Love Never Gives Up

passion translation love is large

In the middle of the first letter sent to the new believers in Corinthians (with instructions on how to use the gifts or tools the Holy Spirit gives) Paul gives is this warning:

Without love, it’s all a gong show (my loose translation).

As Christians we talk about love. We urge people to take the job of showing love seriously. We quote the verse about turning the other cheek. But who knew the charge to love our neighbours as ourselves could turn into a burden that keeps people weighted down with disappointment in themselves and in other less-than-considerate members of the church that is supposed to lead in this area? Who knew the instruction to love could make us feel less loveable?

I used to think that love meant I should be able to conjure up feelings of affection on demand. I thought if I tried hard I could. I learned I can’t. I know I’m not the only one. With very little effort I can give you hundreds of examples of my failure to love in spite of my best efforts.

 

I even fail to love people who, like me, mean well, but leave a mess to clean up in their short-sighted efforts to demonstrate it.

I can’t even imagine what it is like for the victims of extreme persecution to hear sermons about extending love to those who hate them.

Love is all very good in theory, but, as is evident in nasty posts on various media  platforms, people who differ on political ideas, or even styles of music and fashion have a hard time showing it. Love, real love and not merely feel-good self-serving or erotic love is hard to come by. There are some days when I wonder if it is even possible.

And yet Jesus is clear about the command to love.

“’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22: 37-40)

The identifying mark of the early church was expressed this way, “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples – that you have love for one another.”

Recently I hear another full-voiced charge from a pulpit that we should love like Jesus. I wanted to stand up and yell back, “Don’t keep telling us we should love without telling us how!”

People know the difference between genuine caring and marketing. They have a word for it. Hypocrisy.

Then the Lord reminded me he is not dependent on my efforts to do this without him. It’s about His love, not mine. He loved us first. I respond with that little bit that I can grasp before it falls through the holes in my heart and give it back to him. Then he pours out more love.

Paul described this kind of love – agape love, unselfish love from a perfect Father, in the passage in 1 Corinthians 13. I like to read it in different translations. The Passion Translation, which seeks to include emotional communication, calls this kind of love “large.” This is what Jesus came to show us. This is what Christ in us, the hope of glory, looks like and feels like. Large.

I need to soak in it. As I write this I am soaking my foot in a sterilized water and salt solution as part of the healing plan after minor surgery. In the same way, metaphorically speaking, I need to soak in God’s love for continuous healing of soul wounds. Abiding in his company purifies and removes distractions so I can know that I am the object of this love and that the Creator of the universe values me enough to never quit loving me. Only then can I give love the love I have received without risking burn-out or spiritual bankruptcy.

Developing a relationship with God and learning to abide, rest, dwell, and take up residency in the place of intimacy where we learn to accept a love we can’t earn is not for mystics who are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. It is the essential source for anyone who prays, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God never takes failure as defeat, for he never gives up.

I Need to Worship

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“I need to worship because without it I can forget that I have a Big God beside me and live in fear.

I need to worship because without it I can forget his calling and begin to live in a spirit of self-preoccupation.

I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on.

I need to worship because my natural tendency is toward self-reliance and stubborn independence.”

-John Ortberg

I used to think God must either be some sort of egomaniac, or the opposite, an insecure assurance addict, that He wanted praise all the time. I learned at an early age (and to my embarrassment now) that the best way to get something from my dad was to butter him up first. It’s the go-to weapon of choice for many people when they feel powerless. I hoped the same technique would work on God.

It wasn’t until I let go of the false definition of God that I somehow picked up in my early years that I began to realize how wrong I had been. God’s self-image is just fine, thank you. He doesn’t need anyone to create one for him.

Worship is about taking my eyes off myself and focusing on who he is. In the process of gazing on his beauty and concentrating on his attributes, I can begin to see myself in his eyes. It creates perspective.

Turning all our attention on who he wants to show himself as in this season of our lives can be like having a defining-the-relationship talk with the Almighty. God is God, holy other, far above any created thing. He knows us intimately and loves us deeply.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

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Breakthrough

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In this portion of the journey, when steps forward and steps backward start to resemble a cha-cha more than a foot race, I sometimes wonder what is going on. As I write this people the insurance company sent are in my house packing up stuff that, only four months ago, finally had a place. Now, after the flood, it doesn’t. Again. After all that is salvageable leaves in a truck headed to a storage facility, the deconstruction people come to tear out walls I just painted and flooring we just laid. This week I rushed about trying to figure out what I might need in the next few months that I should store in bins in corners of the house that is still habitable. I was going a little nuts.

It felt like I was wallowing in hope deferred.

Then a friend (Godsend that she is) asked me if I would join her and paint during the worship portion of a conference. I was apprehensive about doing what I do in front of real live people (as opposed to anonymous readers). I am so done with performance and stage Christianity, but I decided that hiding is not much better. Besides, I needed to get out of the house – and they let me sit in a corner of the auditorium.

The first night I painted light streaming through the woods as the Lord spoke to me about shifting atmospheres in a way that brings light to dark places, but the idea for this painting, started the second day, formed before the first was even finished. I saw the red umbrella as a symbolic covering like the covering given by the blood over the doors at Passover and the covering given by Christ’s blood.  I saw a break in the clouds. I saw a pass in the mountains with a rainbow of promise over it.

I was also aware of the unseen shadowy valleys between happy greening hills covered with the yellow sunflowers of spring and the places where winter is reluctant to let go of its hold.

As I finished details that indicated a shifting atmosphere the phrase came to me: Promise IS breakthrough.

The answers God has provided to problems friends and family and people I am praying for around the world already exist. God, in his great mercy, takes us through hills and valleys and seasons of sun and storm to prepare us for the rigors of abundance, influence, and authority, but he promises breakthrough.

This weekend I heard, “Know who you are. Know whose you are. That’s your protection, your covering. Lift your eyes and see God’s plan. Quit hiding and move. This is going to be good.”