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.

Love at First Sight

When you first encounter someone, what’s your normal reaction?

For me, I’ve been realizing that my reactions have often been far less than positive. With too much regularity I’ve tended to be:

  • Indifferent — really not caring much about this new person who’s come across my path.
  • Critical — analyzing them from a negative perspective, and usually finding fault.

EyesI was caught by this reality when a particular story about Jesus was brought to my attention a couple months ago. It’s the story about a rich young man who comes to Jesus seeking an answer about eternal life (you can read it here). While I’d read this many times before, I’d missed one very important insight about how Jesus saw this man.

In the story we learn that this guy was very wealthy and had been living quite righteously as well. But we discover that he wasn’t willing to part with his wealth in order to follow after God. Jesus discerned this and challenged him to let go of the idol he’d made of his riches. But he doesn’t — and the story ends tragically with the man, in great disappointment, turning and walking away. He just couldn’t let go of this idol. It was more important to him than following Jesus.

But the part of the story I’d always missed was how Jesus felt about this man before he challenged him. It says:

Jesus looked at him and loved him.

What?! Jesus, you’re God. You know this guy is going to reject you. You know he’s going to put the idol of his riches in front of any relationship he’ll have with you. Why didn’t you turn and walk away from him?

Somehow, Jesus, even knowing this encounter wasn’t going to end well, loved this rich young man anyway. This newly discovered reality has really tweaked me — in a positive way.

Over the past months I’ve been asking myself a couple hard questions, especially when I’m in settings where I’m about to meet someone new:

  • Will I love this person first, before they give me any “reason” to love them?
  • Will I love this person even if they seem to reject me?

I don’t have a perfect record on this — but it has truly made a difference. I’ve found that when I choose to love first it influences my words, my body language, and any responses I might give. It shifts my outlook entirely.

And even if an initial encounter with someone ends less than positively, hopefully it won’t be because I was an idiot. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll still know that I respect them, I care about them, and that my love for them as a person is genuine.

I’m writing this as a challenge and reminder to myself: I can choose to love at first sight.

More than Voting

Here’s a good reminder for 2012…from over 150 years ago.

“The fate of the country does not depend on how you vote at the polls — the worst man is as strong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot-box once a year, but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.” Henry David Thoreau, July 4, 1854

Simply stated…

Our country’s destiny depends more on our daily choices than who we cast our vote for once every four years.

I think the Apostle Paul would have agreed with Thoreau on that point. While he probably wasn’t reflecting on voting when he wrote to the people of Rome, in Romans 12 he lays out a civics lesson for the ages. Here’s what he says (in part) it should look like when Christ-followers are good citizens.

  • Love must be sincere — no hypocrisy…no platitudes…love truly.
  • Hate what is evil — don’t play footsies with something that will kill you.
  • Honor one another above yourselves — put others first.
  • Keep your spiritual fervor — love God passionately.
  • Practice hospitality — my neighbors matter…all of them.
  • Live in harmony with one another — unity is essential…it’s worth fighting for.
  • Do not be proud — maybe others’ points of view (even political!) have real validity.
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good — this isn’t just the goal, this is possible with God.

What would our world look like if we dropped ourselves into the street every morning embodying these qualities?

So let’s vote…then let’s do what’s more important: live our lives in humble, evil-resisting, passionate, love. Every day.

The Making of a Dad

On Father’s Day Eve I’m reflecting on my dad-hood. 20 years ago I was blessed with the first of three incredible kids. What a ride! Like many families, we’ve experienced heart-wrenching twists and turns in our collective story, yet maintain more parental pride than should be allowed.

I’m also reflecting on a single chapter in Scripture that, to me, summarizes healthy fathering more than any other. It contains at least six traits that any dad would want to have who desires to build rock solid kids. It’s the first chapter of the second letter written by the Apostle Paul to his “true son in the faith,” Timothy.

Check out these traits that characterize Paul’s relationship with Timothy, and consider how they might be lived out as we lead our kids:

  1. He prayed for his son. 2 Tim. 1:3 “Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.” That’s where it begins, with the realization that my kids need a Savior — and I’m not him! As we lift our kids to God in prayer, we’re reminding ourselves that he is the true answer for their greatest needs.
  2. He was motivated by love. 2 Tim. 1:4 “I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.” My pride, my anger, or my need for control are all insufficient motivators when it comes to seeking positive life-change in my kids. They know when love is absent. But thankfully they also know when love is present — even when I don’t get it completely right. When kids know they are loved it makes all the difference.
  3. He was spiritually affirming. 2 Tim. 1:5 “I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you.” How many times do I miss opportunities to communicate what my kids are doing right? It’s so critical that I not only see their growth, but that I tell them what I’m seeing. Their self-perception will be formed by what is reflected back to them by the people they most look up to.
  4. He imparted blessing. 2 Tim. 1:6 “This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you.” I have the opportunity as a parent to bless my kids and to literally deposit God’s gifts in them.
  5. He led from the front. 2 Tim. 1:8 “With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News.” Am I living in such a way that I can invite my kids to join with me? Paul reminds me that I have to be a “do as I do” kind of dad, and that the most effective forms of instruction always include modeling.
  6. He taught about Jesus. 2 Tim. 1:9 “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time — to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.” If Paul felt the need to remind Timothy — who was a pastor — about the grace of Jesus, how much more should I be reminding my kids?

Whether you’re a dad or not, these traits can be embodied by all who want to make a lasting and positive difference in the next generation. Every kid deserves someone — a dad, mom, uncle, aunt, or a big brother or sister — who, like Paul, will love them, share life with them deeply, and show them how Jesus can make all the difference.

My desire is that with God’s grace, I’ll do those very things even better in my 21st year of being a dad. My kids are hoping so, too!

Do You Trust Me?

I’m reading a fantastic book, You Lost Me, by David Kinnaman. It deals with why young Christians are leaving church and rethinking faith. It’s well thought through, crisply written, and deals with issues of real importance.

When discussing how twenty-somethings view authority, Kinnaman made this observation:

“Everybody has an opinion, and it’s hard to know who is trustworthy.”

He was highlighting the fact that in an info-overloaded world, trust becomes the scale we use to weigh the worth of opinions. The greater we trust someone, the weightier their words.

Trust is what makes us believable. It is the foundation upon which we can build relationship and true community. Trust is worth the work it takes to build and retain.

So how can we become trustworthy people?

Scripture provides an interesting perspective on this. Paul, who wrote a great deal of the Bible, was writing to a group of Christ-followers who had been trying to prove their trustworthiness to God and others by following rules (the Law of Moses in particular). Paul was really pressing them to understand that rule-following isn’t what matters. In Galatians 5:14, he wrote, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Then he goes on to break down what “loving your neighbor” would look like. In 5:22-23 he says, “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Think about how each of these things would build trustworthiness — and how its absence would crush it.

  • Love — accepting others fully.
  • Joy — having real contentment even in difficult situations.
  • Peace — being a refuge in the midst of a storm.
  • Patience — refusing to rush to judgment.
  • Kindness — considering the plight of another and acting accordingly.
  • Goodness — doing what’s right rather than what’s easy or popular.
  • Faithfulness — being a person of my word.
  • Gentleness — being an emotionally safe friend for others.
  • Self-control — choosing to say “no” to relationship killing words, thoughts and actions.

“Trust me, I’m a doctor” doesn’t cut it anymore. And it doesn’t work for politicians, teachers, bloggers or religious leaders either. Perhaps that’s why people so highly value the opinions of their friends. They’re the ones who have actually earned some trust.

Let’s live as friends — and in an era where opinions abound, let the fruit of our lives prove that we can be trusted regarding things that truly matter.

(Photo credit: Benjamin Earwicker)

Scandalous…

Is it possible to love people too much? Accept them too fully?

I was recently exchanging ideas with a college-age woman about this very thing. She was expressing her concern over what others might think if we were to fully embrace those still marked by their brokenness or bound by sin. I can relate to her dilemma. Having grown up in the church, I have felt the same pangs of guilt-by-association at various points through my life.

I think the cautiousness she was referencing is rooted in a misunderstood concept from Scripture found in 1 Thessalonians 5:22. The King James Version states that those who follow Christ are to: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” That reading makes it sound like: “It’s not good enough that you’re not sinning. You can’t even be near sin or sinners, lest it appear to someone that you may have slipped into sin yourself.” Ouch. That’s a tough standard. Yet, I think it’s a fair description of the kind of churched-culture in which I was raised. It wasn’t meant to be unloving, but it made me wary of getting too close to “sinners” or those “in the world”.

1 Thessalonians 5:22 is more accurately translated in other versions of the Bible. The New American Standard Bible, for example, reads: “abstain from every form of evil.” That makes it more about my personal choices than it does about keeping up appearances to avoid guilt-by-association.

Jesus lived in such radical opposition to the rule-of-appearance that he was accused of being a drunkard and a friend of sinners (see Luke 7:34). He was scandalous in his day and culture. How about you and me? As followers of Jesus are we creating love-scandals, or are we more concerned about what others will think?

An unintended consequence of a church culture that is governed by a rule-of-appearance is that it alienates its people from those whom God is longing to embrace: “Keep people who aren’t like you at arms distance.” But if we don’t embrace those who need Jesus’ touch, who will?

As a recovering rule-of-appearance and scandal-averse guy, what suggestions would you give me, and others, who desire to love as Jesus did?

Accepted…

Recently, in early morning hours, my dreams turned dark. Hell-fueled thoughts sank deeply into my restless mind as I slept – all pummeling me with blows of rejection. In those dreams I experienced the most severe sense of rejection I’d ever felt, yet my waking did nothing to alleviate this life-sapping pain. For some time I lay in the dark, wrestling with this evil, unsuccessfully trying to work my way back to some semblance of self-worth; fighting in vain to regain hope.

At the end of myself, I feebly whispered my plight to Jesus. It wasn’t a prayer, but a half-hearted affirmation of what I believed to be true: that I am simply accepted by Him.

What took place over the next hours was life altering. The light of God invaded my soul, not only chasing away the dark lies of the enemy, but replacing them with a flood of His truth. I grabbed a notepad and began to document this truth encounter.

May what follows restore hope to you as it did to me.

* * * * * * * * * * *

God’s love is manifested in His complete acceptance of me.

His acceptance of me is not based on my ability, my perfection, my good looks, my success, my righteousness, my history or pedigree, my wittiness or humor, my keeping-up-appearances, my status, my intellect, my anything.

This is why He tells us that NOTHING can separate us from His love.

I spend so much of my life working to earn my way into acceptance, when all He wants to do is throw His arms open and WELCOME me into the most precious, deep and intimate of relationships – where I am my beloved’s and He is mine. He is the bridegroom waiting for His bride. His banner over me – the one He is longing to wave over ME – is love.

This perfect place of acceptance was seen in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. Nothing hidden. Nothing to prove before God or each other. Only knowing complete acceptance at every turn. No fear. No wondering. No striving. Just complete and utter acceptance.

Sin shattered acceptance. Fear came. Feelings of rejection came. The need to hide, both from God and each other, came. And it was the corruptness of pride that led to this travesty. Lucifer’s sin had been evidenced by his unwillingness to simply be accepted by God; he wanted to BE God. And this same pride-fueled brokenness now oozed into the soul of man. Truth was overshadowed by want. Wholeness was overshadowed by separation. And when the “apple” was eaten, taken in, swallowed, worshiped, idol-made (for hope was placed in that which was inanimate; hope for more; hope for a deeper, better existence; hope for a heightened identity apart from God), sin entered man’s story. And sin shatters acceptance.

The remainder of history – from the Garden until now – is the story of God’s restorative work. His mission is to reclaim all that has been lost, not only redeeming humanity to Himself, but man’s relationship to man as well. His mission is nothing short of the full restoration of acceptance, where nothing stands between us and God; where fig leaves (our feeble attempts to mask our gross inadequacies) are not needed; where shame and fear, separateness and rejection are eclipsed by the fullness of forgiveness, love and acceptance.

History culminated in the person of Jesus. The incarnation: God as one of us. Immanuel: God is with us. Jesus was, and is, the full and perfect representation of God Himself, fully manifesting His heart and His mission: to complete the possibility of restoration. Jesus came to audaciously proclaim, “YOU ARE ACCEPTED. I have not come to condemn you, but to redeem you, to save you, to make a way for you to experience the forever-freedom that comes from knowing HE WHO ACCEPTS.” Jesus, the perfect One, the accepting One, sacrificed Himself to take our brokenness, our shame and our sin, so that true relationship might be restored.

This is Jesus…

  • who invited Himself to a thieving tax collector’s home, and ate with this man who was marginalized and rejected by society due to his occupation and corruption.
  • who sat and talked with a woman of a “lesser” ethnic origin, giving hope to this person rejected by others due to her gender, race and personal impropriety.
  • who touched and healed the leper, someone completely put out of society due to disease and fear.
  • who verbally ripped apart religious leaders, who by word and deed, claimed superior status with God, yet heaped burdens on others that kept them from experiencing His grace.

The apple – that symbol of prideful and idolatrous brokenness; that object of shame that resulted in distance and fractured relationship – has been replaced by bread and wine. That which is animate, made alive in Jesus Himself, has replaced that which was inanimate. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” It is the meal of acceptance – “real food and real drink,” as opposed to all other vain pursuits of acceptance and relationship. Bread and wine stand opposed to the apple.

And now, “…because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” The acceptance we have found in Christ, we are now required to freely give to all others. We are to contend for unity: that place of full and unfettered acceptance, that place where even truth is spoken in gentleness, humility and love.

Jesus still assaults all word and deed that leads to relational brokenness and spiritual distance. Jesus stands opposed to rejection. And the table – that place where bread and wine are freely shared – must never be a place of greed, lust, pride or humiliation. All are welcome. All are accepted.

I am accepted.