What is Love?

Songwriters love to write about love. Usually it’s romantic and sappy, but oftentimes, it’s bad. Ponder these:

     What is love?
Baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me no more

Or how about: Love is a battlefield or Part-time Lover or You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’, or my funny favorite: Love Stinks.

Good or bad, through highs and lows, we humans never stop obsessing about love. Even after singing “I’ll never fall in love again” with gusto (been there!), what do we do? We actually go out seeking that love. It’s in our DNA.

But love lets us down again. And again. It’s relentless. It is a battlefield. Our “babies” do hurt us more. We do lose the feeling of love.

Why? What is the point? Where is there hope?

i’m reading a book about love right now, and it’s blowing my mind a little bit. It’s defining love in ways i’d never thought of. and i’m not talking about the different kinds of love: eros, agape, or philia. The book is about the human capacity for love, or actually the lack of capacity. Here’s the first quote that made me immediately stop reading and start writing:

     Love is not natural.

What? Since when? Isn’t it in our nature? When a baby is born, don’t its parents automatically love it? And isn’t “falling in love” something that just happens to us? Don’t we love our friends, our lives, our stuff? There’s all sorts of love out there that seems perfectly natural. The author boldly states this also: “Love is not possible, at least for long . . .”

Here’s a fuller look from the book Bold Love by psychologist Dr. Dan Allender:

 Love may be necessary for survival, but daily existence seems to make love impossible. Love is essential, but it seems maddeningly unreasonable. It is both what we desire and despise, wait for and ignore, work toward and sabotage.

Allender goes on to assert that “love, without divine intervention, is impossible” and that it’s also impossible without forgiveness. He explains that while we want love, strive for love, are built for love, we are broken creatures who will mess up love every time. i know that i can barely go a whole day without doing something wrong in my relationships. The only hope for restoration is God. God has given us the perfect example of love in giving of Himself through Jesus. He demonstrates perfect, unfailing love and forgiveness for us continually, and He can teach us how to love better and be more like Him.

The author explains how God does this for us:

How then does God intervene in the human personality to remove the block of love and destroy the power of evil that hates love? The answer is found in an understanding of God’s relentless, intrusive, incarnate involvement and His patient forebearing forgiveness.

That is the essence of true Christianity. It’s all about the love we all are seeking and desperately trying to stop messing up. That type of love can only come from God, in Christ alone. i’m sure you know enough about Jesus to know that He lived “Love is a Battlefield. “ (When your life ends with you nailed to a cross, you’ve definitely gone through battle, right?) Yet during the 33 human years we have on record, we read how He loved the unlovely, He loved the needy, He loved His friends, He loved His family, He loved His enemies; He loved those who killed Him. He loves all; He forgives all. That’s why He lived His life on earth: to demonstrate His love for us up close and personal. If you “want to know what love is,” look to Jesus to show you.

Let me leave you with Allender’s stated premise of his book:

I will not live with purpose and joy unless I love; I will not be able to love unless I forgive; and I will not forgive unless my hatred is continually melted by the searing truth and grace of the gospel.

Now, that’s what love is all about.

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Hannah’s Trust & a Parent’s Yearning

(1 Samuel 1:1-2:21)

How often do you ask for something – something that you’ve strongly desired for years – with the intention to give it up in a short time? Never? Yeah, me neither. But Hannah did just this.

There is probably no deeper, stronger human yearning than a woman’s desire to have a child (except maybe the need to feel and be loved). Hannah was married and childless for years. She was anguished about it – empty, depressed, desperate. (We often come to God in such a state, don’t we? But what better place to turn?) She went with her husband to the tabernacle for their annual time of sacrifice and worship, and there, with “bitterness of soul,” Hannah poured out her heart to the Lord. 

hannah prays

I love this! We hear about this now – A.D. – the advice to pour it all out to God. But then – B.C. – we don’t see this so much. It’s good to know that even then, some of God’s people knew that God was approachable in this way. 

But I digress. Hannah’s desire to have a child was so strong, and her story proves that her devotion to God was equally strong: she vowed that if God would grant her a son, she would give her son into God’s service.

Two things strike me in this story:

  1. Immediately after her soul-wrenching prayers and the priest’s blessing, her despair lifted completely. The scripture says she “ate something and her face was no longer downcast.” This is a beautiful picture of what happens when we take our troubles to God. Notice her prayer wasn’t answered yet, but God gave her peace and lifted up her countenance. (This is a great reminder to those of us – me, in particular – who tend to prefer to wallow and forget to look up!)
  2. Hannah promised that if God would give her a son, that she’d give him right back. This befuddles me. When I want something, I want that thing to have and hold, don’t you? I’d gladly give up something else in exchange, but it makes no logical sense to give up the very thing you ask for. What’s the point in asking for it at all? (Tennyson’s words “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” comes to mind. Maybe this explains it.)

What also blows my mind is that when she does have her son, she doesn’t renege. She does not waver or come up with any new ideas like I would: “Well, I did promise to give you my son, God, and I can do that perfectly well with him at home: I’ll train him in your ways.” Nope, she took him straight to the tabernacle after he was weaned. Theologians, by the way, aren’t sure if this is a physical weaning from Hannah’s milk (between ages 1 and 3) or a spiritual weaning from home training (up to age 12). Whenever it was, Hannah had a lot of trust in God to take him to a man (Eli) who couldn’t even raise his own sons properly.

I have a 16-year-old son. I’ve quite often prayed to give him to God, from pregnancy to today. Never for a second did I mean that literally like Hannah did. But maybe I need to mean it that way. There’s nothing in our culture and time where I would just drop him off to “grow up in the presence of the Lord” and minister like Samuel did (and people would probably call that child abuse/neglect today). But I do need to give up my son in other ways. I need to stop trying to control him. I’m figuring out that my parental ways don’t produce a perfect human being/Christian anyway. Only God can redeem and sanctify. I need to give those jobs up to God completely. I’ve also learned that my efforts – homeschooling, teaching God’s ways, taking him to VBS, Sunday School, youth group, church – don’t guarantee the outcome I expect.

Only God brings results. Samuel “grew up in the presence of the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:21b). This is what made Samuel to “grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men” (1 Sam. 2:26). It’s here that God called Samuel and spoke to him (3:21). It’s here that Samuel came to know God. 

1 Sam. 3:7 says “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord. The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” This verse stopped me in my tracks. How could he not yet know God, after being raised by believing parents? After living in the tabernacle with the head priest? You can bet by this point, Samuel knew all about God. Yet this verse indicates he didn’t know God yet. This led me to do a crash course in very basic Hebrew to learn the meaning of the word “know” in this verse. 

The Hebrew word used in this verse is “yeda,” meaning “he knew, certify, know, make known, teach.” This didn’t help me a lot, but I found another Bible translation that confirmed what I had already guessed before I had done any of this research: “Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord” (Holman Christian translation). 

There is a difference between knowing about something and actually knowing. Lots of people know about God, but it’s an entirely different thing – putting it in modern Christian terminology – to have a relationship with God. As Christian parents, my husband and I cannot create our children’s relationship with God. We can and certainly do teach, foster, encourage, and provide opportunity. But the relationship is created by God Himself. 

So, my deepest, strongest yearning is for my children to “yeda” or know God, to have a relationship with Jesus. For me, like it was for Hannah, this desire is even stronger than my desire to have children in the first place, and that was a pretty strong desire! 

I go to God’s tabernacle and pour out my heart to Him:

God, please speak to my children. Personally woo them. Teach me to get out of the way. Show me the balance I need between my teaching them about You and stepping back to let You teach. You’re a much better teacher. For I know You want all to be in relationship with You and You want none to perish.  Thank You for your grace, Your mercy, Your love . . . thank You, Jesus.

Lydia’s story/my story

Acts 16:6-40 

I’m supposed to be writing about Lydia. Lydia was a dealer of purple cloth in Macedonia. She was also, more interestingly to me, a worshiper of God and ripe for hearing the gospel. She was seeking God, and God brought messengers straight to her.

            I said I was supposed to be writing about Lydia, but I can’t keep my eyes off of the messengers: Paul and “his companions.” Paul had seen a vision of a man in Macedonia begging them to “come and help us.” So, what did they do? Pray about it? Get together and discuss it? Form a committee? No, they “got ready at once” because “God had called them to preach the gospel.”

            I guess I’m in awe of anyone who does God’s will at once. Even when I know something is God’s will for me to do, I still hesitate and procrastinate. I whine and complain. I seek another way. Or I discuss it or mull it over for days, weeks, months. Why can’t I do God’s will at once?

            Another part of this story I keep going back to is Paul’s prison experience (yep, still not about Lydia – although she’s there, tangentially). After spending some time enjoying Lydia’s hospitality, Paul et al get thrown into prison for exorcising fortune-telling demons from a servant girl. I love how even the demons can’t help but speak the Truth: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved,” shouted the girl over and over.

            Even in prison, Paul and his co-missionaries are answering the call of helping Macedonia by leading the jailer and his family to Christ. Afterward, they head back to Lydia’s home to recover from their wounds and to encourage the brothers.

            Shortly after these events, Paul and friends were soon run out of Macedonia. Lydia and the jailer were the only individual converts specifically mentioned during their time there. (By the way, I love how the jailer was “filled with joy because he came to believe in God”.) So, if these two and their families were the reason for Paul’s vision of the man of Macedonia, I think that’s pretty cool: it shows God cares for each of us personally. Of course, I’m sure these new Christians probably continued the spreading of the Good News in Macedonia. It would be interesting to hear their stories after Paul left.

            Paul did his job of answering God’s call right away and telling everyone there the way to God (which I wish I could do, but just can’t seem to), now it’s their turn. And here’s a good place to turn my attention to Lydia, as well as stop beating myself up for not being more like Paul. Paul had a specific calling. It was different from Lydia’s and probably quite different from mine. I can do what Lydia did (and, in reviewing her story, I find I’ve done it all): seek God, receive His grace, lead my family in God’s ways, host travelling missionaries, and help a missionary recover from wounds (well, in my case it was dental surgery he was recovering from, not a flogging!). I’m sure all of that was God’s will for Lydia to do (and for me). Beyond this, I’m sure Lydia went on to spread the good news of Jesus in her area, a place that needed to hear it, a place that needed help. I live in such a place. And I’ll be you do too.

           Now it’s time for Act 2: God’s act (see my blog on Dorcas’ life – and afterlife).  May God use my life – actions and words – to spread His message of Life.

Gomer’s Story – a fictional reflection

*My fictional re-telling of Gomer’s story is based on the details of her story in Hosea chapters 1-3, what I’ve learned about God’s love for us, with a dash of influence from Francine Rivers’ book, “Redeeming Love.” It is told from Gomer’s aged perspective, looking back over her own life.

     Have a seat. I’m going to tell you a story you won’t believe. I wouldn’t believe it either except it happened to me.
     I had a happy childhood. I used to sing and dance my days away. I hadn’t a care because I was loved and cared for. But tragedy entered my happy little world, and to make a long, sad story short, I ended up having to rely on men to take care of me. Many men, my lovers, took very good care of me. I had rich foods, the best linens, jewels, wine. Life as a prostitute paid off. But I admit I no longer sang or danced.

gomer art     One day this strange man came to me saying God had told him to marry someone like me. I thought I’d probably be more secure in the long run with this arrangement, so I agreed. Hosea was very good to me – very loving, gentle, kind. We even had three children. Imagine that – an adulteress settling down and having a family!
     You think I’d be happy, wouldn’t you? Well, truthfully, I wasn’t. This prophet husband of mine didn’t bring in much income . . . at all. I no longer had fine things nor did I enjoy food and wines. And, to be really honest, I was tired of feeling used by God to make some point to the Israelites.
     So, I decided to walk away and go back to my old life. Some of my old “friends” were happy to see me back. It felt so good to put on a silk dress again, to imbibe my favorite red wine, to get a break from serving that husband, house, and kids.
     But pretty soon those guys – along with my nice things – started abandoning me, one by one. I became penniless, alone, and on the street. This was not working out the way I’d thought. For a moment I considered going back to my husband, but I just couldn’t. I deserved what I was getting: miserable cold nights, starving days, nowhere to turn, no help to be found.
     Now, here’s the craziest part of my story: Hosea showed up to allure me back home. He spoke nothing but tenderness. He showed nothing but love. He even paid my ransom (I wasn’t worth much – but Hosea didn’t have much) to pay off my debt so I’d be forever released.
     Why would he do this for me? I was a terrible woman who left him and the kids. I deserved nothing but punishment. He did tell me to stop living that life and to be devoted to him alone as my husband. Then he continued to love me all the days of my life.

gomer - heart
     This all happened over 60 years ago. Can you believe it? Hosea never stopped loving me all these years. And guess what? It took a while, but love won out and I started dancing and singing again.

Abigail’s Words

Words fail me. Or maybe it’s my tongue that fails me. When I need to speak something to someone, I clam up. I’d much rather write the person a letter!

Abigail had no time for letter-writing. (Abigail’s story can be found in 1 Samuel 25:2-42.) Renowned warrior David, bent on revenge against her foolish husband Nabal, was on his way to put all of Nabal’s men to the sword. Nabal’s men weren’t soldiers; they were shepherds, shearers, servants. David was really ticked off that Nabal had rebuffed David’s request for some food for him and his men after they had protected Nabal’s shepherds and animals in the dangerous land of the Philistines.  Someone in my Bible study group said David was hangry!  🙂

But back to Abigail. Abigail used her God-given intelligence and quickly acted. With great humility, she intercepted David with generous amounts of food (and I’m sure the beauty mentioned in verse 3 didn’t hurt either). She was able to stop him in his blood-thirsty tracks, then it was her words that completely turned him around. She opened her mouth and the words just flowed. I’m in awe.

Abigail Pleads with David I Samuel 25:18-31

What were her words? What was it about them that were so effective in stopping an army?  In short, out of eight sentences, she references “the Lord” seven times (in the NIV translation). The primary theme of her speech is against the sin of revenge. And it’s all wrapped in concern for David to be free of wrongdoing and regret.

David’s response of “I have heard your words” (vs. 35) warms my heart. What can I learn from this to have others hear my words? From Abby, I learn to first know my listener. Notice she didn’t go to her husband to change his mind, a man so terrible that “no one can talk to him” (vs. 17). Instead, she directed her words at a man she knew to serve the Lord. She knew that speaking to David about the Lord and about sin and guilt would speak to him.

Second, I learn from Abby to speak with humility. Yes, stopping David’s attack would benefit her and her household, but she didn’t even go there in her words to David. Instead she focused on David. One could look at it as manipulative smooth-talking, but I really see it as selfless spiritual-guidance talk because David’s first words in response to her words were “Praise be to the Lord” (vs. 32). As Abigail kept her focus on God, all praise went to God.

Finally, I learn from Abigail to not be hesitant to use God’s name frequently in my words, spoken or written. And may my goal be that others would praise the Lord as a result of my words.

 

 

Helping the Poor and Saving Souls

Who remembers Dorcas from the Bible? Or Tabitha? The two names identify the same person (Tabitha is her Aramaic name; Dorcas is the Greek translation). Maybe you remember hearing or reading the name Dorcas with a snicker, but you don’t recall her story. Well, it’s pretty astounding, and I was really moved by the significance of this short story. (I’ve always found it funny that so many remarkable stories in the Bible are told so simply and quickly.)

You’ll find the story of Dorcas in Acts 9:26-42. To make a short story even shorter, I’ll give you the basic plot in one sentence. Dorcas was a follower of Jesus who never tired of helping the poor, but became ill and died, and then was brought back to life by God through Peter, an act which resulted in many new believers.

You could divide Dorcas’ story into two acts: Act 1 reveals a woman who became a disciple of Jesus and dedicated herself to a life of compassion in helping the poor. In this act of her story, she is described as “always doing good and helping the poor.” Always – wow, what a woman! She must have been really sold out for Jesus. I wonder if perhaps she got to meet Him and see for herself His acts of compassion for the poor and hurting.

Act 2 of her story happens after she dies. For most of us, our death is the end of our influence on the world. Not so for Dorcas. She was brought back to life on Earth. And this act of her story directly resulted in “many people believ(ing) in the Lord.”

Which act of her life do you think thrilled Dorcas the most? Or which act had the most impact? Act 1 of Dorcas’ story is about her good works in helping the poor. And everyone loved her for it. In Act 2 of her story, Dorcas was certainly there but had nothing to do with what happened. God raised her from the dead. Many believed in the Lord. Dorcas simply woke up and watched it all happen around her.

Before her death, Dorcas saw many needy people helped by her own hand. It must have been satisfying. But as a follower of Christ, I would guess that she knew that saving souls was even more important. Where someone spends eternity, after all, is inarguably more significant than how one gets their next meal or replacement clothing.

But are these two elements of Christianity (helping the poor/saving souls) separate? Are the two acts of Dorcas’ life two separate lives with two separate missions? Or are they two fluid parts of one story with the same goal? If Dorcas had not helped the poor in the way that she did, if she had not been so well loved and mourned at her death, would there have been people around to even witness the miracle of her resurrection? Would they have had eyes to see God at work so that they could come to believe in Him?

Why did Jesus perform so many miracles? Why did he touch the untouchable? The obvious answer is love. Yes, He loves them; He is the author of compassion. But I think there is more. As He performed miracles and helped the downtrodden during His three years of literal hands-on ministry, many eyes were trained on Him. Many feet were following Him. So that, when He performed the grand finale act of compassion, giving His life for all and then resurrecting, many saw or heard, and many believed in the Lord.

I could go further down a related path with this story: Dorcas’ hands paired with God’s work. It’s not our work that saves souls; it’s God’s.  But He somehow uses our feeble efforts in the overall grand plan.  I’ll stop here, however – this could be a whole separate post.

So, I’ll end with questions for me and for you: Why do you, Christian, do what you do? And when others’ eyes see what you do, or ears hear, will others be led to believe in the Lord?

I’m the Proverbs 31 wife?!

(note to reader: you may want to refresh yourself with a quick read of Proverbs 31:10-31)

My husband thinks I’m the Proverbs 31 wife. Seriously! He has said that more than once.

Now, I could go to two extremes with this compliment. As I look at this perfect woman’s list of characteristics, I could be prideful and totally agree with my husband. “Darn straight I’m the Proverbs 31 wife, and don’t you forget it!”

Or I could self-deprecatingly say, “No, I’m not! I’ve done you harm. I don’t open my arms to the poor. I do eat the bread of idleness.”

But I don’t do either of those. I actually receive my husband’s praise and can agree that I do exhibit some of the traits listed. I can also honestly assess myself and see that I have some (or a lot of) growth to do in other traits. But because he actually already sees me as this wife of noble character, I’m motivated to live up to it (most of the time).

This makes me think of how God sees us. Because of Christ, I’m already righteous. God sees Jesus when He looks at me. Jesus is perfect. And I’m motivated to try to live up to that. I’m secure in God’s love for me and I’m secure in my husband’s love for me. When they see me and think the best of me, I’m free to be my best.

Do I give the same support and love to my husband? Is he free to be his best, or do I instead highlight where he’s failing and not living up to the perfect standard?

Because of God’s perfect love demonstrated through Jesus, I have the freedom to love and the freedom to be loved, the freedom to forgive and be forgiven, the freedom to receive grace and to extend grace.

proverbsgirl