Tag Archives: Bible

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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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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Letting Go of the Rope (My Struggle with Forgiveness)

When I was a kid and would get into arguments with my younger brother or sister, my mom enacted swift justice. She’d pronounce guilt, then immediately make the offending party (usually me) say to the one who’d been aggrieved: “You were right. I was wrong.”

Then, whether we wanted to or not, the other would have to respond: “I forgive you.”

That was it. Clean and simple. I might have still been seething inside, wanting to throttle my sibling (either because the court of family justice had once again let me down, or because I really hadn’t forgiven anything), but it was done. Time to move on. This must simply be how forgiveness works.

Gripping the Rope

While life did move on, my views of forgiveness didn’t. I continued to deal with petty failures (others or my own) through this same kind of framework for forgiveness: one party admits fault, the other says all is forgiven, and you just move on.

That seemed to work until about 11 years ago.

Over the course of about a year we could tell that my dad was slowly imploding. He saw his worldwide marriage ministry taking significant hits, and life seemed to be crashing in around him. So, battling depression and feelings of deep rejection, after more than 30 years of ministry and 40 years of marriage, my dad split.

It was a very public and hurtful divorce. It quickly became an illustration in multiple news sources of “another minister who couldn’t keep his own marriage together.”

I was livid. As a son, I watched my mom go through incredible pain and embarrassment; as a father, I watched my three young children go through deep sadness and questioning; and as a person, I had my own hurt and anger to deal with. Lots of anger.

After two emotionally charged phone calls with my dad, we stopped talking altogether. We resorted to lengthy diatribes via email in which I was furiously attempting to prove his wrongness and he was just as forcefully defending his decision. We were at a bitter impasse—one that, after several weeks, was literally making me sick.

I discovered that the deeper my hurt, the tighter I wanted to squeeze the life out of the one who had caused my pain. I felt it was my right (maybe even my duty) to keep a choke hold on my dad until it either killed him or forced him to admit his sin.

Then along came a friend, a counselor, who began to gently probe around the edges of my wounds. As he graciously helped me process my anger, he had me imagine what forgiveness might look like in my situation. At first I didn’t even think it was possible—after all, my dad hadn’t said the magic words: “I was wrong. You were right.” Without the admission of his guilt, what was there to forgive?

But the pain in my soul urged me forward and I began investigating the concept of forgiveness. In the weeks that followed I began deconstructing my old, immature views of forgiveness, while building a new, transformative understanding of this life-giving process.

Two things helped more than any other.

First, I turned to Jesus’ words and discovered I’d been ignorant as to what forgiveness truly meant. As I went to the root meaning of the words he’d used to talk about forgiveness, I found they literally meant: “Let go.”

There are many examples of this truth, but one that rocked me started in Luke 6:37. The exact word Jesus used when he said, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven,” was also used by Pilate before he sentenced Jesus to death. In John 19:10, Pilate said “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

This concept revolutionized my thinking about forgiveness, especially because my hands were so tightly gripping my dad’s throat (figuratively, but barely). Like Pilate, I could extend either freedom or death. It was in my power to forgive, whether or not my dad ever acknowledged any wrongdoing.

I could feel God gently asking me to let him go—not pretending my dad hadn’t caused real pain—but urging me to loosen my grip so I could release him (and my hurts) to God.

I found it came down to an issue of trust. Did I trust Jesus to handle this situation, or did I trust myself more? Did I trust God to judge my dad and bring any needed correction, or did I assume I would do a better job as judge and jailer?

I chose to trust the Lord with my dad, and slowly began the process of letting go. Forgiveness had begun.

The second thing that helped me greatly was coming across an illustration about forgiveness from 20th Century saint, Corrie ten Boom. Corrie’s family members had all died at the hands of the Nazi’s during the Second World War—she was the lone survivor. But her realization that God’s grace is greater than any evil allowed her to become a beacon of hope for millions in the decades after the war.

Corrie said this about forgiveness: “If you have ever seen a country church with a bell in the steeple, you will remember that to get the bell ringing you have to tug awhile. Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum. As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing. Forgiveness is letting go of the rope. It is just that simple. But when you do so, the bell keeps ringing. Momentum is still at work. However, if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.”

Corrie’s words not only affirmed the reality that forgiveness means letting go, but also clarified that this wasn’t simply a one-time act that would immediately free me from all pain. Forgiveness was going to be a daily commitment to keep my hands off my dad’s throat, and that eventually the pain would subside. She was right.

While the pain I went through with my parent’s divorce doesn’t scratch the surface of what many have endured, others have let me know that these concepts about letting go have helped them as well.

Can you imagine what forgiveness might look like in your situation? Whose throat are you squeezing? Could you trust Jesus with your pain and those who caused it? Who do you need to let go of to find peace for your soul?

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