The Greatness of Sacrificial Love.

This is part 3 of the series “God’s love is the Greatest Love.” For the previous post, click here.

 

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We mortals make much ado about our sacrifices in the name of love. I’ve heard countless people say they would take a bullet for Jesus or their family. On the other hand, they don’t want to give up Sunday sports to go to worship or put down  their iPhone to have a meaningful conversation with their kids or spend a little less on themselves to help a brother in need.They say they would give up their life, but they are unwilling to make even small sacrifices for others. They would die for others, but not necessarily live for others. Real love does both.

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The Flawed Forgiveness Question

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Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”  

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

~ Matthew 18.21-22, NKJV

Can’t you just see the apostles doing the math? (Obviously they didn’t have this conversation, but humor me…)

“Seventy times seven? Um…Sheesh, I always hated numbers.”

“Hey Matthew, you’re good with numbers, what’s 70 x 7?”

“Easy. 490.”

“Are you sure?”

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What are we holding on to? (Day 16 of the #encourage Marathon)

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As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.

You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

~ James 5.10-11, ESV

Welcome to mile-marker 16 of our #encourage marathon! (If you missed the previous post, you can read it here.)

Someone out there is barely holding on. It might even be you.

Walking on a boat in the middle of the ocean takes some getting used to. The constant rise and fall of the waves, however gentle, rocks the boat to and fro. In a storm, however, that rocking turns unpredictably turbulent. People and objects become projectiles. Walking demands deliberate effort. Sometimes, the best you can do is hold on tightly to something solid until the storm passes. Passengers with nothing to cling to are violently thrown overboard and lost at sea.

When the storms of life assault us, what are we holding on to? Is it something solid?

The following dialogue is from the film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Sam’s discussion of stories reminds me of those really strong people who came before us in the Bible:

FRODO: I can’t do this, Sam.

SAM: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?

But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something. 

FRODO: What are we holding on to, Sam?

SAM: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for!

What are we holding on to?

We have been preceded by thousands of faithful men and women, and their stories are worth reading. The prophets the scriptures didn’t live in comfortable palaces with a retinue of slaves; they were not well-liked; few people actually listened to them. Their hardships did not prevent them from proclaiming the message of the Lord. They were steadfast. Those are the stories worth reading—Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Hosea,  John the Baptist, Peter, Paul and countless more—the ones that never gave up.

Today’s passage from James also lists Job as an example of steadfastness. There are not many who can claim to have lost everything of value in a single moment. Job was so devoted to God that God took pride in Him (“Have you considered my servant, Job? There’s nobody like him…”). The devil certainly had. He sought to attack Job in order to wound the Lord. Satan wanted God to lose this prized servant.

Consider what happened to Job for a moment:

  • The Sabeans killed his servants and stole his oxen and donkeys
  • Fire fell from the sky and burned up his sheep and servants
  • The Chaldeans stole the camels and killed more of his servants
  • All his children were killed at the same time when their house collapsed under a “great wind.”
  • He was assaulted with painful sores from head to foot.
  • His wife told him to curse God and die.
  • His three friends asserted that some hidden sin brought about his calamity.

What a brutal, painful and lonely place to be! Not only had he lost all of his stuff, the people who were supposed to support him had turned on him!

It isn’t a great shock to see Job question God as the story progresses. The Lord could have struck down Job for impertinence. Yet, the Lord is compassionate and merciful. He knew more about the situation than Job did. He knew the words that Job had uttered from the outset—“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” God knew what was in his heart.

How often do you say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” when calamity strikes?

After being rebuked by Elihu and then by God, Job repents of his errors and the Lord restores his health and his fortunes beyond what he had possessed before.

There is nothing saying that God will give us health or wealth in this life. It could be that, like the prophets, we will meet a dark and painful end here. The great truth is that we will be rewarded far beyond that in the life to come. If our end is not yet to be, God will often send what my friend Ida calls “a season of refreshing” to revive us for the long journey yet to come.

I do not know what storm is assaulting you this day. You may be in your season of refreshing or you may be losing your grip under the relentless pounding of the waves. You have every opportunity to let go and turn back, but remember the stories; the true stories. The ones that matter. The faithful ones could have given up too, but they didn’t. They were holding on to something.

Hold fast to your faith. Hold fast to truth. Hold fast to the Lord.


Please continue to join me on FacebookTwitter and here at Elihu’s Corner for this marathon. Share the image or verse reference on your Twitter feed or Facebook page with the hash tag (#encourage). Take time today to copy down this verse for yourself. Send an email or text to someone you know who would benefit from this encouragement.

If you missed the original post listing all 26 passages, click here to download the PDF list.

 

Day 27: Love

This post is part of “30 days of Giving Thanks” To read more within this series, click here.

hands heartsAs I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my remaining posts will focus on some of the greatest lights of all. These lights illuminate our world in ways that make it possible to thrive.

In the English language, there is a four-letter word bandied about so casually it has lost its value. I’m not talking about a profane four-letter word; I’m referring to the word “love.”

The Ancient Greeks got it right. They had four different words for love (though I recently read that there are actually six!) The most commonly translated Greek words for love are eros, storge, philia, and agape.

If you are unfamiliar with these terms, I will summarize them briefly in this post. If you want a bit more detail, you can read a brief summary on Wikipedia. C.S. Lewis also wrote a book called The Four Loves, but I have not read it. (It’s on my book list).

Greek Words for love:

eros: “love, mostly of the sexual passion”

storge: “love, affection… especially of parents and children”

philia: “love, affectionate regard, friendship, usually between equals”

agape: “brotherly love, charity; the love of God for man and of man for God.”

All these loves have their place, do they not? I love (philia) my friends, but not in the same way I love (storge) my children.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Where would I be without love?”

Love in all it’s forms can be taken for granted. Let’s take a moment to consider the different forms of love in our lives.

Parent-child love

God established the family for many purposes. Familial relationships teach us how to love (at least they should!). I remember thinking it odd that there was a passage in Titus that commanded older women to “encourage younger women to love their husbands, to love their children…” On the face of it, there were a lot of arranged marriages in that time and a woman would have to “learn” love for her husband (and he his wife). But loving their children? Shouldn’t that be instinctive?

If you are a parent, you may be chuckling a bit, because that may not be a surprise.

There are two things to consider. First, women have been aborting, neglecting and abandoning their children for centuries. It’s a bit inconceivable to the majority, but many people love themselves more than their children. Their children are burdensome, inconvenient. Second, parents don’t always use the best judgement in training children. Discipline and training is (or, at least it should be) an act of love. It isn’t fun or pleasurable to punish a child, but it is for their own good. The exhortation in Titus is teach the younger women how to show love. Mothers and Fathers must learn to love their children in the right way. As we raise our children, we gain insight into how God loves us. We, as parents, ought to be shaped by the experience to become more selfless.

In turn, children learn to love their parents. At first it may be a selfish love, but hopefully, over time it grows into an abiding affection. I have seen many people who were once children turn around and care for their aging parents with great love and sacrifice.

I am thankful for this kind of love. Where would I be without the love of my parents or my children? What an ugly place the world would be without familial love!

Friends, siblings

As we grow older, we learn to make friends. Being a friend takes work, but how lonely would we be without our friends? The Bible says a lot about friendship, particularly in the book of Proverbs.

“a friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.”

The world seems to think that friends stick by each other even when they are in the wrong, but friends don’t let friends do life-threatening or soul-threatening things. I do not like telling a friend they are in the wrong. When I have done it in the past, I’ve lost sleep, gotten stomachaches and even cried.  But a good friend looks out for the best interest of their friend. That is genuine friendship love.

Marriage

The marriage law is one of the oldest laws in existence. God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. Unfortunately, people aren’t content to have things God’s way. There is almost a longing to twist what God wants because it is inconvenient or challenging. Marriage is another relationship that shapes us. Marriage is supposed to be a covenant of committed love. It tests each partner to hold fast through good times and bad. It requires self-sacrifice. It teaches us how to love sacrificially. There is a reason that Paul uses marriage as a comparison between Christ and His church. Jesus laid down his life for the Church and in so doing he demonstrated His great love for us.

My life would be completely different had I not met my other half eleven years ago. It’s been a blessing to enjoy our lives together and raise children together. My spouse has taught me so much and I give thanks everyday for our marriage.

Where would we be without the love that comes through marriage?

God’s Love

The Bible says everything far better than I can, so let’s start with these two passages:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man;
though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 

~ Romans 5.6-8, NASB

and

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

~ 1 John 4.8-11, ESV

Let me ask you, parents: If your best friend was dying of an incurable disease and only the blood of your child would save them, would you give up your child? I can guess the answer would be no. You may love your friend, but you don’t want to sacrifice your child… especially if they are your only child.

What if your enemy was dying? Would you give up your life or the life of your child? Again, I’m confident that the answer would be another resounding no.

The problem is, we all choose at some point in our life that we don’t want to walk with God. The only way we can come to Him is through sacrifice. This is a difficult concept for us to understand today because animal sacrifice/blood sacrifice is so archaic. Yet, when there is a war and there is some wrong that needs righting, how is it solved? Oh sure, on occasion countries can talk things out, but history has shown us that it typically leads to war. Someone (usually thousands of someones) make a sacrifice to protect the innocent and the weak. They shed their blood and put their lives on the line. Redemption from evil never comes without a price. It’s a constant pattern.

So, how much does God love us?

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.

~ John 15.12-14, NASB

Where would we be without the love of Christ?

What does He ask in return? He asks us to love Him and to love each other. It all seems to come back to love.

Are you thankful for love? The love of family, the love of friends, the love of a spouse… the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ? What greater gift can we receive than to be loved? What greater gift can we give than to love in turn?

Love is one of the greatest lights in a world that is ripped asunder by hate.

I am thankful for agape, storge and philia.

I am thankful for love.

A rule more precious than gold.

This is the fourth post in the series on Chip Removal for Christians. Read the previous post here.

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I drummed my fingers impatiently on the steering wheel, glaring at the red tail lights directly ahead. The blue Honda civic lingered irresolutely at the stop sign. For over a mile I had been stuck behind this beat-up car, inching along at 20 mph in a 35 zone. My blood pressure was up and my patience down.

Finally, the vehicle rolled forward. After performing an obligatory “California stop” I fell in behind them once again. A minute later, I could see my destination. Relieved to finally be rid of the snail-like vehicle, I whipped into the parking lot. In my flustered frustration I accidentally cut somebody off. I blushed and gave an embarrassed wave, hoping they’d understand that I hadn’t meant to be rude. I had been through a rough day and was duly distracted by that driver that had been halfway driving their oxidized Honda.

Hang on… How on earth would they know I’d had a bad day?

It isn’t as if I could hop out of my car and say, “I am so sorry for cutting you off. I wasn’t paying attention. I was too caught up in my own frustrations.” That sort of conversation might only occur if the cars made physical contact in an accident.

As I finally pulled into a parking spot, I realized how foolish my thought process had been. Here I was, hoping someone would be forgiving of my mental preoccupation and error, while  I had failed to be patient with the car in front of me just seconds earlier. That driver in front of me could have been an elderly man, and barely able to see past the steering wheel. Maybe they were emotionally distressed and struggling to make it to a funeral. Or, maybe it was some teenage kid texting and driving. How hypocritical to hope someone would be patient with me while I was unwilling to be patient with anyone else!

How often do you find yourself in similar scenarios?

Imagine going into a coffee shop and spotting an acquaintance at a nearby table. After placing your order, you approach the table to greet them. Their rigid shoulders and reluctant glance make it obvious they want you to leave them alone. Is their cold reception aimed at you or just coincidental? Who knows? It’s possible they were just hoping to be alone for a few minutes and you unwittingly blundered into their moment of peace. Maybe they had a fight with their spouse and are struggling to keep their turbulent emotions in check. Again, who knows?

Instead of getting bent out of shape in these scenarios, why don’t we pause and consider?

How would we want someone to treat us if the roles were reversed? We would hope for grace to be extended to us; a measure of patience, understanding and love. At some point, we all get “caught” in moments when we are less than our best.

Previously, we discussed assuming goodwill from our brethren and perfecting the art of listening. This post deals with the very heart of the “offense” issue.

The Greatest Commandments

In order to avoid causing or feeling offense, our main objectives should be love and mercy. The majority of our daily interactions either flourish or flop depending on how well we extend those two things. When Jesus was on earth, the scribes and Pharisees were often testing him with “hard” questions, hoping to trip him up. In one instance, his authoritatively wise answers made a distinct impression on one particular man, and he posited a question to Jesus:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

~ Mark 12.28-34, ESV, emphasis mine

Notice that the scribe asked Him for the greatest commandment (singular). Jesus answered Him with one, but intentionally included the second greatest as well. The Ten Commandments can be summed up in these two. The first four commandments deal with a vertical relationship—God and man. The last six deal with horizontal relationships—person to person. Love does no harm to a neighbor, in thought or in deed.

We cannot perform the greatest commandment and neglect the second.

We love because he first loved us.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 4.20-21, ESV, emphasis mine

“As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

When did you first learn the golden rule? I’m fairly confident that most schoolchildren—at least in the United States—are acquainted with it even if they are raised by atheist parents. Most honest people recognize the ethical and moral value of the maxim: “Do unto others as you would want them to do to you.” No matter how hard people try to eliminate God from their lives, they cannot shake the influence of His wisdom.

People want respect, but are often unwilling to extend it. People long to be loved, but fail to demonstrate true affection. People desire mercy, but refuse to forgive even the smallest slights. We may be taught the “golden rule” from our youth, but we have a hard time practicing it.

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.

Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

~ Luke 6.27-36, ESV, emphasis mine

I still remember the day I was baptized into Christ. It was a chilly Wednesday evening on March 24, 1994. I had been living in fear of being lost and wondering perplexedly over why I was even on this earth. I knew I had sinned multiple times and I was terrified that if something happened to me before I turned my life over to Christ, I would be lost forever. My friends and family looked on as my dad plunged me into the cool water. I came up filled with joy, water running over my face mingled with salty tears. I was an enemy no longer. God had forgiven me even though I had done nothing to deserve His great mercy.

How often do we extend mercy and love to the undeserving in our lives? How often do we treat them, the way that God treated us? What makes us more “deserving” than they?

My friends, this is the bottom line: we will be less easily offended and cause less offense if we practice the golden rule. We must love our neighbors, our brethren in Christ and our family members by extending to them the treatment we would like them to extend to us. We may not get our kindness returned, but that doesn’t really matter. We need to be merciful as God has been merciful to us.

Coming next week: How to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.