Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 13

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Always Trusts.

Taking something at face value can be instinctive. It can be an almost unconscious reflex to unthinkingly react to the surface appearance of something. Yes (we admit later, when we are in a more reflective mood), we failed to employ deep thought and discernment but it seemed efficient at the time to just ‘see and do’ or ‘hear and say.’ Author Os Guinness tells the story of the blatantly chauvinistic Norman Mailer’s invitation to speak at the University of California Berkeley in the early 1970s amid a crowd of young feminists. Recognizing the brewing friction, Mailer invited his adversaries to speak up.

“Everybody in this hall,” invited Mailer, “who regards me as a male chauvinist pig, hiss.” “As if perfectly on cue,” chronicles Guinness, “the feminists broke out at once in loud, derisive hissing and booing…Mailer stepped back to the microphone, looked over to them, paused just a second or two, and said, ‘Obedient little women, aren’t you?’ (To sanitize his words somewhat).” Rather than freeing them from Mailer’s misogynistic domination, the audience’s surface reaction had reinforced their rival’s potency.

God is not like that. He never encourages superficial thought or action. Perhaps that is why our species contains little of the instinct the other creatures on this planet possess. Rather, God provides humans with the ability to access a higher-level process of thinking and problem solving; we observe something in our environment, we reason so as to fit this information into a coherent worldview, and finally we respond with fitting emotions and actions. The deliberate and conscious use of each of these steps will help us delve deeper and respond more wisely than superficially reacting to prima facie stimuli.

As we explore the ‘Love Chapter’ of I Corinthians 13, we come to the phrase “love…always trusts.” What does that word ‘trust’ mean? Is it blind hope in the midst of hopelessness? Is it a crutch for the slow-witted and aged? Is it nothing more than Marx’s “opium of the people”? No, God never invites shallow, mind-numbing confidence.

The word ‘trust’ is translated from a Greek word meaning to believe in someone or something to such an extent that one entrusts oneself to the not yet fully fulfilled promises of that person or thing. Wedding this definition with the above-mentioned higher-level process of problem solving, we can understand the Corinthian phrase better—but only if God is the sole object of our trust. To “always trust” then means to observe the love and faithfulness of God toward people—most notably in the ransoming achievement of Jesus’ death and resurrection; then it means to reason that God will for eternity personalize that faithfulness individually to each of us who embrace His gift (we call this ‘saving belief’); and thirdly, it means to respond with emotions of thankfulness, faith, and joy which lead us into actions aligned with our well-reasoned belief.

Scripture is teeming with reminders to trust in God:

“Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness…You who fear him, trust in the LORD” (Psalm 115:1,11).

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5,6).

“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength’…” (Isaiah 30:15).

“Then Jesus answered…Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1).

We are never called to trust in people, situations, or things, only in God. Therefore, among the aspects of love described in I Corinthians 13 that can be generalized to teach us how to love both God and people well, trust is the first trait whose object is restricted. God alone is worthy of our trust. God is emphatic about this, because He knows that the object of our trust intrinsically influences us. God wants that position because He is Sovereign, and because only He can bring ultimate good into our lives. When we trust in people, social movements, finances, or anything other than God Himself to meet our needs, we will become disappointed and even jaded. We will become less and less of who God designed us to be and eventually we will be unable to trust anything or anyone at all.

Love—embodied in God—invites us to trust in God. Love encourages us to entrust everything from our daily moments to our lifelong hopes into His care. And as we practice this trust day by day we will develop the ability to respond to life’s successes and defeats, its joys and sorrows, with depth and wisdom. And the more we trust in God, the more we will be able to love people around us well. So take the leap and become known as one who “always trusts.”

(Photo Credit: Meghan Bustard Photography)

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Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 8

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Is not Easily Angered.

We have read so far that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking…” Now we add “it is not easily angered.” It’s no surprise that the description of love as “not easily angered” falls close on the heels of “not self-seeking.” Anger is a close relative of the self-seeking behaviours.

From toddlerhood each of us develops extensive and creative systems for our own self-defense; its first expression is inevitably in the angry use of the word “No!” wielded with great authority from lips little more than novices in their own mother tongue. We learn early to defend our own self-determined plans and before long become masters at the task.

Self-defense—and by this I do not mean primarily physical protection of one’s self—is necessary when there is no one outside of ourselves to whom we can entrust the job of protection. If I see myself as the primary person responsible for guarding and fortifying the value of me (my ideas, my hopes and my dreams), I must practice self-defense. I must build certain walls and barriers to protect my vulnerabilities from being discovered, and my plans from being hindered. And in some cases, when my defense warning system is deployed, a weapon must be wielded to ensure self-protection—I give vent to unmitigated anger.

“For many,” observes C.S. Lewis, “the great obstacle to (love) lies … in our fear—fear of insecurity.” We may not consciously admit it to ourselves, but we are afraid for our very lives and we’re scrabbling to cover that fear with bluster.

The Biblical directives toward restraining anger are not external and superficial fixes. They are not commands to control our rage on the outside, while we continue to seethe and smolder or shake and shiver within. They get to the root of the problem, to our inner need to solve the problem of our insecurity. Let’s be ruthlessly honest: none of us is capable of loving like this chapter in I Corinthians suggests. We are rightfully insecure to recognize how little capable of loving (not to mention living rightly) we truly are.

Jesus once explained to a couple of disconsolate travelers that Scripture is not a list of dos and don’ts. It is not quick fixes or fake smiles. Scripture is all about Himself, Jesus—it’s a picture of Him coming into our sad human condition and offering us something we can never create for ourselves. He is the great Rock and Shield who alone can defend and protect our inner selves. He gave the Emmaus Road travelers example after example, and the revelation opened their eyes and ears.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” they asked each other afterward in awe. This was not the burning of anger but the warmth and energy of Christ’s loving Spirit entering into their hearts and minds and souls. This was the great ‘ah hah’ moment; they finally understood that Christ was moving through history to ensure He would—in God’s perfect timing—die for all humanity to rescue us all from our great insecurity, and then rise to lead us to everlasting life.

Jesus is perfect love. He initiates loving us, and if we receive His overtures, we find ourselves dropping our guard and finding true inner rest. The events or persons or situations that used to anger us now fall more and more under the influence and authority of Jesus, our Protector.

So once more we find Jesus to be relevant to life. No more hiding behind ramparts, shooting angry darts at others and causing chaos all round. When we come to Jesus for love, we gradually learn to recklessly love others without defending ourselves. No need for anger. Anger never worked anyways.

(Photo Credit: By Darren Shilson from St Stephen, UK, United Kingdom (Pendennis Castle B+W Uploaded by oxyman) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

A SEEKER’S STORY, Part 3

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Part 3: To Believe or Not To Believe (John 3:12-18)

“I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe;” Jesus challenged His nighttime visitor. “How then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” In this third look at a seeker’s shrouded visit to interrogate Jesus, we see the tables have been turned; Jesus now questions his examiner. He uses a rhetorical question to shed light on the real problem behind Nicodemus’ confusion – it is his refusal to believe. It is a challenge that transcends the moment in which it was asked.

Every one of us, here and now, is a recipient of that same question: “If you live life as if visible evidence is valid but invisible influences on life are suspect, how do you imagine you will have the capacity to understand eternal things?” It’s a good question for our empirical scientifically-based generation. We tend to make the assumption that scientific evidence bypasses and even negates the need for belief. In reality, though, there is a point at which we give mental assent to evidence before embracing that information as part of our domain, is there not? We believe a fact before we are willing to act according to it. Belief is an essential part of learning. It is the mortar for the brick construction of our life story.

Famous atheists would like us to believe (irony intended) that belief is an antiquated, self-destructive tool used only by fools and tyrants to access power. They lead us to believe that real, authentic, critical thinking occurs without the need for belief. They want us to believe that their form of thinking is without beliefs. Must we believe them?

Nicodemus, in fact, had earlier admitted a belief he held. He said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God…” He was willing to believe Jesus was a good man and a good teacher. That was easy. It required no investment of soul on his part to admit that. So why was he coming to see and question Jesus under cover of darkness this night? Did he suspect there was more to Jesus than just ‘good teacher’?

Jesus responds to Nicodemus by offering an explanation so clear and succinct it has become the pièce de résistance, the capstone treatise of the entire New Testament, if not the Bible. He says,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Think those words through carefully.

For God so loved the world’—God’s love and compassion is directed to every soul on planet earth: that’s not only Nicodemus: it’s you and me and billions of others.

that he gave his one and only Son’—Jesus is the unique Son of God, not merely a good man or teacher, but fully God and fully man, the only one capable of paying the terrible moral debt humanity owed.

that whoever believes in him’—yes, belief is rational, foundational, essential and individual.

shall not perish but have eternal life.’—the new ‘born again’ spiritual life has literally no end. There will be no perishing or cessation of life when the physical body dies.

In Jesus we see a beautiful blend of ‘earthly things’ and ‘heavenly things’. He is God-with-us, and His offer of life comes with the condition that we believe in Him – the entrusting kind of belief that requires we ‘put all our eggs in one basket’. It’s all or nothing with Jesus. Start believing Him and there is no end to the changes that will begin to happen in every aspect of our lives. Belief is not for the faint of heart, but it’s everything for those who believe God could love them. Do you believe it?

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-19285-0002,_LPG_Niederndodeleben,_Gefl%C3%BCgelwart.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-19285-0002,_LPG_Niederndodeleben,_Gefl%C3%BCgelwart.jpg)