Friday, September 14, 2012

Love: More Verb, Less Noun

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NLT)

Henry James was saying good-by once to his young nephew, Billy, or Willie as he called him. "Willie, there are three things that are important in human life. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind." -- (adapted) Frederick Buechner, "What Are We Going to Be?," Preaching Today, Tape 56.

No doubt, you have heard it many times, but it needs to be repeated often. The kind of love most needed in the world is not the warm, fuzzy, emotional high nearly as much as it is the practical, how-we-treat-each-other behavior. Do not misunderstand statements like this as a put-down on emotional love. That would be a great misunderstanding indeed. But, we need to recognize that warm emotions, as wonderful as they are, can never do what loving behavior does.

I suspect we hesitate to believe this is true. After all, we live in an age in which emotionalism is sometimes touted as the greatest and grandest of things. As long as we all feel good, then things must be right. Yet, the world continues to suffer from bad behavior, often by the very people who are spouting the latest love-language, and pleading for emotional connection.

You need to know that despite verbal claims of love, nothing compares to loving behavior and action. But, watch how many people will fall for the words flowing from a "lover's" mouth only to be crushed by that "lover's" behavior -- and that's just one example. Even sadder is to see those same crushed people fall for the same thing over and over again, seemingly unable to comprehend the root of the problem.

I wonder how many churches have talked love, preached love, studied about love and yet failed to love people? Do you think this might have been part of the problem with the priest and the Levite who passed by the poor man beaten and left to die by the robbers? Is it possible that the Samaritan who stopped, tended to his wounds, transported him to safety and even paid for further care might have understood more about love? Why, because he was a "touchy-feely" kind of guy or because he knew what the man needed and gave it to him? Do we love the lost or do we just love to condemn the lost?

Guess what. Jesus didn't come to condemn. He came to save. And, he did that because he loved them. Don't think that's right? Go read the third chapter of John's gospel then tell me what you think. Do you love your family? Your spouse? Your neighbors? Folks in your church? Do you?

Before you answer, how do you treat these people? This is the key to understanding love and to knowing whether or not you practice love. Nobody is against warm, positive emotions. But, love needs to be more of a verb and less of a noun.

Your Friend Jesus

19 “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”. . . . — Matthew 11:19 (NASB95)

Where human frailty once served as a reason for me to withdraw from the church, with its unruly and divergent congregants, this is now what compels me back to spiritual community. I had overlooked one essential factor—that I am as finite and flawed as everyone else. —Carmen Renee Berry

One of the most striking statements about Jesus is that he was a friend of sinners. That is an amazing idea. Jesus was God in the flesh. His own life was flawless, no sin at all. He lived a pure, righteous life. He wasn’t like you, or me, in that scripture teaches that he was sinless.

Now, he relates to us because he was tempted in all the same ways we are tempted, so he understands the potential and power that sin can exert. But neither you, nor I, can claim to be sinless. We have failed. In fact, we fail all the time. Don’t let some Christians fool you into thinking they are above the same faults as anyone else. We sin. Present, past, or future, we sin.

Now, much of the time, we seem pretty understanding about all this sin. People are very “forgiving,” when others make a mess out of life. That is, until those people sin against us. Then, forgiving becomes very hard, sometimes impossible. It’s not unusual for people to remember a sin that hurt them personally years after it happened - sometimes a lifetime! It’s different when somebody sins against you, or me.

That’s what makes Jesus such a unique person. You see, since Jesus is God’s son, all our sins are sins against him, personally. He could take it pretty hard. He could take our sins exactly like we take the sins of others committed against us. Instead, Jesus comes over and puts his arm around us and treats us like we’re friends.
Don’t misunderstand. Don’t get the idea that Jesus likes our sins, or thinks they are unimportant. That isn’t true. Our sins just kill him! Well. They did. You don’t think our sins hurt him? Being nailed to a cross and dying there hurt badly. The worst hurt may not have been physical at all, it may have been bearing our sins on that cross.

If I could tell you one thing that might change your life, it would be that Jesus is your friend. Despite your sins. Because of your sins. He loves you so much. Remember that.

"Come Meet Jesus"

40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). — John 1:40–41 (NASB95)

One of my favorite people in the Bible is a guy named Andrew. The reason I like him so much is that I think it’s easier to follow Andrew than lots of other people. I mean, there are many Bible characters who are larger than life. Abraham would be tough to top. How about Samson with all his long-haired strength? Anybody want to try to be like David? Or Solomon? How about Peter, or Paul, or John? Sure we can come close to each one, but to be like any of them would be a stretch for most of us.

Then there’s Andrew. We don’t know a lot about Andrew, but what we do know says that pretty much anybody could be like him. He seems quiet, unassuming, and mostly a behind-the-scene kind of guy. Though an apostle of Jesus, he didn’t write any books of the New Testament, we don’t find him going on mission trips, and we don’t see him taking the lead. Now he could have done all of that, but he’s not presented that way in the Bible. But there is something about him that is outstanding.

In John’s gospel, it’s Andrew who quickly saw Jesus and understood who He was. In modern terms, Andrews might be called an “early adopter” because he was among the first to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Not everybody can so quickly come to that conclusion, but it’s a great example to leave for us.
Then, Andrew found his brother, Peter, and declared, “We have found the Messiah.” It was Andrew who brought Peter to Jesus.

Later in John’s gospel, it’s Andrew who noticed that there was a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish. He wasn’t sure what could be done with them, but it turns out to have been the basis for one of Jesus’ best known miracles, feeding the 5,000.

Again in John’s gospel, some Greeks came and wanted to see Jesus. They first came to Philip, who talked it over with Andrew. The two of them then went to Jesus.

It seems that Andrew often brought people to Jesus. Different times, and different reasons motivated him to do so, but it’s a compelling testimony about the man. And it’s why I think more of us today could learn from, and follow, Andrew’s example. You see, anybody can bring somebody to Jesus. You don’t have to have all the answers, nor do you have to be some outstanding leader. You don’t have to know how it’s all going to turn out. You just need the confidence that Jesus is the Messiah, and invite others to come meet Him. I’m so thankful for Andrew, and all the other “Andrews” who don’t need to be some top dog. You see, they know the “top dog,” and say, “Come see.”