Five Reasons Why LOVE is the Greatest

Sometimes ideas can be baffling! And (sorry if this offends you!) the Bible itself can be the source of some pretty head-scratching concepts.

There are many reasons for this: authors were speaking to the people, cultures and issues of their day; language translation can provide extra challenges; and maybe the biggest of them all, the Bible is dealing with spiritual concepts (which can seem like foolishness to those who are outside of relationship with God).

LoveOne idea that was hard for me to understand for years is found in the final words of the Apostle Paul when wrapping up an amazing dialog on the topic of love captured in 1 Corinthians 13. He said:

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Why in the world is love the greatest? I suspect most people of faith would look at these three words (and their huge concepts) — faith, hope and love — and conclude that faith is the greatest. Isn’t that what following God is all about?

While you might want to add to this list, here are five reasons I’ve found that point toward why love is the greatest.

Love is the essence of:

1. God Himself: God IS love

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).

2. God’s promise: we ARE loved

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

3. Our worship: we are to RESPOND to God in love

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

4. Our mission: we are to ACT in love

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30)

5. Our identity: we are to be KNOWN by our love

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Why is love the greatest? It is only through love that our faith finds its true expression. And the opposite is also true: Whenever something is less than loving, its origin is not the good news of Jesus.

While the Bible may contain some concepts that are challenging to understand, this is quite clear.

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.
For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen,
cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

And this…

” The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”
(Galatians 5:6).

These challenge me greatly, because like you, I’m a broken person who fails at this “loving” thing all the time. Envy, hate, jealousy and rage are all part of my nature that I must reject daily, even as I press on to grow in the likeness of Jesus. But because of his grace toward me — and you — he makes this pathway of love possible.

Let’s continue growing in love, even as we desire to grow in faith. It’s our only way forward.

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When God Walks Away

The crush of bodies on a hot, dirty street; pressing, looking, reaching. Filthy mud, made from blood and dust, sticking to the feet of a distraught woman whose bleeding had not stopped in a dozen years.

Woman Looking 02This broken woman was seeking Jesus, but he was moving away, headed through the unrelenting crowd to bring relief to another.

But she would not be denied. Having heard of other broken ones who had touched Jesus and were healed, she pressed on, believing she could be healed as well.

Fighting her way closer, she finally was near enough to reach between others and brush her fingers against the back of Jesus’ garment.

Instantly something changed. The unwelcome bleeding didn’t just slow; it completely stopped. Right there in a mass of humanity, she received her miracle.

In this story, there are several things that bring me hope. First, is the persistent faith of a woman who never gave up. If I have a headache for more than a half-hour, I’m running for aspirin — but in spite of serious affliction for over a decade, she was pressing on, trusting that God had not abandoned her.

I’m also struck by the accessibility of Jesus. He was not being carried on a throne above the masses. He did not have bodyguards keeping the sick away. Even though he was surrounded to the point of being crushed by the crowds, he could be reached by the one seeking him.

And I’m most taken by the reality that this was not a God-directed miracle. While we find plenty of those in the Gospels, in this setting Jesus was actually headed away from the woman when she was healed. He was not seeking her out, yet she accessed God’s power just the same. I find hope here because sometimes I feel like God is headed away from me when I need him most. While theologically I know this isn’t the case (he has promised to never leave or forsake me), practically it can feel this way.

So this is a strong reminder: even when it seems God is not setting out to bring his power my way, I still have access to it. Just as this woman was made whole because of her faith in Jesus, I can press through whatever (or whoever!) is standing between me and a miracle, trusting God to meet my need.

Are there places in your life where it feels like God is absent, where it seems he’s moving away from you rather than toward you? Don’t give up and don’t give in to discouragement. Keep fighting. Keep pursuing him.

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:35-36)

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Getting Ready to Dive

I have friends who are just about to make the leap of a lifetime. Their family is leaving behind the security of employment and familiarity to strike out into the unknown. And while they’ve sensed God tugging on their hearts to step into this new adventure, that doesn’t mean questions aren’t still pounding through their minds — small ones, like, “How will we feed our kids?!”

But I’m proud of them.

They are living lives of faith. They are putting their toes all the way off the end of the diving board, readying themselves for this risky, yet God-shaped adventure.

Their story also urges me forward. It’s so easy to slip into the normalcy of life, assuming that my biggest adventures are behind me; assuming that God won’t call me to lay everything down once again and take a “radical plunge” into the deep. Like my friends, I want to live in an ever-present willingness to leap from the (perceived) safety of my surroundings and live out a story worth telling.

How can we become more dive-ready?

1. Listen to the coach. One of the best ways to tune our ears to God is through the practice of fasting. Think of fasting as simply “unplugging” from the normal things that fuel us, in order to plug more fully into God. Fasting often includes food, but there are many other things we could lay aside for a season to heighten our awareness of what God has been whispering to us. What might we hear from our diving coach, the Holy Spirit, when we quiet our souls before him?

2. Build our faith muscles. Pastor and author, Jerry Cook, said, “Faith is living like God tells the truth.” Are there ways we’ve been living that aren’t consistent with what God has said? Are there patterns in our lives that (to an outside observer) would make it seem God isn’t completely who he said he is, or that he’s not quite able to uphold what he’s promised? As we confront our fears while on the long walk to the end of the diving board, we are realigning ourselves to the reality that God tells the truth.

3. Meditate on God’s Word. We can’t read more than a chapter or two before we’re confronted with direct statements and prophetic imagery that the Spirit has crafted to stir us to action. Try reading Hebrews 11 over and over until the words and stories are tattooed to your soul.

4. Hang out with the diving team. Spend time with others who have thrown caution to the wind and lived with reckless, faith-filled abandon. What can be learned from their stories? What about their successes and failures informs our view of what it looks like to live by faith?

5. Take the plunge. Actually take a faith-filled step: quit your job, sell your house, move across the country (or across the street), start a new business, launch a new non-profit — or start by going on a mission team, volunteering with a youth sports team, or attending your first AA meeting. Just do something new that’s inspired by your faith. Diving requires momentum. Even a small step will help propel you forward.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. — Helen Keller

In their book, The Faith of Leap, authors Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch make this painfully clear statement:

“When our need for security becomes obsessive, we remove ourselves from the journey of discipleship. By then we have given in to insecurity, and the price is a high one — it becomes an enslaving idol. Making ourselves ever more secure will not keep the fear of insecurity from becoming a possessive demon. The hold of the idol can be broken only by acting directly against it.” (p. 33)

So dive. Crush the idols of fears and false assumptions, and warn all onlookers to prepare for a big splash!

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Dropping the C Word: “I Have Cancer”

I’d never seen tears shoot straight out of someone’s face. But that changed a few weeks ago.

After bumping into a close friend at a Christmas Eve service, I decided to tell her what I’d recently learned myself: I have thyroid cancer. The news was so sudden and raw that her tears just shot right out. She grabbed my arm and declared, “You can’t just drop the C word!”

Hearing the Word “Cancer” is Hard

It had only been the week before when my doctor had dropped the C word on me. A routine checkup led to the discovery of a lump on my throat, which led to an ultrasound, which led to a biopsy, which led to the life-altering pronouncement: we found some cancer. Papillary thyroid cancer to be exact.

Over the past month my emotions have been on a roller coaster. Not the mega-thrill-ride variety, but more like the community carnival type: nothing completely overwhelming, but still enough to bring about a noticeable increase of anxiety (just ask my wife and kids!).

My variety of thyroid cancer is highly treatable, with an excellent prognosis for the future. But it’s still life changing. I’ve come to discover that the thyroid gland is a completely necessary piece of equipment, controlling the body’s energy and metabolism levels. It impacts nearly everything, from sleep and weight to the ability to concentrate. To compensate for the thyroid removal, I’ll take a hormone replacement pill every day for the rest of my life.

While all this information has taken my emotions for a ride, there have been two other C words that have more positively impacted me and deepened my experiences over these past weeks.

Compassion — What I’ve Received

As immediately shown by family and my tear-shooting friend, many have expressed genuine care and love for me. They have been a healing force, letting me know that I’m not alone. The phone calls, texts, emails, and face-to-face conversations have all been significant in evening out the low spots of my emotional roller coaster.

Three conversations in particular have helped to encourage me (literally putting courage back into me). These have been with others who’ve had similar diagnosis and surgeries, and who came to me to share their stories and to let me know I’m going to make it through this. Thank you!

Other friends have prayed over me or sent me scriptures. Craig sent me this great promise from the first verses of Isaiah 43.

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you… “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

And Dennis, a friend who is recovering from his own cancer surgery, sent me this prayer that’s been deeply meaningful to him on his journey.

O God, the source of all health: So fill my heart with faith in your love, that with calm expectancy I may make room for your power to possess me, and gracefully accept your healing, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This concept of “making room” for God’s work has become important in my own story as well. So many things want to crowd out what God is up to in my life — especially this final C word.

Control — What I’m Giving Up

The one thing this cancer diagnosis has forced me to deal with more than any other: I’m a control freak. The thought of “losing control” of my energy levels has been jarring to my psyche. I don’t want a pill to be in control. I want to be in control of my life!

Can any other control freaks relate?

But what I’ve been settling into is the truth that I’ve never fully been in control anyway. Sure, God allows each of us to shape much of our environment by the choices we make (including our relationship with him). But ultimately he is in control — and that is a good thing.

Long ago, King David penned lyrics that remind me of this reality…

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
The world and all its people belong to him. Psalm 24:1

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. Psalm 145:3

Not only is God in control, but he sees the big picture and his faithfulness and kindness toward us is complete. He is fully worthy of our trust no matter what we’re going through.

So, I’ve made the choice to view my pills as daily reminders that God is in control — not cancer, medication, or any other circumstance. I’m placing my life once again in his very capable and loving hands. I hope you’ll join me there.

What’s Next for Me?

  • Surgery: January 29, 2014
  • A lot more life ahead.
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Why We Won’t Forgive – Part 2

A while back I started a blog conversation about forgiveness by telling my personal story. Not only did I share about the incredible freedom I found in forgiveness, but I also described a huge obstacle I faced in that process: forgiveness was nearly impossible for me to give when the offending party didn’t admit he or she was wrong.

But there are a number of other reasons why we won’t forgive.

© Phil Date

I’ll never forget the night I was interrupted at church. It was several years ago and I was wrapping up a talk to a youth group about forgiveness when I was suddenly cut off (haven’t you always wanted to interject your point at church?!). The young man doing the interrupting was in foster care, and while I’d just been learning his story, I knew it was tragic. His dad was so physically abusive that he could no longer live with his family.

I’d been talking about Jesus’ words, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven,” when he just blurted out from the back of the room, “I won’t do that. I won’t forgive my dad.”

His honesty and raw emotion were gut wrenching. The room fell silent as he conveyed something that’s felt by many who have suffered terrible hurt and abuse: if I forgive, it would be like saying what that person did was OK.

It’s understandable why we feel this way. Our minds want to equate forgiveness with acceptance, so we come up with several arguments about “why we won’t forgive”:

  • It would be the same as saying what they did wasn’t wrong.
  • Others would think we’re being tolerant of their hurtful actions.
  • It would give them permission to keep hurting us or others.
  • They’d never be held accountable for their actions.
  • We’d have to pretend like none of this ever happened.

But those arguments are built on a faulty premise.

As I discussed in my first blog on this topic, forgiveness is never about giving a pass to a wrongdoer. Real forgiveness has to do with letting go of our hatred toward the offending party, and letting go of our right to be that person’s judge, jury and jailer. It has to do with trusting God with the offense and the offender, believing, “I can let go, because I believe God will bring whatever justice is necessary.”

When we discover the true nature of forgiveness, we begin to understand:

  • Forgiveness never erases accountability for actions. Just because I let go of my right to be someone’s judge, it doesn’t mean the offending party shouldn’t face a real judge.
  • Forgiveness and boundaries are not mutually exclusive. When I forgive someone, I may also need to create healthy boundaries (for a season or forever) so that person doesn’t continue to inflict pain.
  • Forgiveness doesn’t minimize the reality of the hurt; it maximizes the reality that God is able to deal with both the hurt and the one who inflicted it.

I wish I’d been more fully aware of the nature of forgiveness the night I was interrupted. My prayer is that someone has come alongside that wounded young man to help him discover: forgiveness doesn’t free others from the responsibility of their actions; it frees us from self-destructive rage and pain.

Unforgiveness is a soul-eating bacteria — but the good news is that the antibiotic is available to all, and is effective no matter how deep the wound.

Questions to ask:

  • Is there anyone I’ve refused to forgive?
  • Why have I chosen to hold on to unforgiveness?
  • Can I trust God to deal with the one who hurt me?
  • What pain do I need to let go of today?
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