I just returned from a short trip to Kansas City. We went for a wedding of some dear friends, but it was a good excuse to make my way there to see some people I haven’t seen in far too long. The funny thing about our trip is I usually am looking for something “substantial” to happen: An important connection, a time of pouring into a friend, a time of being poured into by a friend, or a chance to do a little ministry. This time, none of those things happened. Instead, I got to love and be loved.
And what’s amazing to me about that is how often I forget that being loved and giving love is the point. I’m the first to point out that the pursuit of knowledge makes us proud but doesn’t profit us, but that’s only half the equation. The profitable part of understanding knowledge doesn’t build us up is knowing what does: love. Love is what causes the church to grow and be built up.
This weekend I saw that: through the family that hosted us and treated us like family, through the many, many hugs I got throughout the wedding, through friends who made time in their schedule and bought us pizza, through the friends who made time for us even though we just dropped in with no notice. There was no knowledge transfer, no official “ministry” activity, but I feel built up on the inside.
One of the friends we saw this weekend has always modeled this so well. I remember a time about 12 years ago where we spent time with a couple and I walked away from it feeling so empty. My wife pressed me on why I felt that way, and the only thing I could do was bring up my friend from Kansas City: “Whenever we’re with him, I just feel so loved. I don’t feel like a project or like I have to be entertained or entertaining. He just loves people.” It wasn’t that the couple we were with was bad. Instead, it was I realized the absence of the kind of love my friend from Kansas City shows when we’re together. Seeing my friend again this weekend reminded me of how essential love is toward building up the church.
Friends, knowledge inflates us beyond what we are, but love builds us into what we can be. As the church, we can be puffed up beyond what we are, which is not good. We could forsake the pursuit of knowledge, which would at least keep us from pride, but won’t take us very far. Or we can begin to grow in receiving love, finding our identity in being loved, and share the love we have received. If we can do this, in a hundred ways that are intentional and a million more that are spontaneous, we will build the church.
Join me, will you? Join me in pursuing an understanding of God’s love for us at a deeper level. Join me in accepting the ridiculous, undeserved, unmerited, never-stopping, never-giving-up, always-and-forever love of God. And when you have received it and have no more doubts about your status of being loved, will you share that love with someone else, just because?
Because that that kind of love builds the church.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Recently a brother in Christ who is dear to many of us hear in Iowa suffered a massive heart attack. Rick Lumbard is the Director of Wind and Fire Ministries, a man of prayer, and a servant of the Lord that has been used in a number of peoples’ lives throughout our city and the state. He currently is unconscious and in a hospital in Des Moines. Would you join us in prayer for Rick as we believe for healing for him? He has a wife and several children that would be thankful for the prayer support.
Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor can the floods drown it.
If a man would give for love
All the wealth of his house,
It would be utterly despised.
As I’ve been reading through the Song of Songs, I’ve been musing on the nature of love. But this verse caught my attention the other day and I’ve been thinking about it’s implications. Join me in thinking through what it means:
The first part of the verse is pretty easy. Love is powerful. It’s a fire that can’t be put out with water. Not even many waters can put out the fire of love–it’s that powerful.
But the second part is much more difficult. If a man gave all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly despised. This flies in the face of what we are taught about love, doesn’t it? Often we’re taught that love is a sacrifice, that it’s not just flowery emotions or lustful passions, but laying down our lives for one another in service. This verse seems contradictory to that idea.
Let me try and help. If a man sold all he had and attempted to buy the love of a woman, most of us would react strongly, somewhere between bored disgust and outright rage. We’d look at that man and know that he might have desire in his heart, but no real love. He was attempting to make a transaction.
Real love isn’t transactional. It’s not looking to give something in order to get something in return. It’s birthed out of a much deeper, more real place, where, yes we’re willing to give all we have, but it’s because we love whoever it is we’ve fallen in love with.
The best example is God’s love. God’s love is never transactional. We could never earn it. If we sold everything in our house and gave it to the church or the poor in order to make God love us, it would be utterly despised. We can’t buy God’s love. Nor should we want to. If we buy love, it’s not love, it’s just a transaction.
This is why it’s good news that God loved us first. The apostle John says this, “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins,” (1 John 4:10). See, we cannot buy our way into this love. We can’t earn it. There is no level of righteousness that will get God to love us more than He already has. We can only receive the love of God and live lives that are a response to it.
But this is true for more than just God. We are called to love others, but often, especially within the church, we feel the need to try and win others’ love through serving. In many ways, this is giving what we have for love. It’s trying to earn love from others through our efforts or even trying to win love for God through what we do.
Now we still need to love others, but we cannot buy love through service or sacrifice. Have you ever been served by someone who you felt like didn’t love you? It doesn’t feel good. It feels forced. No one wants to feel tolerated. It’s the noisy gong and clanging symbol that Paul warns us about.
What do we do when we find we don’t love someone from the heart? We go back to God and ask Him to fill our hearts with His true love for that person. This may seem hopeless because you can do very little, but when you are convinced that God loves you in all of your weakness and mess it’s so much easier to love others who are weak and broken.
Love is stronger than death. It cannot be put out. But the fake love that doesn’t come from God will not last. Give yourself to getting the kind of love that will stand the test of time and overcome death.
You won’t regret it.
Today is Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Since there’s not much to write about the day where Jesus laid in the grave, I thought I’d take today and reflect a bit on how the cross affects the life of the believer.
The cross and the resurrection began a revolution in the life of humanity. Humans, who had lived under the thumb of sin for thousands of years, finally were freed from its dominance. They could have a relationship with God! We can draw close to God in a way that was never possible. But the cross changed more than just our position before God. The cross changed how we live with one another.
Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.
-Paul, Ephesians 5:2
Paul (and the other apostles) constantly call us to not just accept the work of the cross in our life. They also call us to follow the example of Jesus in how we relate to others. Many of us will read Paul’s letter and hear a call for Christians to “be nice.” Paul points us to lay our lives down in love for one another in the same way Jesus gave up His life on the cross.
This is a whole different level than just doing good to others. Jesus’ example means giving up our lives for the betterment of others. It means entering into situations others have created for no other purpose than to love and serve them. It often means you absorb the cost for others’ actions.
I remember a time back in college when we planted our first house church. I had just gotten done taking care of all my bills with my meager college income and I had just gotten paid and had a little extra cash in my pocket for the first time. It was at this exact moment that a single mom in our house church shared a need she had. She was behind on her electric bill and needed to come up with the cash to pay it. Somehow between all of us we came up with the cash, but the lesson I learned was this: My money isn’t just my money. In order to love like Jesus, I needed to lay down my life for others. In this case it was my excess cash that I was so happy about.
Friends, Jesus didn’t owe us anything. He entered our world and paid the price of our sin because He loved us, not because we deserved it. In the same way, He calls us to follow Him into the lives of others and love them in the same way.
Today (and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…) as we remember the price Jesus paid for our sins, commit yourself to share the kind of love you’ve received from Him with other believers in your life. Share the love you received in the same way He showed it to you.
[Update] Frequent commenter Dan left this well stated truth in the comment section:
He died once for sin but daily, moment by moment, gives Himself to us. We died once to sin, but daily, moment by moment give of ourselves to others.
[Editor’s Note: This is a 23-Day Series exploring different aspects of God’s nature and personality, using Tozer’s “The Knowledge of the Holy” as a discussion starter. You can read the introduction of the series here.]
Stop for a second and think about the attributes of God we have discussed so far: one-ness, self-existence, self-sufficiency, eternity, infiniteness, mercy, grace, etc. While all these attributes are awe inspiring, without love, they can at worst be terrifying and at best leave you tepid. Who wouldn’t be fearful of a God who is everywhere, eternal, unlimited, and all-knowing if he was a loveless being? And even if you have such a being who is merciful and full of grace, but doesn’t love you, you’re left with a cold relationship based on your loveless god’s pity. Love is the part of God’s nature that sets Him apart and makes Him desirable.
We have to be careful though. Many, as Tozer has pointed out, have taken John’s statement “God is love,” and have turned that phrase to mean “love is God.” The result has been anything that seems loving, some have turned and worshipped as God. But generic love is not God, but God is full of sincere and fervent love. While “love” has been used to describe just about anything humans do, God’s love acts as God does. Everything He does is done with love.
This love that we experience from God manifests in many ways. Love wills the good of another, so when true love from God rests on our heart, we are able to live without fear because “love casts out fear,” (1 John 4:8). When our knowledge of God’s love and His sovereignty are perfected, we are able to live fearless lives confident that His love will mean our good. God’s love also reminds us that He desires friendship. The fact that God has set His love on us means more than just He is a good person. It means He desires relationship. With you. There are staggering implications to this. Finally, love means that the person who loves takes pleasure in the person He has set his affections on. God is fully pleased with you. There is no more need to try and please. You are as loved as you are ever going to be.
Finally, Tozer reminds us that love never lies dormant. It’s always moving. It’s always extending itself to the one it loves. And this is true of God. Jesus told us “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13). And in the cross and since the cross, no one has laid down their life for us more than Jesus. He sacrificed Himself for us, He is always praying for us, and leading us in laying our lives down.
One of the things that makes the topic of love so important is that Christianity is really the only “religion” that is based upon a relationship of love with it’s God. Talk to any Muslim that you know and they don’t really have an understanding of a God who loves them. Many of the other religions have many gods or no god who very seldom enter into relationship. It’s only in Christianity that God has the heart of a Father toward His children. Human beings were made with a need for love. Our need for love was ultimately designed to be fulfilled by God. We remain empty until we receive it.
And this is why it is so critical that we understand God as a God of love. Christianity lived out of a place of encountering God’s love is electric. It changes a person. But Christianity lived outside of experiencing God’s love is like a clanging symbol. It means nothing to the world and frankly it’s irritating. It’s a code of ethics with no cause that changes no one. But when we are touched in our hearts with the warmth of God’s love, it melts our cold hearts and makes us alive on the inside.
When we experience this love, it changes us. Fire begets fire on this walk that we are on and we begin to live out the same principles of love that God has shown us. We will the go want good things for others, we extend friendship to them, we give of ourselves. The worlds finally gets to see people alive from the inside, living out the message of the cross. The result will be stunning. It’s what the world is waiting for.
That’s my takeaway today. What’s yours? Leave a comment so we can all grow together!
Day 20: The Love of God
Day 21: The Holiness of God
Day 22: The Sovereignty of God
Day 23: The Open Secret
If you’ve been following me on Twitter, I’ve been reading and quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s profound book “Life Together.” Here’s a quote I hope you enjoy:
“Emotional love lives by uncontrolled and uncontrollable dark desires; spiritual love lives in the clear light of service ordered by the truth. Self-centered love results in human enslavement, bondage, rigidity; spiritual love creates the freedom of Christians under the word. Emotional love breeds artificial hothouse flowers; spiritual love creates the fruit that grows healthily under God’s open sky, according to God’s good pleasure in the rain and storm and sunshine.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This blog has been temporarily overtaken by my Thirty Days To Greater Fruitfulness Challenge. You can find out more by checking out the Introduction.
In some ways, today was a rehashing of something the Lord spoke to me about yesterday. While I was waiting on the Lord, the Lord started to talk to me about how scattered I can be sometimes. And in the midst of Him showing me How scattered I am, He said, “You’re scattered because you want to know about everything going on around you. You cannot focus because you want to show your sense of control through your understanding.”
He then began to break down the difference between love and knowledge. Of course we all know that knowledge puffs you up, but love builds up others (1 Corinthians 8:1). But He began to show me that this constantly searching and grasping for understanding begins to make a person proud and give them a sense they are powerful. Then he showed me the nature of love and how love is focused. Love isn’t in a hurry and it can linger with someone beyond the initial “information grab” that allows a person to feel like they’ve grasped a person or a idea. Carnal knowledge will create a Christianity that is infinitely wide but very shallow. But love will push a person to linger in the presence of the Lord and even in the presence of others, creating depth beyond what many of us know.
So today I’ve been trying to focus on things more simply and not be in such a hurry. I’ve been trying to love and linger beyond my initial understanding of a person or a concept. And I’m beginning to enjoy lingering in the presence of the Lord in a different way than I have before.
So…no fruit in anyone else around me today…but I’m seeing some change in me and that’s a big win.
What changes are you seeing happen inside of you as you listen and obey? Leave a comment and let us know!
Join us on the “Thirty Days to Greater Fruitfulness” experiment. For the rest of September we are spending 30 minutes in silent prayer listening to Jesus and then acting on what He asks us to do. Then we blog about the changes that are occurring in our lives through the marriage of listening and obedience. It’s not too late. If you’re just checking out that experiment feel free to jump in. And if you want more information, you can check it out here.