Monday, November 20, 2006

I want to know what love is, Discovering God’s Love among Kingdom Friends

I gotta take a little time
A little time to think things over
I better read between the lines
In case I need it when I’m older

Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like a world upon my shoulders
I through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder

In my life there’s been heartache and pain
I don’t know if I can face it again
Cant stop now, I’ve traveled so far
To change this lonely life

I wanna know what love is- I want you to show me

I wanna know what love is... Foreigner – I want to know what love is. In 1984 this song by Foreigner became the Billboard’s # 1 hit several weeks in a row. The popularity of this song is quite surprising considering the content and style of most of the music during the big hair and spandex era. Yet this song evokes something deep inside of all of us if we truly want to hear it. I want to know what love is, I want you to show me.

Some of us have taken the long and difficult road of asking this question in all the wrong places. We find ourselves, sometimes decades later, asking the same question that we asked in our teens and twenties and thirties. I want to know what love is, I want you to show me. We went looking for love in all the wrong places. Expecting to find it in people, material possessions, work, recreation, t.v. movies, or romance novels. Some of our expectations that we develop as a result of these influences are good, and some are not so good.

I want to know what love is.

This is the question that we are going to look at today as we attempt to understand the seemingly ever elusive question about love, and how the development of what we have come to understand as Kingdom Friends will assist us and guide us on the lifelong journey and discovery of love.

We are in a series about building Kingdom Friendships and the understanding of kingdom friends comes to us from the understanding of God’s will in our lives to be a part of His kingdom here on earth. God’s kingdom has often been called the upside down kingdom because when we come to understand God’s teaching, will, and transforming action in our lives we find that it is an almost upside down understanding of what we thought to be real and true in our lives before we came to desire a relationship with God.

If there is one word that has been used, misused, misunderstood, disregarded, scoffed at, cried over, sung about and written about surely it is the word love and what that evokes in all of us.

So why is love so misunderstood? Everyone has a definition in mind about what love is. For most of us this is unspoken or unwritten or worse yet, perhaps unexamined. In my home we have a saying about “they”. You know the familiar phrase “well you know they say that the movie is good.” Or “They say that it’s going to snow.” Or “they say that microwaving with saran wrap causes cancer.” Our tongue in cheek response to these statements is “who is they and how did they get so smart?”

So if we are going to look at what love is maybe we should first begin with what “they” say. It seems that most everyone famous has an opinion on love and it’s importance in their lives, some are quite profound, and others…..well you can be the judge.

Love is the thing that enables a woman to sing while she mops up the floor after her husband has walked across it in his barn boots. Hoosier Farmer

We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love. Author Unknown

He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals."Benjamin Franklin

You can't go home with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You don't sleep with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You don't get hugged by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and you don't have children with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I want what everybody else wants: to love and to be loved, and to have a family. Being in love has always been the most important thing in my life." Billy Joel

Forget love - I'd rather fall in chocolate! Attributed to Sandra J. Dykes

"Bart, with $10,000, we'd be millionaires! We could buy all kinds of useful things!" Homer

There are so many more “theys” out there. Love has become an industry in many ways. Sex shops are often euphemistically called “love” shops. But the ultimate industry is the love song.

How many love songs have been written, and what is your favorite? Don’t get me wrong, I like love songs. But there have been times in my life when love songs have influenced me to the point where they have evoked a yearning in my heart that told me that I would only feel completely and wholly loved if I were to find the right woman, and then the movies and magazines and novels and t.v. shows played their role in defining to me what the “right” woman may look like, act like, and be like.

I detest 'love lyrics.' I think one of the causes of bad mental health in the United States is that people have been raised on 'love lyrics." Frank Zappa

Now, at first glance Frank Zappa seems to be cynical and unfeeling towards our understanding of love and the yearning of our hearts. But I wonder if maybe he is not on to something here. How many love lyrics have we been influenced by? That have told us that we will only find true love when we find it in what someone else can give to us, do to us, do for us. This wistful yearning in our hearts that is evoked when we hear a song that touches us deeply, and yet, while perhaps suggesting that we can discover the answer in another person, maybe this yearning is a prompting of God that is calling to us. I truly believe that we are all trying to find the answer to that elusive question, I want to know what love is.

Often times we hear the term “being in love” yet if we were to be truthful with ourselves being in love is usually translated into “being in lust.”

When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving oneself, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance. Oscar Wilde

Being in love, and loving are two very separate things.

What if we are being influenced by an illusion?

What if what we are reading, watching, playing, and spending our time thinking about is an illusion?

What if “they” are wrong? I think I chased this illusion for much of my life. Searching for affirmation, purpose, meaning, and inevitably love in my career, my possessions, other people, romantic fantasies, sex, play, recreation.

But the yearning in my own heart continued. I didn’t understand love and I avoided pain, struggle, hardship and sacrifice. My desire to find love was real but if I was to be honest with myself, it was very self centered. I was once described as wanting to live my life as a beer commercial. You know those old commercials where you had healthy and happy looking people talking and laughing, and enjoying a good time in a ski chalet somewhere?

In many ways this was true. I was always touched by movies and TV shows that evoked a picture of true and deep friendships, genuine love and care for one another, in good times and bad. The sad part was the illusion. I didn’t find what I was looking for in the beer world. In fact I have often said that I found my “beer commercial” life in the most unusual of places, I found my beer commercial of fellowship and love and laughter and genuine care and love among Kingdom Friends, fellow followers of Jesus who have taken the road less traveled of faith, and growth, and who have committed to growing in God’s way of love. The upside down Kingdom.

We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love. Tom Robbins

Many people believe in God. But when we think about God, why do we not think that He may have something to say about love?

Perhaps it is from our own understanding of God based on our backgrounds, experiences, influences, both good and bad. Of who God is and what He may have to say to us about our lives.

“If you were to define God by only one word what would it be?”

“Obedience, he replied.” I then took him through a very highly oversimplified, and perhaps spiritually immature process of comparing his understanding of God compared to what the bible would have to say. I took him to his concordance at the back of his Bible and asked him to compare how many times the word love appeared verses how many times the word obedience appeared. It was about ten to one in favor of love.

Don’t get me wrong, I desire to be obedient to God, his desires, his standards of living. But I do so first and foremost out of an understanding that God loves me, and I desire to obey Him from a passionate pursuit of Him through my own love for Him. The Bible tells us that we learn to love God when we begin to understand and experience the fact that He is radically in love with us. The love and pursuit of God transforms everything inside of us to a burning desire to know Him more.

We cannot develop a burning love for God if we do not have a burning desire to know Him more. There is absolutely no doubt that if we begin to understand and know God, we come to realize that what God’s own Word, the Bible, says about Him is true.

One of Jesus’ followers, John, wrote this about God and our relationships that stem from our understanding of God.

“My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love, so you can’t know him if you don’t know if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about - not that we once upon a time loved God, but that He loved us and sent his son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.”
1 John 4: 7-10

If we can come to the understanding that God is love and his perfect love casts out all fears, then why is it that we spend a lot of our time pursuing what “they” tell us love is, and not pursuing what He tells us love is.

Are we going to believe “them” or are we going to believe God?

If we believe that God is the giver of all life, the maker of all things, our passionate and loving Father in heaven who desires good for us, then, perhaps, we need to turn to him to ask the question, I want to know what love is? I want you to show me. Because it is this question that is the ultimate question in life.

God is love
He made us to love and be loved

In the minds of many, including song writers and romance novelists love is often simply an emotion
a) A feeling that cannot be forced
b) an emotion that can come and go (example: I don’t love you anymore)

Yet the greatest commandment that Jesus gave when he was being questioned and tested by the spiritual legalists of his day was that we are commanded to love. In other words, it is something he tells us to do, not necessarily feel. But this sounds rather dry and just another things to put on our “to do” list. Another form of legalism and relationship with God that requires effort. But lets go deeper into this command and discover together among Kingdom Friends what this command really means.

Before we can love and be loved as God would have us do, we must first look at the intimate desires of our own hearts.

Psalm 37:4 says,
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him and he will do this.”

But then in Jeremiah 17:9 we read
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure, who can understand it?”

So if we delight in God and commit our way to him and we believe he will give us the desires of our hearts, how can we trust that those desires are real and true. What if our desires come from what Jeremiah tells us is the condition of our own heart.

The key here, once again, comes down to God.
“ When we commit our ways to God, when we love him with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength, our desires are transformed into his desires.”

This means that our desires no longer pursue the way of self, rather they pursue and are transformed into the way of God. It is then that we are able to comprehend what God has to say about love. We turn to Him instead of “them” ( how did they get so smart anyway?) We learn to love God and commit to him and seek after Him through purposeful intent. We do not get to understand God by a magic wand, or an epiphany ( although we can learn something about him this way). We love him with our hearts, minds, and strength through intentional pursuit in through his word, silence and solitude, prayer, listening and discerning in a community of Kingdom Friends.

“Grace is opposed to earning. Grace is not opposed to effort.” Dallas Willard

A few years ago I was asked to do a reading at a wedding. The familiar verse that was requested was 1 Corinthians 13. This is the famous verse on what love is and isn’t. And if we are going to ask the question of what love is, it is one of the most obvious places to look.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding going or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. IF I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

This is the first part of the verse and really what it tells us is that no matter how gifted, talented, smart, wise, or pious that we are. If we do not have love it is all for nothing.

When it comes to relationships, anything minus love equals nothing. Zero. Love is essential. We are bankrupt without love.

The verse goes on to tell us what love truly is.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

This second part defines the character of love.

Paul originally wrote these words to a church that had all kinds of things going on. They were a growing church. They were a church full of people who knew their spiritual design and knew what their spiritual gifts were and were using those gifts. They had enough faith to pray big prayers and to expect big answers from God and yet at the same time they were a church that argued constantly. There were groups that felt superior to one another and they tolerated all kinds of immorality in their lives and in the lives of other people.

But it's the second section, this section that talks about the character of love that I think we need to give special attention. Twelve bachelorettees compete for the affections and attention of a man on TV and gradually the group is whittled down to the point that there is only one. And so then there is this couple. At that point when it's just the couple, what do they have in their relationship at that point? Is it love?

It seems to me that most of the time we use the word love for relationships. We usually are thinking of romantic love and romance is good. But romance presumes some things. It assumes that the loved one is attractive and it assumes this incredible emotional intensity and energy so that the one who loves can't help but pursue the one loved and serve them and that's beautiful, but this idea of romantic love is a far cry from what Paul is talking about here because the love that Paul writes about is more than emotion. It's a love that can even love the unlovable.
My friend Jack who passed away last year epitomized the type of love that Paul is talking about here.

Now sometimes when we use the word love what we mean is tolerance. Let everyone do what they want. You do your thing and I will do mine and this you know is a beautiful thing and it's you know, this is love. But it isn't. Tolerance is good, but it's not the kind of love that Paul is talking about, because sometimes love demands change. If you live in a culture where people abandon babies just because they are female and they want a male child. Love, If you are living in that society, might compel you to seek change. If you love someone who is having a problem with drug abuse, love may lead you to intervene and not just tolerate the behavior.

God loves us enough to accept us just as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us that way. C.S. Lewis

So sometimes love demands change. So the love that Paul is talking about here is more than just tolerance.

We are looking here today at love and kingdom friendships. Before committing my life to God through Jesus I had many friendships. Some of them seemed to be deep. But they often remind me of the movie or t.v. scenes where the only times that guys can admit their affection for each other is when they are drunk. They are at a bar, they are a little loose, and they have been talking and one of them is starting to realize that this other guy he really has been listening to me and we really have something in common and we really have some kind of level of understanding and so you know he kind of tears of little bit and "I love you man". And then there is some kind of awkward you know hug or something, but we all experience that, that friendship that is so deep and touches us in such a way that we use the word love and it's a beautiful thing.

It's not what Paul is talking about here. But Paul doesn't let us guess what love is all about. He gets real concrete about expressing what love is about. So he talks in verse 4, he says love is patient. It can relax in the present. It doesn't always grumble about the current state of affairs. It's willing to tolerate slow change and its willing to try again. Love is patient. Love is kind. It's warm. It's sympathetic. It sees and feels the difficulty of the other person. It's not cold and analytical. Love is kind. Love doesn't envy. It doesn't boast. It isn't proud. There is no we/them, superiority in love. Love recognizes its own weaknesses and its own need for grace. It's not rude. It avoids abrasive, contemptuous language. Love listens. Love is a dialogue and not a monologue. Love doesn't treat a person like a family pet and scold them. It's not easily angered. It's more than putting a clamp on the tongue. Love works at that inner part of us and tries to deal with that inner part of us that gets angry too easily.

Love is not easily angered. It always protects. It always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. In other words, love expects God to work and love is constantly hoping for change in people and love doesn't give up after one good try. It's going to try again and it's going to try again and it's going to try again. This is real love.

Now this is different than something that we hear as a bunch of celebrities talk on the Oprah Show. I mean, there are real things there, but there is something different about this. And it's only this kind of love that's going to stand the test of time.

It is this love that will stand the test of time

Love is not always a feeling, it is always a choice

You see there is a part of us that really longs to be accepted this sort of way. To be secure in a love that can love us like this and there is a part of us that wants to love like this ourselves. There is a part of us that really wants to be big enough to love others with this sort of love.
Paul is not speaking in this passage to married couples or about romantic love. This is found elsewhere in his writings. He is talking to a church, and he is telling people within the church that this is the kind of relationships that you need to have. And this same principle applies toward any deep relationships we have outside of the church. This is the characteristic of real love wherever we experience it and give it. It's even true in our relationship with God.

God loves us like this. God is patient with us. God is kind to us. He is not easily angered with us. These things are true. If we put Jesus' name instead of love in this passage, Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind, Jesus doesn't envy, we see a picture of the kind of life that Jesus lived and so we have this assurance that this is the way God loves us. So that means that God accepts us right now as we are, but God loves us enough to not leave us there. He wants us to change. He wants our desires to be transformed to His desires, and he is patient with that.

Kingdom friendships, including our marriages and family, is about changing and growing and transforming together. In God’s grace. This change does not come about as a way to gain favor with God and each other. God’s grace is his gift to us. Kingdom friends walk alongside us in love and patience and kindness as we discover some of the character issues that God is encouraging us to let go of as he transforms our hearts and souls and minds into his own likeness.

God will not give up on us. He is the God who was revealed to us through Jesus who told Peter that we must forgive others seven times seventy times. Jesus would not have said this had it not been his own character, that is the character of God.

God is love, and love does not give up

God will persevere in his love for us. But since he wants us to change, one of those areas he would like us to change is for us to love like this. So that's the other part of this, is that we are called to love. To love like this.

If I were to put my own name in the place of love in the second part of 1 Corinthians 13 I would have to wince, why don’t you join me…. Bob is patient, Bob is kind. Bob does not envy, Bob does not boast, Bob is not proud. Bob is not rude, Bob is not self-seeking, Bob is not easily angered, Bob keeps no record of wrongs.Bob does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

I know that I want to love like this. I also know that I can’t do it on my own strength. I need something more. I need God, and His character of love will transform my character of love. This type of love becomes who we are, not what we do.

So we need to do a little soul searching. If we are thinking about the issue of kingdom relationships and if we are thinking about how important these are in wanting to grow in these relationships no matter how we experience them, whether we are married or not, whether we are young or old we need to look at ourselves and look at how we define love, and ask God our Father to shape and mold us into His love.

For C.S. Lewis, the definition of love was what most sharply differentiated the Christian worldview from the secular worldview. In 1960, he wrote a book called The Four Loves, which compared the divine, unconditional love inherent in Christianity to the affection for family and friends and sexual love that Freud covered in his work. The difference, he said, was that the divine love enables a person to love without any direct personal benefit, while most other forms of love are at some level motivated by a desire to fulfill a self-interest. This unique form of love did not simply evolve from human experience, in Lewis's view, but rather, was implanted in every human being by God through what Lewis termed "the moral law."

When God produces within us the ability to love ourselves and to love other people. That’s the miracle, that’s the good news.

"Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained." C.S. Lewis

You don't have to go looking for love when it's where you come from. Werner Erhard

True love, God’s love, the way of a follower of Jesus is radically different than what we may read, hear, see and experience. This is the upside down Kingdom. This is the Kingdom beer commercial if you will.

The character of God’s love becomes less and less what I am getting and more and more about the eyes of my heart changing towards others. It is inner transformation through God’s grace and power, that allows you and I to see as He would see.

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. St. Augustine

God invites us in community to discover what love is. If we want to know what love is and we want him to show us, he is faithful and true and good. He will show us. The more we understand Love the way God is love, the more we turn to Him and the less we turn to “them”.

Instead of asking “who are they and how did they get so smart?” We begin to ask “Who is God, and how can I love and be loved like Him?”

I challenge us all today to ask that question and truly desire to seek the answer, with all your soul and might and mind. “who is God, and how can I love and be loved like Him?”

God’s love is extravagant, His love is overwhelming, His love will bring us the deepest desires of our hearts, if only we would believe and let Him have his way with us.

Have you looked for love in all the wrong places? Have you been listening to “them” instead of “him”. Welcome to the club, you are not alone, we all have to a degree. Turn to Him, He will show you love, He will bring you purpose, He will bring you to a deeper, more intimate understanding of how we are to love and be loved. The father’s love is extravagant and He wants you to let him into your heart, so you may find true love. by Bob Stenhouse


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