Monday, February 28, 2011

The Primacy of Love

Love is ill-defined.  It's not easy to pin down.  But something inside most people tells them that love has something very central to do with the meaning of life.  People near death regret their self-centered pursuits in life and wish they had spent more time with family.  Even violent criminals who reject all decent human relationship are grasping at a feeling of power to fill the void left by the power of love in their hearts.  Having power over people can feel deceptively similar to being loved by them.  Little kids are the most telling, however.  Just watch one of those little rug rats for 10 minutes... yep, we were made for love.

Does the Bible agree with this gut feeling or not?  According to the Bible, the answer to the questions of what is most important, what you were created for, and what God wants is the same - love.  There's a hitch, though.  This can mean completely different things depending on one's definition of love.  To one, it removes all sexual boundaries.  To another, it means spending the rest of her chaste life in Calcutta relieving the suffering of the lowest outcasts. What exactly is love?

The Bible doesn't give a hard and fast definition of love.  Instead, it points to the cross of Jesus Christ and says, "Look at that - that's what love is." (my paraphrase)  In another passage, it lists the behaviors and attributes of love so we know how to recognize it in ourselves and others.  That makes it pretty easy to pick out the fakes and enemies, but it doesn't proscribe a formula.  

The Scriptures also assert love's unique place among personal traits by saying that it's possible to have every single other positive trait and still not have love (1 Corinthians 13.) That's unsettling - because of both the ambiguity and the purity. So, I ask again, what is love?  (Cue Haddaway... sorry, I couldn't resist! Ok, enough jokes.)  

To make an analogy: love is less like Maxwell's equations than it is like a juicy apple.  You can't know it until you taste it! And, it necessarily involved pleasure. Here's another key from our passage in 1 Corinthians 13, which contrasts love with knowledge.  "Love never ends... as for knowledge, it will pass away... So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."  When you pass into the next the life, it won't matter how much you know.

One final distinction remains to be made. Whom should be loved first? Pay close attention to Jesus' prioritization in the following passage.  Everything depends on it.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”                                      -Matthew 22:34-40
If you don't know God, this is your confirmation that the meaning of your life does indeed center on love - your love being given to God first!  The Bible says He is jealous, and His eyes are like a flame of fire.  Run to Him and get consumed by love and truth.  Follow Jesus.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Do you want to know God?

Do you really want to know the answers to the big questions? If you're like most people, the answer is "No way!"  The unifying ethic of your life is to follow what makes you feel good.  As a successful person, you value delayed gratification, but it's really only on a scale of days, months, or even years for the most disciplined.  The practical agnosticism of popular American culture has permeated your thinking.  To say you're not sure about God is an understatement; you're not sure you even care.

The problem with your ability to ascertain the truth about God is not in your intellect, but in your heart.  Those temporary comforts like food, cars, trips, jobs, and even family are enough to distract you from thoroughly questioning their eternal value.  You easily allow your curiosity to be quelled. For some, your depression is rooted in that nagging, honest feeling that you're missing something central, but you've allowed someone to "help" you feel better about it.  Pain should drive us to cure its cause, not just mitigate its symptoms.  

Don't fight the initial discomfort caused by probing questions such as, "Who made me?" and "Why?" Everything is at stake.  Use your reason and study the evidence, but realize that you are not alone is this endeavor to find the truth.  Someone is actively hindering your investigation. You obeyed him instead of God (you thought you were just doing what you wanted,) and now he doesn't want you to let you go free.  Your oppressor is the Father of Lies, God's enemy.  Not only are you a resident of his kingdom/concentration camp, but because your rebellion against God involved your mind and heart, he has influence over that, too.  After years of sinister brainwashing at the hands of his prison guards, you've barely got your wits about you, spiritually speaking.  If there was an escape plan afoot, how would you know about it?  Do you even want to? What now? Enter the Jesus the Liberator.

So [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: 
          "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
          Because He has anointed Me
          To preach the gospel to the poor;
          He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
          To proclaim liberty to the captives
          And recovery of sight to the blind,
          To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
          To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." 
Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
                                                                                           - Luke 4:16-21
Start the prison break.  The only thing you have to do is come to the end of yourself and ask Jesus for help.  There is no prerequisite for doctrinal agreement before you do this; in fact, if you wait to sort out all the facts you may never come to Jesus.  Don't worry; He will help you with that later.  Get yourself into the Kingdom of God as quickly as you can.  Ask God to free your mind so that you can know Him and obey his commandments. This is the only alternative to death in the devil's concentration camp.

Have you ever really tried to seek God?  To understand Him? To know what your Creator wants so that you can prioritize that above your own desires?  If they're honest, most people will answer "No." There may have been a time in your life where you felt very awful, maybe because you were a victim or maybe because you were guilty, and you felt humble and temporarily emotional enough to ask God for some relief.  But in your mind, you were committing an irrational act of desperation with no real expectation of a reply.

Here is a guarantee: if you seek God, you will find Him.  In the Sermon on the Mount (of "...turn the other cheek..." fame,) Jesus said, "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." (Matthew 7:8)  Are you really seeking God or just satisfying intellectual curiosity? Are you truly humble, or do you think you can fix yourself through your own efforts? Do you expect Him to answer you?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Test post

I just downloaded an app for my iPod touch that will let me post on the blog, so here goes.