us.

So this February, before you try to be romantic with your spouse, before you try harder to love your kids, go to God and let him fill your love bank. Receive the love of your Heavenly Father. Take some time to reflect on all the ways God has shown his love to you. Let God pour out his love into your heart.

If we are willing to come to God and receive his love first, then maybe, just maybe, this February really will turn out to be a month of love.

 

A Better Kind of Love

Love is not what you and I think it is. Or at least not what the culture around us says it is.  In our world “love” is just code for “a positive emotion”. It comes and it goes. You can fall in love with someone. And you can fall out of love with someone. I once read an article about wedding vows the understood love in this kind of way.  Instead of promising to be together “till death do us part”,  the bride and the groom promised to be together “as long as our love shall last”. Yikes!

Christian love is a totally different kind of love. In the New Testament there are a few different words used for “love”. But the most significant and the most often used is the word “agape”. Agape was a common Greek word for love, but early Christians injected new and deeper meaning into it.

When Christians spoke of agape they did not merely speak of an emotion. Agape was not just a way of feeling something toward someone. Agape was not something that could come and go. Agape was not something that could run out.

Agape-love moved the idea of love from a noun to a verb. Instead of love being just a feeling, love was now something more. It was an action.  The action was self-sacrifice.  It was the choice to lay down one’s life for another.

The Apostle Paul speaks of this kind of agape-love when he encourages husbands to love their wives. He writes, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph. 5:25) The point Paul is making is that a husband’s “love” for his wife should have little to do with how he feels about her in a given moment. Instead it should have everything to do with his choice to sacrifice his own life (ambitions, time, and career) for the well-being of his wife.

This agape-love is a very different kind of love then what we are used to. But it is the same kind of love that God through Christ shows us. In his letter to the church at Rome the Apostle Paul writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Rom.5:8)

God had every right to feel a whole host of negative emotions toward us, as we were his enemies. But God made a choice to pursue us, to sacrifice himself for us, to love us. In the person of Jesus Christ, God laid down his life for us. He showed us his agape-love.

God’s love for you is not only a different kind of love, but it is a better kind of love.

God’s love for you is not just an emotion or a feeling, it does not come and go. God’s love for you can not run out. God can not fall out of love with you.

God’s love for you is a choice. It is a disposition. It is through Christ Jesus absolutely secure.

It is for this reason the Apostle Paul wrote the beautiful words of Romans 8:38-39

For I am convinced that 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.

 

God’s love displayed through Jesus Christ is not like our love. It is a different kind of love. And it is a better kind of love.

 

 

Discipleship as Worship

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

The goal of discipleship is worship– whole-life worship as described by Jesus in Mark 12:30:

“…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

According to Carson’s and Beale’s, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (which by the way is awesome), the following is true:

To love God with your Heart = Loving God with your moral choices/character

To love God with your Soul = Loving God to the risk of one’s life

To love God with your Mind = Loving God with your thoughts

To love God with your Strength = Loving God with your possessions

Now look at the words Jesus uses to call people to be His disciples:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(John 8:31-32)

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”… Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:16, 21)

In each of case (and many more like these) Jesus is simply calling people to live out Mark 12:30.  That is to worship Him (as God) with all their Heart (choices), Mind (thoughts), Soul (life) and Strength (possessions).

For those of us in leadership positions our goal is the same, to lead people to the joyful worship of the Triune God– this is true discipleship.

How do you lead people in whole-life worship of God?