Category Archives: Abundant Life

Loving God

The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to love God (see Deuteronomy 6 and Luke 11). Assuming we’re straight on the whole “who is God?” issue, I think it could be helpful to consider what love is and how we can actually direct this toward the God of the universe. I also can’t help but wonder if love is something that we are capable of doing in degrees (think: dimmer switch) or if it’s more binary (conventional light switch)…? You see, when it comes to loving God, maybe the issue is not a matter of loving him “better” (dimmer switch all the way up), but rather, a matter of loving him more consistently and pervasively.

I think we’re all aware of the fact that the New Testament was originally written in Greek and the Greek language has more than one word for love. The one Greek word used most commonly to refer to our love for God and neighbor is agapaō and it has a host of meanings. For instance, Thayer’s lexicon says that when used in reference to a master (I’m guessing we’re all OK with the idea of God as our master…), agapaō “involves the idea of affectionate reverence, prompt obedience, grateful recognition of benefits received.” I’d like to suggest that these three phrases are on some level, interconnected.

“affectionate reverence” is not the same as plain old “reverence.” It suggests a personal dimension, that there’s been some sort of interaction that makes this reverence more than simply the acknowledgement of superiority. This is more than an imposed reverence, but an emotional desire to honor someone. Curious stuff. Emotional affection isn’t something I typically associate with the notion of revering someone.

“prompt obedience” is not what we 21st century Americans normally associate with love, at least not consciously. The “affectionate” idea mentioned above is very much linked to common understandings of love – maybe it is the understanding of “love.” But suggesting that love is defined by our willingness to obey is almost certainly not what we think of when we think of “love.” Oh, and toss in the idea that this obedience is “prompt” and it feels more like military school than love.

“grateful recognition of benefits received” is the most easily recognizable notion, as much of our love is grounded in the sense that our lives are better because of the object of our love. Heck, this is even how we’ve come to say we love pizza – our lives are better because pizza is in it. On the more serious side, this reminds me of the famous text in 1 John 4.19, “We love because he first loved us.” There is a reciprocal dimension to love.

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When Christmas Falls on Sunday (don’t throw tomatoes!)

I love the Christmas season. A quick glance at my music library reveals 56 different artists and 1.2 days of continuous Christmas music. Oh, and most of this music is old. I’m not a fan of most contemporary Christmas music. I like Tchaikovsky and the Boston Pops. My favorite Christmas artist is Bing Crosby though, and I’m sure that a big part of this is due to my deep, DEEP sense of nostalgia. I grew up listening to Bing with my grandparents (who were actual Christmas elves). Like most families, we have our own Christmas traditions that go back many years, and every time we re-enact them, I feel a meaningful connection with family members who are no longer with us. “Christmas in Killarney” seems to bring my Irish grandfather right back (?) from heaven into the room with me…

Of course, Christmas is about more than music. Certain routines, foods, decorations, and movies are an integral part of making Christmas feel like Christmas. This is because traditions are a crucial part of what it means to be human. They combine some sort of waiting (Christmas music wouldn’t be special if we listened to it throughout the year) AND some significant repetition. If you didn’t repeat it, it wouldn’t be a tradition.

But “tradition” is not an ultimate good. Part of being human – alive! – is this sense of being dynamic and flexible. Corpses are stiff. When tradition becomes an absolute that cannot be touched under any circumstances, I think we need to consider that rather than making us human, these traditions are actually diminishing our humanity. Continue reading

Hearing, humility, and the complexity of submission

(note: I wrote this to assist Salem Tabernacle’s Life Transformation Group discussions)

The issue of submission is complex and nuanced, yet at the same time, frustratingly simple. A helpful starting point is, do we trust God to take care of us, even if evil authorities are in place over us?

Does “taking care of us” always mean protecting us from harm?

Is there something of greater value than our physical or psychological safety?

Are we trying to save our lives?

Is it helpful to think in generalizations? Yes! Generally speaking, God gave us life because he thinks living is a good thing. He doesn’t want us to merely survive – Jesus came so that we could have a thriving life! But note: that abundant life of John 10.10 is presented over and against the “thief’s” effort to steal, kill, and destroy [us]. So I don’t think that generally speaking, Jesus wants us to be victims of theft, violence or destruction. He will use those realities to transform us and at the same time, reveal the Age to Come through us. He will use death and destruction to reveal true love: “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.” (1 John 4.10) The early church blossomed in the midst of great suffering and pain. Abundant life was never meant to be fully realized in this first phase of it! Continue reading

Why Me?

“If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” [Genesis 25.22b]

Isn’t it nice to see the great heroes of the Christian faith showing us their humanness every once in a while? I think almost every person traipsing the globe has asked himself the question: “why is this happening to me?” The super-Christians are often quick to condemn such a thought as lacking in faith or even as a sign of rebellion, and this suppression of our questions can sadly result in people walking away from faith altogether. A good friend of mine once said, “There’s a difference between questioning God and asking God questions.” I have found that incredibly helpful over the course of the last ten years or so. Remember, we worship a God who invites his people to come and reason with him… (Isaiah 1.18)

The Genesis 25 text relates to the story of Rebekah, an amazing woman who left her family with a complete stranger to become the wife of a man she’d never even laid eyes her on! As she was leaving her family, they blessed her, wishing she would become the mother of tens of thousands (which, of course, she eventually would be!). The biblical text tells us that this strange new husband of hers loved her, so it seems that the marriage part of the story was working out well enough. A bit later on in the story we discover that our heroine Rebekah is barren – can’t have kids – yet her loving husband Isaac prays for her and she conceives. Oh, and she’s not just pregnant, she’s expecting twins! Life is going well for the couple and the prayers and promises of their parents are being fulfilled. Apparently God is faithful to his promises…

And then the kicking began. Rebekah’s pregnancy took a turn for the worse. These are the days before science, so it’s safe to assume Rebekah never went in for a sonogram. Regardless, she has the sense that these twins are going to kill each other in her womb. When she says “If it is thus…” most scholars suggest she is referring to the complications of her pregnancy, and that’s probably true, but as I read it today, I sensed something different. It was as if she said, “If you (God) saw fit to take me from my family, give me an amazing husband who loves me, miraculously heal my barrenness, and give me twins…WHY is this happening to me???” Sometimes it feels like God’s blessings in our lives are a set up for pain and frustration, that on the heels of victory comes some sort of inevitable mess.

God’s answer to Rebekah isn’t so much comforting as it is instructive: this struggle is bigger than you and this moment. I am constantly suffering as a victim of my own vision. Or lack of it. I only see this situation now. Me. My feelings or that person’s foolishness (never mine!). But God has a way of pulling us back from ourselves and our individual moments and says, “This isn’t about babies – it’s about nations.” What we think is the “end-all” is really nothing more than the first phrase of a prologue.

Whenever we’re tempted to ask, “why is this happening to me?” we need to remind ourselves that it’s probably not about “me” in the first place, and while that may not make us feel any better, it just might liberate us from living like slaves to our current circumstances.