4 Essentials for Your Broken World Survival Pack

Last Sunday night I received a call at 1:30 a.m. It was my son, Schaeffer.

Those are never “good news” calls. 

A little back story.

It was the last night of his spring break. He and some friends were enjoying a late night slice of pie at the City Cafe’ in Downtown Chattanooga. His Jeep had been in the shop for 2 ½ months having the engine replaced… twice.

It was 1:30 a.m… in downtown Chattanooga, and his Jeep wouldn’t start. All it could be was the engine again. I couldn’t go back to sleep. Would I have to drive up and have it towed? Would the engine have to be replaced again?

The stress kept me up all night. 

  • But it’s not just vehicles that break. Everything breaks.
  • Appliances. Electronics. Our bodies. Relationships. Dreams are shattered.
  • Just this week: Commercial airline crash. Midwest floods. The revelation of widespread academic corruption. A mass killing in New Zealand. 

How are we to survive our journey through such a broken world?

1 Corinthians 13:8b-13 provides an answer, giving us 4 Essentials to Include in Our Broken World Survival Pack.

13:8b Where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part 10 but when the perfect comes, what is in part passes away.11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then, we shall see face to face. Now, I know in part; then, I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Essential #1: EMBRACE OUR CONTEXT

Paul says in verse 9, “When the perfect comes.”

The Greek word for perfect is telios.

Teleology (teleos + logos) is “the study of somethings purpose, goal, or end -- finality).

For example, the Greek philosopher Aristotle claimed that an acorn's telos is to become a fully grown oak tree.

Theologians call our present context “the already but not yet.”

The tree has sprouted but is not full grown.

We are living in the middle of history.

Like a story. There is a beginning/creation (Genesis) and a conclusion (Revelation). In the middle, there is struggle, strife, chaos, brokenness, and sin.

There is also redemption. There is grace. Because there is a cross in the middle of history.

We are living in the middle of history. Like a story. There is a beginning/creation (Genesis) and a conclusion (Revelation). In the middle, there is struggle, strife, chaos, brokenness, and sin.There is also redemption. There is grace. Because there is a cross in the middle of history.

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A glorious “conclusion” awaits those who receive the grace proclaimed by that cross → paradise restored.

Understanding life in the “now” is like putting a puzzle together and realizing that there are lots of pieces missing. God has all the pieces and will reveal them in due time. 

Essential #2: VALUE GOD’S GIFTS

While the Corinthians tended to overemphasize the three gifts Paul mentions in verse 8, prophecy, tongues, and words of knowledge, they were given by God to help us know him and grow closer to him in “the already but not yet.”

I spent the summer of 1989 in Spain. Kristy and I were dating at the time. Received letters almost daily from Kristy. This was pre-internet and cell phone.

We tried talking on the phone once, but at $10/minute (dollars, not cents!), we had to talk so fast we couldn’t understand each other. 🙂 So we wrote letters.

I cherished those letters. Read them and reread them.

This is what these gifts were given to help us understand and cherish -- God’s letters to us in the Bible, personally applied.

This is why Sundays together are designed to be a weekly oasis of grace, where God’s words to us are central to all we do, serving as a means of grace to help us know God more intimately as we journey through the brokenness.  

Essential #3: LOOK AHEAD

In verses 11-12, Paul uses two illustrations, not just for theological purposes to indicate when the temporariness of the spiritual gifts that would cease but to encourage us to look ahead to the day when the kingdom fully comes in all of its perfection and maturity. Twice he contrasts the “now” with the “then” to come.

Those of us who were taken by our parents on long road trips remember saying those words, “How much longer?”

That is still the cry of the soul, isn’t it? “How much longer?”

That is still the cry of the soul, isn’t it? “How much longer?”

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Romans 8:18, “I do not consider our present sufferings worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us.”

It is in the context of that future glory that we will know God even as we are presently known.

While the Corinthians made really great mirrors, a reflection isn’t the same as the real thing. Kind of like our photographs. But an image of someone in a photo can never replace being with them in person.

When I was in Spain, I loved the letters, but I wanted more than letters! I wanted to be with Kristy in person.

But that is how we will experience Jesus. In person!

Psalm 16:11, “In your presence is the fullness of joy!” [GLORY]

Essential #4: CELEBRATE YOM HASHOAH

Say what? Let me explain.

Each spring in Israel, the nation observes a day of memorial called Yom HaShoah. In English, it is called Holocaust Remembrance Day, a commemoration of the genocidal execution of Jews under Nazi Germany during the second world war.

Have you ever wondered what Holocaust means?

The Hebrew noun olah (עֹלָה) occurs 289 times in the Old Testament. It usually is translated as a “burnt offering,” something which is consumed with fire and goes up in smoke.

In the Greek translation of the original Hebrew Old Testament (Septuagint), the word olah is translated with the Greek word ὁλόκαυστος (holókaustos), from hólos (“whole”) + kaustós, (“burnt”). We get the word “caustic” from kaustos.

You see, Christians celebrate Yom HaShoah, too. Not by focusing on the 20th-century holocaust, but by focusing on the 1st-century holocaust, when Jesus was executed in our place upon a cross.

As the incinerating fire of judgment fell upon the Savior, our sins went up in smoke. No longer recognizable. They cease to exist.

Some of us really, really need to remember and believe this.

I know that I do. It is the only way that I will survive MY BROKENNESS.

The holocaust of the cross means that you and I are free to be honest and real about our need for mercy.

The holocaust of the cross means that you and I are free to be honest and real about our need for mercy.

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In his book, Irresistible Faith, my friend Scott Sauls writes, “Let’s remember this for ourselves and also for those God places in front of us, [that] neither a foul mouth in front of the children, nor any amount of self-loathing, nor an addiction to heroin, nor self-destructive decision making (whether over-eating, over-drinking, over-shopping nor porn nor anger nor… anything) is any match for the kindness and mercy of Christ.”

Do you believe that? Will you believe it?

When we remember the implications of the cross, we experience the great triad of verse 13:

  • Faith → trusting in the finished work of Jesus
  • Hope → anchoring our souls to the finished work of Jesus
  • Love → resting our lives in the finished work of Jesus -- the love of God for us

They say that April showers bring May flowers. If that is the case, get ready for some serious blooms! This year it seems like it hasn’t stopped raining, which is an apt metaphor for some of our lives. Living in the “now” is like the rains of spring. But eventually, they really will produce sunny skies and flowered fields. 

4 Stops on the Road to Loving Like Jesus

Last week, we covered most of chapter 12, where Paul addressed was how the church is like a body, or a team, with many parts working together to achieve a common purpose. Each part has a gift to use -- a grace gift given by the Holy Spirit that enable each believer to play his or her part on the team as a part of the body.

Every part is valuable and necessary for the church to function at full capacity.

The church at Corinth was gifted. But then something happened that threatened an implosion. 

  • What can go wrong with a church that is so gifted?
  • How does such a gifted team implode? How does this happen to a family, a business, or a church?
  • How can each one of us can be part of the solution?

In this post, we are going to take a journey through 1 Corinthians 12:28-13:8

We'll make 4 stops along the way.

  1. A reality to face
  2. A question to ask
  3. A description to emulate
  4. A love to receive

Stop 1: A Reality to Face (12:28-31)

12:28 In the church, God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But you are desiring/coveting the greater gifts. But now I will show you the most excellent way.

There is a translation issue in v. 31 concerning the Greek word for “desire/strive/pursue/covet.” 

In the original Greek, the verb may be either an imperative or indicative. If it is imperative, Paul is commanding the Corinthians to pursue the greater gifts (those that edify the entire church). If indicative, he is rebuking them for coveting the greater gifts (Greater = Gk,megas - outwardly impressive, more “spiritual,” not better).

I lean toward option #2, which makes v. 31 a natural hinge that reveals the reality we need to face.  

There are two levels to this need.

  1. The surface level → Self-promotion/desire for personal recognition and praise/selfish ambition
  1. The deeper level → a lack of love

Stop 2: A Question to Ask (13:1-3)

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 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. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

Did you guess the question to ask? Yeah, the question is "Am I loving well or not?"

In fact, love is a touchstone for everything we do. A touchstone is a fine grained stone like slate upon which a soft metal may be rubbed, leaving a mark of the metal (such as gold). The color reveals the purity or lack of purity of the metal. For instance, is the gold 14 or 24 karat? The line left on the touchstone will reveal the answer.

We may consider a number of examples.

  • What does a child need to know about sharing toys? Not that they are just supposed to share, but that sharing is a way to love their friend.
  • What should we say when they grab someone else’s toy? Not, “Say you are sorry,” but “I was selfish and unloving.”

It is the same way when we grow up.

  • Take date night for example.  Date night is not a rule to keep or obligation to fulfill but an opportunity to love by devoting focused time to listen.
  • What about our jobs? Am I seeking to promote myself or bless the team. Am I using others or loving them by helping them succeed.

Why do I do anything? To find out the motive under anything, try this challenge. Do something anonymously without drawing attention to it -- without getting credit. I am the worst at this. Every time time I mow the grass or do the dishes, I make such a big deal about it, making sure everyone knows and praises my effort.

Stop 3: A Description to Emulate (13:4-8) 

rocket

13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts [Gk idiom meaning “to give the benefit of the doubt”], always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.

What do we learn about love as a verb in this short description?

  1. Love is not primarily an emotion; an action. 
  2. Love is not something we primarily feel but something we do.
  3. Love is not passive, but active.
  4. Love is selfless, sacrificial, and tenacious!

I also discover how unloving I am.

For example, try this exercise. Put your name in the place of love in the list.

4 [my name] is patient, [my name] is kind. [my name] does not envy, [he] does not boast, [my name] is not proud. 5 [my name] is not rude, [my name] is not self-seeking, [my name] is not easily angered, [my name] keeps no record of wrongs. 6 [my name] does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 [my name] always protects, always gives “the benefit of the doubt”, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 [my name] never fails.

This is painfully convicting, isn't it? Why? Because it is not true about me. I don’t fit that description.

New Testament scholar David Prior writes about the significance of the word, agape, saying:

“It is well known that the Greek word for love in the New Testament, agapē, was not previously in common use. It was taken into the Greek of the New Testament specifically because the love of God, seen in Jesus of Nazareth, required a new word.”

What I discover on this journey is that I need someone to love me with true agape love.

Stop 4: A Love to Receive

PBS’ The Great American Read is an eight-part series that explores America’s 100 best novels. The series notes that one theme emerges often in these 100 best-loved novels is the quest for love--a love that is pure and that will endure. One commentator on the program reflected on this, saying,

“We want love to last. We want to know that you can’t just throw [it] away. As human beings… we want [love] to be so important that you would stick with it forever.”

The Bible tells just such a story.

Because 1 Corinthians 13 describes Jesus!

Jesus is the one who is patient and kind; not self-seeking, and keeps no record of wrongs. His love never fails. His love is tenacious! He is the one who will never let go.

To understand agape love, we look to the cross of Jesus.

  • Selfless -- he thought about us
  • Sacrificial -- he gave himself for us
  • Substitutionary -- in our place condemned / he became the object of the law's wrath so that we may be the object of the Father's mercy

David Prior reminds us that God’s love in Christ is “lavished on [us] without a thought of whether [we] are worthy to receive it or not. It [is a love that] proceeds from the nature of the lover, rather than from [the] merit in the beloved.”

  • Can you imagine being loved like that? Receive that love now!
  • Being loved like that is what it takes to love like that.
  • What if this kind of love were to become a reality in your marriage? With your kids? In our church… the tone of how I engaged with people on Facebook… what if the love of Jesus filled us to overflowing and ran all into our community?

I think we’d have to have 3 or 4 services or more!

Whatever it takes to magnify the love of God in Christ… let’s do it.

So, let's be loved well that we might love well.

If this helped you, maybe it will help someone else, too.
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4 Talking Points for Discussing Sex with Your Kids

My older two kids probably will tell you that I blew this conversation. There are several factors that contributed to my lack of paternal initiative to have this conversation. One, I was scared. Two, I was scared. Three, I was scared. 

Maybe you will find my struggle encouraging, knowing that you are not alone.

When the day came to “have the talk” with my third child, I still wasn’t the one to initiate the conversation. She did. She was curious and had questions.

I couldn’t avoid it this time.

What I discovered is that when we talk with our kids about sex, we are not introducing them to the subject. They know. They are curious. And they have questions that parents need to be equipped to answer.

The main question for me is whether I would let the culture dictate their understanding of sex or whether I would impart a biblical worldview through which they can process the details.

Looking back, it may have been that I just didn't know where to start. We are all afraid to mess this up. But starting the conversation is the biggest hurdle. Once you begin, you got this!

This is what I want to help you do. Just find a place to start the conversation.

Here are four talking points to get it going.

#1 - God Created Sex.

It may seem odd to begin sex with God, but historical, biological, cultural, social, and intellectual integrity demands it.

For example, if we talk about the automobile there must be a connection to Henry Ford. If we discuss the telephone, we will name Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor, in the same way we would give credit to Thomas Edison for the creation of the light bulb.

When it comes to the cosmos, God is the Creator. Not only did he design the entirety of the material universe, he designed every function within it, from gravity to precipitation to human reproduction.

Not only did God design the entirety of the material universe, he designed every function within it, from gravity to precipitation to human reproduction.

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Yes, God created sex.

God even designed the way sex works, including how it feels.

The fact that sexual intercourse produces a feeling of physical and emotional euphoria does not make the act a sinful thing. Where did we get the idea that pleasure is sub-spiritual or anti-God?

Psalm 16:11 says, ”In your presence, O God is the fullness of joy; there are pleasures forevermore at your right hand.”

According to the Bible, God himself is the mastermind behind the climactic, sexual sensation we call orgasm. He designed it. Yes, God intended for sex to feel good.

The point is that God likes sex and likes that we like it. In fact, he encourages it.

It may surprise some to discover that the first command he gave the first two humans for their married life together was the exhortation to be fruitful and multiply.

How does a couple multiply? You guessed it.

It was a command to have sex! To enjoy what God intended sex to be for the human race.

#2 - Sex was created to be a good, beautiful thing.

Although our culture has trained many of us to think of sex as a bad, dirty thing, human sexuality as expressed between a man and a woman was created by God to be good and beautiful.

Although our culture has trained many of us to think of sex as a bad, dirty thing, human sexuality as expressed between a man and a woman was created by God to be good and beautiful.

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There actually is an entire book of the Bible devoted to the joy of sexual fulfillment, the Song of Songs, which also is called the Song of Solomon.

It shouldn't surprise us that the primary textual description of sex is in a song. Music in practically every generation has been a common means by which people have expressed the deep emotions connected with physical intimacy.

Years ago I did an experiment while driving on a road trip. The experiment entailed listening to 20 songs on the radio and determining how many of them were about romantic love. While this was not a scientifically verifiable study, 19 of the 20 songs, in some way or another, were “love songs.” Seriously!

But then again, that doesn’t surprise us. Sexuality is hard-wired into the human framework. We are sexual beings.

We don’t talk about this as much as we probably should.

After all, there are not many children’s Sunday School lessons taken from Solomon’s Song. Why? It is explicitly erotic, and that scares us.

“Certainly,” we say to ourselves, “the images in the Song of Solomon are metaphorical, alluding to the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church.”

Yes, a redemptive understanding of Scripture demands that we see the shadow of Jesus on every page teaching us about our need for a Savior and God’s provision of a Savior. The Song shows us in vivid, graphic detail what inexpressible joy is available to those who know the Savior with the kind of intimacy that is described as indwelling and as a union, words that we often use when speaking of marital intimacy.

But the Song is not merely a metaphor or to be read as a parable or allegory. Solomon wrote it in the context of his very real, physical relationship with a wife. Therefore, while the book does reflect the depth of intimacy between a believer and Jesus, it also gives us a road-map for enjoying the human analogy of our spiritual union--which is marital union, as the groom indwells his bride unto oneness and joy.

In the opening chapters of Genesis, we read that Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. This is what every human desires. To be fully known and fully loved… at the same time.

God designed the sexual relationship to be the opportunity where that is known on a physio-emotio-spiritual level, where we are not only physically connected but emotionally connected; and not only emotionally connected but spiritually connected.

This is the “one flesh” design of God. It was created to be good and beautiful.  

#3 - Sex has been corrupted.

So, our sexual being-ness is a good, beautiful thing. At least that is how God painted it on the original canvas.

But we humans have sprayed graffiti on the canvas, making what was beautiful, scarred, ugly, and shameful.

The influence of internet pornography it's practically destroying the possibility for us to see sex as good and beautiful. The way sex is depicted in popular movies makes it is easy to understand why discussing the topic feels taboo.

The result is that sex has become a ruined masterpiece.

But the graffiti is not new. Humans have been vandalizing sexuality ever since Adam and Eve left the garden.

The solution to rampant sexual immorality is not to build a wall between an individual and sexual connection but to build a wall around two people who are to experience and enjoy that connection in the context of marriage.

The solution to rampant sexual immorality is not to build a wall between an individual and sexual connection but to build a wall around two people who are to experience and enjoy that connection in the context of marriage.

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#4 - The proper context for sex is marriage.

A good place to start understanding the fullness of the goodness and beauty of human sexuality is to recognize the context in which God designed human intimacy to flourish.

Just like a fish was designed to flourish in water, so also sex was designed to flourish in marriage.

Just like a fish was designed to flourish in water, so also sex was designed to flourish in marriage.

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Our cultural perspective on sex largely has taken it out of the context for which it was intended. The results have been catastrophic, like a fish languishing and suffocating after it jumps out of its bowl and onto the carpet in order to roll around with the family dog because that looks like more fun than living in the tank.

Take the fish out of the water and there will be problems. Take sex out of marriage and there will be problems, too.

Hollywood has attempted to depict the goldfish on the floor that's having much more sexual enjoyment than those remaining in the tank. Pornography is influencing young men with the idea that women enjoy being treated like animals. Our own sin natures do the job of corrupting sex well enough. But coupled with external forces just exacerbates the problem.

Some may see the corruption of sex as a strategy of the enemy, taking something that God designed as something for us to enjoy and turning it into something harmful. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul connects Satan to sexual temptation outside of marriage.

Not only does the enemy want to distort and destroy what God had made beautiful and good, Satan does not want Christians to enjoy sex in marriage. He knows that if we are abstinent long enough, he can tempt us with what Paul calls porneia (the Greek word that is translated “sexual immorality,” which is any form of sex outside the context of marriage).

This is why it is so important for us to reclaim and redeem human sexuality, reinstituting its design and purpose under the Lordship of Jesus.

Where do we start? How do we fight back?

With four talking points:

  1. God created sex.
  2. God created sex to be good and beautiful.
  3. We have corrupted sex.
  4. The proper context for sex is marriage.

What about the technical questions of sex technique? How the body changes in response to sexual stimuli and stuff like that. What about the actual, well, process of intercourse?

I drew a picture. 🙂

Biology class helps, too.

Help keep the conversation going! Post your thoughts, questions, and suggestions in the comments below.

If this article was helpful for you, maybe it will help someone else, too?

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You need to know that I blew this big-time with my older two kids. I just waited until they had biology. Of course, by that time, they knew. Peers talk. A lot. There are several factors that contributed to my lack of paternal initiative to have this conversation. One, I was scared. Two, I was … Continue reading 4 Talking Points for Discussing Sex with Your Kids

5 Essential Truths for Getting Love Right

Before I officiate a wedding ceremony, I require the engaged couple to participate with me in a series of pre-marriage counseling sessions. In the very first session, there is one question that I always ask.

It is the foundational question everyone must ask and understand before getting married.

“What is love?”

What a softball, right? Wrong.

I have never had a prospective bride or groom answer the question correctly. Never. Not even one.

Truth be told, I didn’t answer it correctly either in my own premarital counseling course in December of 1991.

“What is love?”

Going into marriage and getting this wrong is like preparing to make spaghetti sauce without tomatoes. In our ignorance, we are leaving out the essential ingredient!

Over the years, I have enjoyed the cheap thrill of watching couples attempt to answer that most basic question.

Responses range from the famous stuttering “umm” to “love is, well, it is when you love someone. You know, it is the feeling… an attraction… you know… love.”

My next step is to have them answer the question without using the word love in the definition of love. After watching them sit and squirm in their chairs looking at the floor for an answer written in the carpet, at some point I come to their rescue. After all, I am a pastor and am supposed to show some degree of compassion. 

Are you ready for the correct answer to the question?

“What is love?”

Let’s start with a formal definition. “Love is an action that brings blessing to the recipient.”

We can say it like this: to love is to bless.

To bless is to do someone good.

Did you notice the verb? Do. This is active, not passive. 

1. Love is Active, not Passive.

Let’s pause here for just a minute, because this definition of love runs utterly contrary to our contemporary culture’s understanding of love.

Hollywood describes love as a virus – something that we catch. But given time and the right circumstances, we can get over it. Thus, when the love feelings are not present, we can say, “I am not in love with you anymore. I have recovered from the virus.”

This Hollywood brand of love as a virus is a wholly passive thing. If we can fall into it, we can fall out of it. The entire process is haphazard and uncontrollable. Well, like falling. From this perspective, love is something that happens to us rather than something we do to someone else.

To use our viral metaphor, when the symptoms are gone, so is the disease.

But love is active, not passive. It is not accidental. It is not a disease that can be cured.

Love is a choice.

This means that my wife will not know that I love her by some mystical feeling but by objective actions. I can say whatever I want, repeating "I love you" over and over. But if my actions are not loving, then I may love her, but I am not loving her. 

Does that make sense?

But love is active, not passive. It is not accidental. It is not a disease that can be cured. Love is a choice.

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2. Love is not Primarily an Emotion.

But biblical love is not passive. It is active. It is not driven by changing emotion. It is rigorously volitional. It is not a virus that we catch or a hole into which we fall when not looking.

Love is a choice.

Some have described the volitional, active dynamic of love like the engine on a train versus the caboose. While cultural depictions of love often put emotion as the driving force, biblical depictions of love put volition in the driver's seat with emotion following behind as the caboose. 

Let me be clear, emotion is not unimportant. Love without emotion is like a firework with just a boom and no sparkle. But love with only emotion is like buying a car without an engine. 

Love without emotion is like a firework with just a boom and no sparkle. But love with only emotion is like buying a car without an engine. 

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3. True Love is Costly.

In order to grasp the concept of love as an action that intends to bless—as a choice—we need to understand two ancient words: hesed and agape.

In the Old Testament of the Bible, hesed is the Hebrew word used of God’s initiating, covenantal, and even sacrificial kindness to the nation of Israel. What we discover is that true love is costly love.

Without going into unnecessary detail, Israel was a mess, completely undeserving of the rescue they received over and over again. But hesed love does not bless the deserving or those who can earn someone’s blessing by their good behavior or by returning a favor.

  • Hesed initiates blessing to the undeserving. Regardless.
  • Hesed keeps it promises to bless. Period.
  • Hesed is willing to do whatever it takes to bless. Whatever.

Even if it “whatever” means making the ultimate sacrifice of self to bring good to someone else. In other words, we should expect love to be costly, requiring extraordinary sacrifice for someone who doesn't deserve it and can't pay you back. 

In the original Greek text of the New Testament, agape is the word used for God’s love expressed in the redemptive actions of Jesus. It is very much like hesed love.

Notice I said the redemptive actions of Jesus. The gospel, or good news from God in the Bible, is not that God has merely said “I love you,” but that he has demonstrated his love. He has proven his love. He has confirmed it through a voluntary sacrifice of self.

This is why the cross is the ultimate expression of love. It is active. It is covenantal. It is a costly, sacrificial choice. It is the practical display of what it looks like to bring blessing into someone's life.

In other words, love is a tangible expression of grace. It is a gift. Undeserved. It asks for nothing in return. It is pure gift.

Here is what this looks like for my wife and me.

For example, we are invited to attend a wedding.

She is the extrovert. Therefore, for me to love her in that context means going to the wedding and staying to the very end of the reception, dancing and everything. For her to love me well, there will be times when we forgo the reception all together, or leave early. Yep, I am the introvert. 

Love is not a reward. It is a tangible expression of grace. It is undeserved and unearned. It is pure gift.

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4. Love is a Gift, not a Reward.

This may be the most marriage-altering principle that could ever be discovered.

Why?  Think about it.

Usually, what we call love is merely a response to beauty or behavior.

  • We “give” someone our attention if they are attractive. 
  • We “give” someone an encouraging word after they have performed successfully.
  • We “give” gifts when someone accomplishes a task that is noteworthy.

However, these responses are not gifts. They are rewards.

But reward is not love. Reward is not grace. Reward is a wage, not a gift.

Maybe we should emphasize something. Love is never, never deserved.

This kind of “love” runs counter to the kind of agape love that God reveals in the Bible through Jesus. Agape love is grace. It is undeserved. Unearned. It really is a gift. 

Agape love is the kind of love that has the power to transform the most broken relationship. What could be more broken than a sinner's relationship with a holy God? But God's agape love has restored the brokenness through the act of sacrifice.

When we choose to bless a spouse, regardless of whether they deserve blessing, we are on the road to relationship renewal. We are on the road to a healthy marriage.

And it may be that the most significant application of the "love is a gift not reward" principle is for how parents engage with their children.

Am I loving them or rewarding them? 

It's an important question that just might make all the difference in the world for them to know what it is to be the recipient of a parent's agape love in the same way that we receive the agape love of the Father.. 

Love is never, never deserved.

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5. Love Must be Received Before it Can be Given.

Yet the only way that I will choose to love in this way is if I have been loved in this way.

This is why a personal, conscious faith in the active, sacrificial, practical love of Jesus for me is so crucial. It is being the recipient of choosing love that empowers me to be a giver of love. A doer of love.

Because love is a choice.

Even though Hollywood, Disney, and the like tend to operate from a love is a feeling paradigm, they just can't help telling stories that echo the internal wiring of the human story--a story that knows that true love really is about ultimate sacrifice. The kind of sacrifice that transforms those who are the recipients of such a costly gift. 

Even though Hollywood, Disney, and the like tend to operate from a love is a feeling paradigm, they just can't help telling stories that echo the internal wiring of the human story--a story that knows that true love really is about ultimate sacrifice.

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Inside Out in one such story.

The unlikely hero is a character named Bing Bong, a fluffy pink creature from young Riley's imagination who, by his own admission, is comprised of cat, elephant, and dolphin (with a body made of sticky-sweet cotton candy).

When we first meet Bing Bong, he's rummaging through Riley's memories, hoarding his favorites in a make believe bag. He is a wandering vagabond who wanted nothing more than to take Riley to the moon. 

Riley is the little girl who is in danger of losing her ability to feel joy, represented by the blue-haired emotion, appropriately named Joy, who becomes stuck with Bing Bong in the realm of discarded memories, a desolate abyss of gloom and darkness.

Riley was on the brink of eternal sadness.

Joy and Bing Bong are desperate to escape the hell of their abyss. Joy for obvious reasons. Bing Bong, because of his dream to take Riley to the moon. 

The only way out of the dungeon is by singing a magical rhyme together that empowered a rainbow powered rocket wagon to blast from the place of forgotten memories to a ledge above that would lead them back to Riley, who again would regain a conscious awareness of both Joy... and all the childhood memories she has of her favorite imaginary friend, Bing Bong

Their first attempt out seems like a success, until just before the ledge, the power gives out and the tumble back into the abyss. 

With even greater determination they try again, only to fall short.

Picking themselves up, Bing Bong tells Joy, "C'mon, Joy, one more time. I got a feeling about this one." 

As they are riding in the toy wagon singing their song as quickly and loudly as they are able, with extreme desperation, Bing Bong tells Joy to "sing louder, sing louder!" and then, unexpectedly, bails out of the wagon, falling alone into the depths of the cavernous darkness.

Without his weight to hold them down, Joy is able to ascend to the ledge. 

But Bing Bong is not on the ledge. As she goes back and peers over, Joy sees and hears a far-a-way Bing Bong celebrating with dancing and shouts, "Wha ha, ha, ha! You made it! Now go and save Riley! Ha, ha ha!"

Then, as the reality sets in, his exuberance turns to reflection.

"Take her to the moon for me. Okay?" And smiling, with a wave, he dissolves into a forgotten memory.

That is love. Because love is a choice. 

Thank you, Bing Bong. 

But even more, thank you, Jesus.

We rejoice that in your sacrifice you did not dissolve but arose. We will see you again... and forever sing as those who have been saved by your sacrificial, costly, I-will-never-let-you-go love. 

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Before I officiate a wedding ceremony, I require the engaged couple to participate with me in a series of pre-marriage counseling sessions. In the very first session, there is one question that I always ask.It is the foundational question everyone must ask and understand before getting married.“What is love?”What a softball, right? Wrong.I have never … Continue reading 5 Essential Truths for Getting Love Right

How to Forgive: 4 Things to Know About Burying the Hatchet

The concept of burying the hatchet is a helpful image of of forgiveness. 

I can imagine an Indian chief and a Colonel in the U.S. Cavalry meeting upon a hill on the southern plains. The Indian wielding his tomahawk and the officer, his pistol. 

Both parties represent warring factions that have been inflicting wounds upon the other for years. But the moment has come for peace.

This is why the ceremony upon the hill would be such a critical factor in the process. After all, simply shouting I forgive you across the valley would accomplish little.

Words tend to be cheap and easily spoken.

But actions.

We even have a saying, “Actions speak more loudly than words.”

This is why the burying of the hatchet is such a visually appropriate image forgiveness. The Indian chief buries what he could use against his rival and the officer buries his own instrument of death which could be used against the tribe.

The power of forgiveness that leads to peace does not merely rest in the words “I forgive you,” but with in the actual burial of the offense.

But this burial business is easier said than done.

The temptation for the chief would be to bury his hatchet with the handle exposed above the earth, still within reach. Just in case. The same would be true for the officer.

It isn't difficult to see how risky the proposition of forgiveness is. If I put my weapon down, it leaves me exposed and vulnerable to attack.

Consider how this plays out in ordinary, everyday relationships. With tomahawks and pistols as metaphors, a husband and a wife wield similar weapons with their words--words that go deep, inflicting pain and damage not just on the surface but down to the soul.

Few weapons are more deadly to a relationship than the hateful barbs of a well-aimed word of condemnation, reminding the perpetrator of their offense. The deepest damage is done when the words strike at the very identity of the guilty.

It is not that the deed was bad, but you are bad. You are to be despised and detested. You. You are the object of my most severe contempt. The words may not include “hate,” they they communicate it, nonetheless.

If arguments, whether physical or verbal, continue to be fueled by my past resentments and offenses, I can be sure that genuine forgiveness has yet to be extended or experienced because the hatchets and pistols have never been buried. Or they have only been buried halfway, with the handle sticking out of the ground.

But halfway forgiveness is half-baked forgiveness. It is worthless and powerless.

Thankfully, this is not how God forgives.

He buries the hatchet completely.

In 1 John 4:9-11, the apostle says, 

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

In this passage we discover four aspects of forgiveness that are essential to grasp if we are going to express forgiveness to others as it has been given to us--the kind of forgiveness that has the power to reconcile and restore the most broken of relationships.

1) Forgiveness is an expression of love. 

While it is common to consider love primarily as an emotion, biblically speaking, love primarily is an action. It is not something we feel as much as it is something we do. Yes, there is emotion associated with love. Of course. Love is both a noun and a verb.

Love as a noun is the disposition of the heart to bless someone by doing good to them. Love as a verb is the expression of that act of blessing. Sometimes there is intense emotion associated with both.

But not always the emotion we’d expect. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, I’m not sure he is demanding we feel affection but that we engage is some action of blessing: feeding, clothing, praying for… and forgiving, which is exactly what he did for us in the great act of blessing in the cross.

This is why John says, “God showed his love.” He didn’t just use words. He did something to bless us. He forgve us. But how? By sending his son to die so that we could live. It was an atoning death, covering our sin, guilt, and shame so that we can be reconciled to God as Father without fear.

In his forgiveness, he buries our sin like a hatchet and promises never to dig it up and use it against us again. This is how forgiveness is an expression of love.

2) Forgiveness requires initiative. 

Forgiveness doesn't just happen. If I wait for the forgiveness feeling to rise up within me in order to genuinely forgive someone, then I will be waiting a long long time. I will be waiting forever. Most relationships don't have that long.

In 1 John 4, we see god the father taking the initiative to do what was necessary in order to secure our forgiveness. A debt existed. As a just god, he cannot just turn a blind eye to the offense. The law demands justice.  The debt must be paid and the sentence served.

Rather than waiting for us to either earn forgiveness or deserve it, god took action, intervening on our behalf to do something that would pay the debt and serve the sentence.

He buried the hatchet in the cross. We didn't deserve it, couldn't earn it, but God did it. He took the initiative to express big love of forgiveness.

3) Forgiveness is costly. 

Remember, words are cheap and easily spoken. It may be difficult to say I forgive you, but genuine, hatchet burying forgiveness is profoundly costly. After all, the debt had to be paid my someone. In forgiveness, it is the offended not the offender who pays the debt.

So how do we pay the debt? We give up our right to use a former offense against the person who committed the offense. In other words, we bury the hatchet completely, refusing ourselves access to the handle ever again.

It is buried. It is over. The offender is now safe.

This is how God forgives us, which also is the model of how we are to forgive one another. Has john wrote, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Because of the great cost involved in forgiveness, it is my opinion that those who are offended should not be too quick with their words. If I am going to forgive someone, I need to be prepared to take my shovel and dig a hole so deep that when I bury the sin and cover it up, I will not be able to go dig it back up.

After I have done the hard, costly work of burying the hatchet, I need to make sure the person who has sinned against me nose that it has been buried and will not be brought back up again against them.

This confirmation of forgiveness may begin with the words, “You are fully forgiven. I have buried the hatchet.” However, I suggest, from personal experience and in light of how God confirms to us the objective status of forgiveness, that we go beyond words to some kind of objective affirmation of relational restoration.

This may be done with a hug or by spending time together (rather than the non-forgiveness of the silent treatment). Whatever it is that would show the offender they really are, existentially forgiven, make it clear that the offense has been buried. It is in the coffin.

Just like ours was nailed to a cross.

4) Forgiveness brings life and restores joy. 

This is the best part about forgiveness, where the difficult process of burial leads to new life and restores joy to the relationship.

Isn’t this the way of the gospel? Like a seed planted in the ground , death brings life. The burial of sin germinates into renewal. The dark night of sorrow is met with a morning of joy.

What if this could happen in your marriage? With your kids? A friend?

First it needs to happen to me with God in Jesus through the cross, where I become the one who is forgiven. Fully. Without limit.

Only when I become the recipient of such love and mercy will I be able to express it to someone else. But when I see myself as the object of extravagant grace, I begin to see the opportunity of forgiveness as gloriously evangelistic. As a primary way I can share the gospel to by giving God’s grace with someone else.

Rather than seeing the process of forgiveness as something to avoid, it becomes something to pursue!

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The concept of burying the hatchet is a helpful image of of forgiveness. I can imagine an Indian chief and a Colonel in the U.S. Cavalry meeting upon a hill on the southern plains. The Indian wielding his tomahawk and the officer, his pistol. Both parties represent warring factions that have been inflicting wounds upon the other … Continue reading How to Forgive: 4 Things to Know About Burying the Hatchet