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Archive for Love

Keeping in Stride

John’s negative example of Christian love was Cain and Abel. He argued that when Christians treat each other with deep contempt, the end result is that our Christian witness is damaged and our Christian witness and our mission is compromised. His positive example is none other than Jesus himself. If we want to learn to love others, we need to study the life of Christ.

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God” (1 John 3:16-19, NLT).

John characterizes Jesus’ love in three ways: sacrifice, compassion and action. If we are to follow Jesus’ example of loving one another we must understand these three things. First, true love is sacrificial. It’s going to cost you something. It may be time, effort, emotional energy, financial resources, or something else. But love always comes with a price tag. Think about Jesus. From the incarnation where he limited his glory all the way to the cross, Jesus loved us sacrificially.

Second, true love is compassionate. You’re going to feel something. It’s not possible to walk in community with your Christian brothers and sisters and remain emotionally untouched. God did not create us to be benign or void of emotion. He made us to feel compassion toward those who are in need.

Third, true love is not just expressed in words. It is expressed in action. You’re going to do something. Jesus always stood in contrast to the religious leadership of the day. The Pharisee’s religion was a religion of “talk,” while Jesus’ religion was a religion of “walk.” You probably have noticed that many of Jesus’ miracles were performed as the introduction to his teaching, not the other way around.

The positive example of Jesus was followed by a second negative consequence. When we fail to love our Christian family members we diminish our fellowship with the Father.

“Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him. And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us” (1 John 3:20-24, NLT).

It is important that we love God first and foremost. But the second commandment is not down graded to insignificance. Jesus said the second greatest commandment of loving neighbor as self was equally important. In fact, perhaps the best way to demonstrate our love for God is to love our neighbors. When we don’t love our neighbors our fellowship with God suffers. Perhaps this is why Jesus included this important teaching in his Sermon on the Mount.

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24, NLT).

When we love one another, our witness is compelling and our fellowship with God is deepened. Even though Christian love is the hardest part of our faith, it is important to remember that it’s the most important part of our faith.

Categories : 1 John, Love
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Keeping in Stride

Last week I participated in a peer learning community that discussed an ARTICLE written by a pastor who had experienced a tragic illness. He was misdiagnosed which led to even further health decline. At his lowest moment, he contemplated how he would spend his remaining days. One of the conclusions he came to was that the local church would no longer be a part of his remaining days. Not as a pastor. Not as a member. Not at all. The reason? He couldn’t tolerate the interpersonal conflict within the church.

The conversation caused me to dig a little deeper on a topic we are all too familiar with. What I learned was amazing. For example, 25% of churches reported some form of serious conflict in the past five years. Another source cited that 19,000 churches every year have some form of internal strife. It probably comes as no surprise that 98% of those conflicts were due to interpersonal divides. Only 2% were attributed to some form of theological disagreement.

Like any war, church conflict leaves collateral damage. 50% of people who enter vocational ministry don’t last in ministry beyond five years. 1,300 pastors are terminated every month in America. And it gets worse. Every day, 3,500 people make the conscious decision to leave the local church, never to return.

So what’s the answer? John appeals to his readership to recall Jesus’ command to love one another. That’s the hardest part of Christianity. This week I’m posting from John’s words about what that love looks like and why its important.

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Jesus’ Core Value of Love

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In a conversation with a Pharisee who was an expert in the Law of Moses, Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest. 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” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). If we were to summarize the great commands of our Lord we could simplify it by saying, “Love God and love others.” In fact, one of the best ways we can demonstrate our love for God is to love others.

1 Corinthians 13:13 affirms that love is the eternal quality that will last forever. “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV). 1 Corinthians 13 is nestled between chapters 12 and 14 where Paul gave instructions concerning how Christians are to worship and conduct ministry. Chapter 13 was not arbitrarily placed there to expound upon marriage. Marriage is not the context of 1 Corinthians 13. The context deals with how we are to relate to one another in the context of ministry. Love has several characteristic behaviors that help us know how we are to conduct our relationships. How should Christians express love to one another?

1. Love is accepting (“love is patient, kind”)
The Bible acknowledges our diversity. We are unique and quirky. We all have our points of weirdness. Love does not demand or force you to be like me. It allows room for me to be me and for you to be you!

2. Love encourages and affirms the success of others (“love does not envy”)
We should riotously celebrate one another’s wins and successes.

3. Love is humble (“love is not boastful, love is not proud”)
Love requires that we walk with deep humility, to assume responsibility for ourselves and to acknowledge our own flaws.

4. Love serves (“love is not rude, love is not self seeking”)
In John 13:1-7, the disciples were vying for the best seats. They were playing politics and making plays to obtain rank and power in the Kingdom of God. In response to this, Jesus picked up a towel and washed their feet.

5. Love forgives and reconciles (“love is not easily angered, love keeps no record of wrongs”)
It has been said that we are never more like God that when we give and forgive. We should encourage reconciliation when we see relationships become strained or broken.

6. Love is grounded in truth and honesty (“love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth”)
Love is built on trust, and trust cannot be established without truth. If truth is not the foundation of loving relationships, all that remains is sentiment and shallow pretense.

7. Love works for justice (“love always protects”)
We are like the older sibling who takes up for those who cannot take up for themselves. Love doesn’t turn blind eyes and deaf ears toward injustice. Love speaks up and stands beside those who cannot carry their own offense.

8. Love always believes (“love always trusts, hopes”)
Love avoids judging the motives and actions of others. Love is optimistic and believes the best about others and gives others the benefit of the doubt.

9. Love will not quit (“love always preservers, love never fails”)
Love is marked by a resolve that will not give up on others. Love doesn’t write people off.

The New Testament does not articulate the core values of the Church like modern businesses. But there is little doubt in my mind that Jesus would rank love as the supreme core values He desires his churches to possess.

Categories : Church, Love, Relationships
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Put it into Practice:: 2

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Our Christian practice involves expressing love within the community of faith. The remainder of Romans 12 tells us that we must also extend love beyond the community of faith…to those outside the walls of our facilities.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good
(Romans 12:14-21, NLT).

When I read these verses, part of me wishes they weren’t in the Bible! The content seems difficult, unreasonable, nonsensical, and unexpected. Do our enemies really deserve our love and concern? Part of the issue is that when we read the word “enemies” we think of those who oppose us and seek to do harm to us. But in the first century, everyone outside the community was a potential enemy. For the first century church, loving enemies was their evangelism strategy.

Jesus said one of the marks of authentic faith is not our ability to love the lovely and the lovable. The true mark of faith is our willingness and ability to love the unlovely and the unlovable. (cf. Matthew 5:43-47) So before we cast a critical eye of evaluation toward those who don’t deserve our love and concern, remember that God is asking us to love others (especially the difficult ones) as he has loved us. Who among us deserves God’s love? Who among us is worthy? In God’s eyes we’re all difficult to love.

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Love Implies Action

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Love not only requires an object, it also demands an action.

“For God so loved the world he gave…” — John 3:16

I posed this question last weekend: True or False – Jesus never spoke the phrase, “I love you.”

That statement is true, as far as the biblical record is concerned. There is no evidence that Jesus spoke those important words to anyone. Yet is there any doubt that each person who came in contact with Jesus was aware of his love for them? Jesus didn’t speak his feelings. He demonstrated them.

“Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.” – John 13:1 (NLT) How? The next 20 verses describe Jesus’ act of foot washing and the corresponding explanation he offers to the disciples. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, including the feet of one who was swift to run to betray him.

Paul’s take goes something like this, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” – Romans 5:8 (NLT)

When you genuinely love someone, the demonstration of that love will follow naturally and freely. How are you demonstrating your love?

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Regifting Christmas

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“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 (NLT)

The first phrase of this wonderful verse of Scripture tells us that God loves the world. Love has to have an object in order to be authentic love. God loves the world! It’s been said that “God doesn’t love all of us, he loves each of us.” I like that because it reveals both the scope of God’s love as well as its personal and intimate nature. God’s love is limitless and without border.

Who do you love? Jesus was confronted by a young attorney one day who inquired about the greatest commandment. Jesus replied that the greatest commandment was to love all of God with all of oneself. But he didn’t stop there. He added, “The second is like the first, love your neighbor as yourself.” Even 2,000 years ago citizens of the Middle East were consumed with understanding who their neighbors were. Intrigued by the response, the attorney bit and asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus then unpacked the famous story of the Good Samaritan. The basic story line conveys a traveler who is overtaken by bandits, robbed, beaten and left for dead by the side of the road. A priest walks by on the other side, then a Temple assistant who follows suit. The third to happen upon the scene is a Samaritan who stops and offers aid. “Who was the neighbor?” Jesus asked. “The one who showed mercy,” replied the attorney.

When we teach this story to our children, the outcome is usually something like “everyone is your neighbor.” But that’s not the force of Jesus’ point. Jesus’ point is that my neighbor is the least likely of persons…the last person on earth you’d want to be stranded on a desert island with, so to speak. My favorite definition of community is “what happens when the person I love least moves next door.” That’s your neighbor. Real love crosses lines. Jesus modeled this by loving those who were different, those who were outcast, and those who were selfish. He loved those who fabricated lies about him, those who denied him, those who betrayed him, and those who would reject him. He loved those who would condemn him to his death.

Have you ever wondered why your life is filled with difficult people? I think God fills our lives with difficult people to show us something about ourselves. Think about the most difficult person in your life right now. That probably didn’t take long, did it? Instead of wondering how to fix that person, maybe we should think about what that person reveals about our own hearts.

We’ll never love like God loves until we’re willing to cross lines. To do that means we will have to eliminate the conjunctions from our claims. Conjunctions are words like “but” and “however” that make our claims of love conditional. For example, you may hear people say, “I love you, BUT…” or “I love you HOWEVER…” Conjunctions establish conditions. Yet Jesus did not love that way. John 3:16 proclaims that “God so loved the world,” without conjunctions or conditions.

Do you love like God loves?

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