Monday, June 17, 2013

Love Never Fails (Love- Part 16 - really, it's over now)

"Love never fails:"
I Corinthians 13:8

A young man finally finished his graduate education and was ready to hit the architectural world running. Ever since he was a child, he was a builder.  He loved Legos and K'nex, and found mathematical concepts easy throughout his schooling.  He loved to study structures but especially unfinished ones - he would wander around the city looking for construction sites to stare at.  He found an entry level position at a well-knows architectural firm and began working his way up the corporate ladder until he finally became a senior designer.

So when he was given his first project to design and oversee, he was thrilled to find out it was a suspension bridge - his specialty! The city was looking to update a worn out bridge over a river that ran through the center of town with a modern, wired suspension bridge. And he loved every minute of it - from the design to the bidding to the construction - it was a dream come true.  He was leaving his mark on the city - he would drive his children to the bridge one day and tell them, Daddy built this!  

As the project was coming to an end, concerns arose over the safety of the structure.  It was, after all, a suspension bridge, and the city officials were uneasy that they had made the right decision.  After all, the designer had never overseen a project, start to finish and the bridge would be used by thousands every day.  The architect was contacted and the stability was questioned.

But the architect wasn't worried. He had done the math, he knew what load the bridge could hold, he knew it was stronger than it needed to be and that even in strong winds, the bridge was sound.  Simply stated, it would not fail.  

So the day before the bridge was to officially open, he brought the city officials out to the site.  He ordered 15 semi-trailors, loaded with concrete block and had them waiting to cross the bridge.  He was going to put the suspension to test, but the test wasn't for his benefit - it was for the benefit of the city officials.  One by one the trucks started crossing the bridge, until at one point, the entire bridge was filled with semi-trucks, and guess what?  Just as the architect had known, the bridge easily held the weight and the fears of the city officials were put to rest.  They officially declared the bridge to be safe and opened it to the public.

Long story, short explanation - at the end of the recipe for love, a three word declaration is made:  Love never fails.  The construction of the recipe for love, if followed correctly, is as reliable and dependable as the construction of a suspension bridge that is mathematically sound.  The bridge cannot and will not fail because it is designed with strength.  In the same manner, the love that God has described in I Corinthians 13 is designed to be fail-proof.

Worldly love and godly love are two very different things.  The recipe for worldly love is something like this:  take some warm fuzzies and add emotions, candle light and soft music, a field of flowers to run through and a bit of danger, plus it would help if there was hair to blow in the wind, but it's not required.  Mix together and eat immediately because it gets old quickly and you have to throw the pot away when you're done and get a new pot to mix your love in to get the same effect again.

Godly love looks like this:  a CHOICE to be patient, kind, humble, patient, selfless, self-controlled, holy, protective, trusting, hopeful and faithful.  If any one of these ingredients weakens, the other ones step up and fill in the gaps so that love has no choice but to succeed - it never fails.

I think you get the picture.  

Love is not a feeling but a choice and given the immense example Jesus Christ has laid before us, plus the sacrificial love of the Father to give us His Son, plus the power of the Holy Spirit given to us to enable us to love like Christ, how can love fail?  

Your reduction sauce is ready - it's time to serve it up. There's plenty of it and you are instructed to be liberal in serving this tasty delight.  It should flow from of your words, your facial expressions, your actions, your thoughts, your emotions and your intentions.  It's a high calling but you have an infinite resource to draw from, so get going - make the choice to love your neighbor, family, enemies and friends in the same way Christ has loved you.

And then see what happens...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ingredient #13 - Faithfulness (Love - Part 15)

"...endures all things..."
I Corinthians 13:7

If I was writing the recipe for love, I would probably throw in as my last ingredient, "endures most things."  I mean, come on, can love really endure all things?  What about unfaithfulness - not just in marriage but friendship has its share of unfaithfulness, doesn't it?  What about sorrow? What about cheating and lying? Stealing?  What about...well, let's go back to lying.  Lying stinks and in a relationship, lying can be the final nail in the relational coffin, so to speak.  Does love have to endure lying?  Does love have to endure distance?  Cold weather?  Being let down?  Moving?  Gossip?  Habitual sin?  Come on, love has to have an end to its rope, doesn't it?

Not according to God.

True, sacrificial, You-Before-Me love endures ALL things.  It loves through good times and bad, it forgives easily and restores quickly.  It doesn't demand its pound of flesh to get even - it endures anything life and relationships throw at it.  It is completely and utterly...faithful.

Love doesn't falter, it doesn't waver, it doesn't trip.  

It doesn't thin out, it doesn't have runs in it and it doesn't tremble. 

 Love stands firm, continues to flow, and provides stability when the ground is shaking.

Love endures all things. 


This has to be true or else the gospel will fail.  If our example is Jesus Christ, then we have to confidently believe that love can and will endure all things.  There is nothing outside the bounds of God's love for us and we know this is true when we look at the cross. I guess I need to clarify - there is only one thing outside the bounds of God's love and that is rejecting His love.  But His love freely flows to us because He paid the full cost of it 2000 years ago.  

If love does not endure all things, then we could lose the gift of salvation. Something might happen and Jesus would finally say, "I am finished! I can't take it anymore!  It's just not worth it!"  But instead, Jesus said, "It IS finished," and at that point, love endured everything that it possibly could endure.  Jesus isn't suffering anymore.  He paid it once and for all (Hebrews 7:26,27).

Within faithful love, we see patience, kindness, trust, humility, unselfishness, protection, holiness, self-control and hope.  All these ingredients bond together in our reduction sauce because of the enduring faithfulness of love - it's always there and it can withstand anything.

As for us, though we are limited, we are still called to endure all things with a love that surpasses understanding.  The world should look at us and think we're crazy.  Without Christ, this love is not only impossible but incomprehensible.  But we can only love this way with our eyes on Jesus.  If we turn them to the world, we will quickly have a faithless love - a love that depends on the other's actions and not on our ability to choose to love.  If you wonder why your love falters, get an eye exam and find out where your focus is spending time.

As love bears, believes and hopes all things, when others let us down, then love endures all things.  We do this constantly to God and guess what?  His love continues on.  

Stop for a moment and go grab a spoon.  You need to taste your's hot and bubbly, and has reduced to a thick gravy (sorry, Fred) that will change the lives of those you choose to feed it you have that spoon yet?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ingredient #12 - Hope (Love - Part 14)

"...hopes all things..."
I Corinthians 13:7

I hope this never happens again.

I hope he's on time.

I hope it doesn't rain tomorrow.

I hope everything turns out okay.

I hope the Sox starting winning some time soon.

When we think about the word "hope", the feeling we have is what you see in the woman's face above - uncertainty and wishful thinking.  Do we really think that in this wonderful recipe of full, rich, foundational ingredients that God would throw in an iffy, unstable, questionable ingredient such as hope?  Or maybe our understanding of hope is different than what it should be...

Hope can be a noun or a verb. In noun form, hope is a person or thing on which our expectations are centered.  A very simple application of this definition comes in the form of a question.  Who do you have your hope in?  Your spouse? Your job? Your children?  Your family?  Your church?  Unfortunately, if our hope (expectation) is in something limited and even sinful, we will be disappointed.  But if our hope is in Jesus Christ, our expectations, our dreams, our purpose for living is placed solely on Him, then we can have confidence that He is working in every circumstance of our lives, that He loves us literally with His whole life and that He is coming again for us one day.  Hope in this context is more of a confident waiting game than an unsure expectation.

But in this verse hope is a verb, so defined is to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence.  Love that hopes all things is a love that has reasonable confidence in the object of its affection.  Let's first look at Jesus.

Luke 22 tells us about the final supper Jesus had with His disciples before His arrest.  He knew what was coming and yet He chose to lovingly care for and speak into His disciple's lives.  At one point He turned to Peter and gave him this warning - note the hope that flows from His love:

"Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."  Luke 22:31,32

We know what happens to Peter (Simon) - he denies Christ three times - big time low point in his life. But he is forgiven and restored as a leader of the disciples, forging a trail into the Gentile world and faithfully serving Christ with abandon to his death.   Jesus' warning was not sugar-coated.  Peter had to go through a major valley, the but hope that he would come out stronger, more faithful and as a leader was a loving gift from God.  I am positive that the memory of Christ's words were encouraging and powerful in Peter's post-ascension life.

The added ingredient of hope in your love is an inspiring, life-giving action.  Hope enables you to live Philippians 4:8, focusing on what is true, lovely, honorable, right, pure, of good reputation, excellent and praiseworthy.  It allows you to be your husband's biggest fan.  It makes you the head of the cheerleading squad of life.  It makes you a positive person rather than a negative person.  It surpasses the sour criticisms of a critical spirit and lets you live your life with rose-colored glasses. 

But Kristen, that's not very realistic. Life stinks, sin stinks and if you've been hurt once by someone, odds are you'll be hurt again. So we need to protect ourselves and not be so naive to think the best of people.

Oh, dear friend - what side of the bed did you wake up on today? Remember, our hope (noun) is in Jesus Christ, therefore we can hope (verb) the best for people.  We know the power of God in our life, we can lovingly hope for that same life-changing, life-sustaining power in other's.  And when people let us down, we do not lose hope, because our hope was never in them to begin with!  See?  It's a matter of perspective.

I'm going to put it one other way and then I promise I'll be done.  Imagine your the one who needs hope. If you are constantly told by those who "love" you that you'll never change, if you're told you'll never get on top of things and that you're basically the loser you've always been - do you feel truly loved? Is that the message of the gospel? Is that how Jesus loves?  He gives great hope that life does not have to be ruled by sin - let's choose to love like Jesus!

Wow...though it's the second to the last ingredient, hope is pretty important, wouldn't you say?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Ingredient #11 - Trust (Love - Part 13)

"...believes all things..."
I Corinthians 13:7

Journey's famous song, "Don't Stop Believing", was the battle cry of the 2005 White Sox as they fought their way to the World Series Championship.  My husband and I are big Sox fans (hope I don't lose all my Michigan readers) and that song was ringing in my ears for months.  As I write this, the current White Sox have lost the last 7 or 8 games in a row, but do I lose hope?  Nope!  Because true fans love their team and they believe all things...the Cubs' fans are great examples of this true love!

Our next ingredient is belief, or as I put it, trust.  When you believe all things, you are choosing to trust the one you love.  In light of all the forgiveness in the pot, this trust naturally will flow from a forgiving heart.  Since we are commanded to love our neighbors and our enemies, as well, adding trust to our simmering pot is very difficult.  When it comes to our enemies - who can trust their enemy?  And when it comes to everyone else, needs to be earned, right?  If trust is broken, can we really just blindly choose to trust again?

Let's start with a simple example of this from Genesis 4.  Cain and Abel are brothers with different professions but both choose to bring an offering to the Lord.  We aren't given the instructions that God lays out for this offering but by God's response, we know there were instructions. Abel and his offering are accepted but Cain and his offering were rejected.  This caused Cain to become depressed (his countenance fell) and angry.  But God does not walk away and say, "I know this guy - he doesn't stand a chance. He's selfish and as long as he refuses to obey, his life is gonna stink."

No, God sits Cain down and says to him, "Don't you know if you do what is right, your countenance will be lifted?"  In other words, being obedient will make you feel better.  In this one statement, I see trust within God's character.  Some people want to think that God sits up in heaven and roots against us, so that His wrath can be displayed. But God loves us and wants us to choose obedience. He believed that if Cain would choose obedience, that his life would be different...better.

We know the end of the story - Cain doesn't choose obedience, but in an angry rage, kills his brother  and lives the rest of his life with the consequences of his actions.  This does not diminish the counsel or trust of God. This simply speaks to Cain's hardened heart.

There will be those who we choose to trust who will disappoint and hurt us.  This does not diminish our responsibility to obediently choose to believe all things or trust again, but rather it points to a hardened heart - we are not responsible for that.  But what about the heart who responds to trust?

If we go back to Cain, what if he had heeded God's instructions and brought back an offering that God accepted?  How different would his life have been?  Do you think God would have held his original offering over his head and been like, "Well, you're good now but don't ever forget I gave you a second chance?"  No way - remember, trust flows from forgiveness and God chooses to put our sins far away from us.  His love would have wrapped his arms around Cain and cheered him on.

When we choose to love, in good relationships it's easy, but in difficult relationships, it's going to be....well...difficult.  But it is Christ like and it is life-changing if we do it God's way.

Who do you need to restore your trust in?  Who do you need to ask forgiveness for not loving as God would have you love?  We're getting to the final few ingredients but the recipe is not necessarily getting easier, unless we acknowledge that we have already been given all the ingredients in a starter kit from God.  The love He extends to you is a powerful source to allow you to love others.

(Update:  Since I started this post my White Sox won one and then lost again...don't stop believing!)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Ingredient #10 - Protection - (Love - Part 12)

The story of the prodigal son is an interesting one.  There are three main characters - the rebellious son, who has to be humbled before he recognizes just how much he is loved; the older, responsible brother who believes his standing in the home is based on his obedience; and the father who shows us unconditional love to both.  I want us to look at the father for a moment today.

From our human standpoint, the youngest son irresponsibly and disrespectfully runs off with his inheritance and blows it on wild living.  When he returns, in our opinion he should be either turned away at the door or at the very best put with the servants and forced to earn his way through life. He had his chance and he blew it.

But this is not what is shown to us.  The father chooses to bear his son's burden and welcomes him back into the home as his heir.  He wraps his arms around him and spares no expense in celebrating the return of the prodigal.  He protects the younger when discussing it with the older - he doesn't berate, judge or gossip. He chooses to forgive.

Our next ingredient is a part of the forgiveness family - I'm going to call it protection.  Love is protective.  When love chooses to forgive, it chooses to bear the consequence of the other's sin by setting it aside and restoring the relationship.  Let me give you a great illustration - Jesus.

There is a price for sin and Jesus didn't just erase the debt, He paid it.  He didn't just say, "Well, I'm God and I can do what I want, so I will just wipe your slate clean."  He paid the high price Himself and then wrote "Paid in full" on the ledger. Jesus bore it all.

When there is an offense, either the offender pays the price or someone else does.  Either there is loss of relationship because of the offense, or in the restoration process, the one who was hurt lays down their right to get even and restores the relationship. If that happens, that person is bearing the offense - he is taking upon himself the weight of the offense and removing it from the offender.  He is agreeing not to hold it against them, not to talk to others about it and not to talk to himself about it - that's true forgiveness (remember ingredient #8?).

In I Corinthians 13, Paul tells us that love bears all things - love is a great forgiver.  It's protective of others. Love doesn't hang someone out to dry, but protects the object of its affections.  When there is an offense, not only does it forgive but it does whatever is necessary to protect the offender from others finding out, from the consequences - love chooses to bear the consequences for the offender...remember, again, Jesus...

Notice the word "all."  It's one of those 100% words.  Love doesn't choose what it will bear and what it won't.  It is completely consistent.  Because Jesus bore it all, we are able to bear all things.  Can you see it?

We are getting to the end of our ingredient list...the sweet smelling aroma of love should be filling your home pretty soon.  Add some more water to your pot and let it continue to simmer but soon, this reduction sauce is going to quickly become the savory gravy that tastes like liquid me on this one...