Love Never Gives Up

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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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What Do You Look For In a Church?

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Not long ago someone who was moving to a new city asked  a group of us what we looked for in a church.

Some people said they valued good preaching, or good worship music, or a good children’s program. Some wanted a place that offered the old time religion and salvation message that was good enough for Grandma. Some wanted something deeper or fresher or more relevant. Some wanted standards. Some wanted to be open to everyone and everything. Some wanted a place where they could take an active part and others wanted a service that ended on time with easy access to the exit and the parking lot.

When they asked me I said I don’t know anymore.

I’ve been in rooms with brilliant teachers teaching brilliant thoughts to eager learners.

I’ve been in open fields with people willing to lay down their lives for the nations,

in kitchens where folks fed the poor,

in safe houses with two or three friends who understood my brokeness patiently worked toward my emotional healing,

in giant cathedrals with choirs and organ music that carried the echoes of a thousand years of faithfulness,

on patios around the barbecue where people talk about the love of Christ and things that matter,

in backrooms where street people loved each other with the deepest sincerity,

in quiet sanctuaries where the sacraments repeated the promises I needed to hear,

in rented spaces with music and dance so enthusiastic I could feel the beat in my chest,

in accepting ethnic communities where I was the only white person,

in gyms where children laughed and played and recited memory verses,

in creaky old pews where multi-generational families prayed together and stayed together

in halls and airport hangars where the power of the Holy Spirit was so strong people were thrown out of their chairs or fell on the floor with laughter or were healed of incurable diseases on the spot,

and in wood paneled sanctuaries where the elderly found comfort in hymns about heaven.

I have known the safety of basement classrooms with friends who desire to hear the Lord and are willing to graciously speak truth into my life.

I’ve known the church of the internet where spirit to spirit connection rides the air waves.

I’ve known the reverent and the raucous, the richly furnished and the barely maintained, the well-staffed and the unstaffed, the steadfast and the risk-taking.

It’s hard to choose which one I will reject if I cling solely to one and forsake the others.
I love them all.

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

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