Love is a Choice

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut,

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “me first,”

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.”

(1 Corinthians 13:1-7 MSG)

When I read what the Bible says about love, I am always lead to the same conclusion: love is a choice. 

After reading the four gospels recently, I did not come away with the idea that Jesus just fell in love with His followers because they were so wonderful and charming. As a matter of fact, many followers were only enchanted by His miracles and what they thought He could do for them. Most of the tremendous crowds that clamored to hear His teaching did nothing to love Him in return. Even His closest friends and most devoted followers continually doubted Him and failed to understand the important things He was trying to tell them. When He was betrayed by His friend Judas and arrested, all of His disciples deserted Him. Peter even denied knowing Him three times. Jesus was beaten, tortured, and brutally executed on a cross while His friends and followers looked on. Yet He loved them through it all. 

Not only did He love His followers, but He also loved His enemies. In His tremendous suffering on the cross, Jesus went as far as praying for them saying, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34 MSG). Jesus willingly died on the cross to save His friends from the power of sin and death and give them the opportunity for eternal life.

Everyone knows Jesus was (and still is) awesome at this whole sacrificial love idea. But He is Jesus, after all, so that is to be expected. 

But what about the rest of us? 

Can we really love like that? 

Do we have the capacity to truly love others even when they don’t deserve it, don’t want it, or don’t accept it?

If we take a look at our world’s cultures, it’s not difficult to see that humans are doing a pretty terrible job at loving each other well. From family feuds and domestic violence to sex trafficking and international terrorism, people are clearly better and more practiced at hate than they are at love. 

Even within the Christian culture we can see many examples of selfish and destructive behaviors that obviously place “me” above all others, bringing grief to the heart of God. It seems to me that self-focus and general apathy toward others are the most pervasive and subtly destructive attributes of this love-lacking culture.

Marriages, which are intended to be life-long covenant relationships, are flippantly abandoned in the name of self-preservation. 

Nationally, somewhere around 40-50% of all marriages will end in divorce. Subsequent remarriages have an even higher rate of failure. 

Christian marriages tend to fail just as badly as that of other non-Christian marriages. But how can this be? How can someone who has believed in Jesus as their savior and received the gift of the Holy Spirit actually break their vows and give up on their marriage?

 It’s not necessarily lack of faith or wrong beliefs about God that allow this to happen. Although there are numerous reasons people cite for getting divorced, I believe they all essentially come down to one common cause: choosing not to love. 

I know that may seem oversimplified, but if you think about it, how many broken marriages could have been saved if both partners chose to simply love each other unconditionally? I am not saying that nagging wives, unappreciative husbands, liars, and cheaters don’t deserve to be punished and alone. They do deserve the consequences of their actions. But so do you and me

Love, as Jesus gives, does not simply return to someone what their actions deserve; a husband who really loves gives when he doesn’t receive, and a wife shows appreciation when she is not appreciated. 

True love holds on when all others would have already let go. 

My point is this: love is a choice. We must all choose love every day, in every circumstance, in every argument, in every relationship. Of course we will fail at times, but we must persevere.

Those of us who are married are called to love our spouses unconditionally and forever. But we are not called to do it alone; we are given God’s Holy Spirit who fills us and empowers us to live holy lives. 

Love is a choice that we can really only make when we first choose to surrender ourselves to God and rely on Him to sustain us. 
What are some practical ways you choose to love your spouse? To love others?
Please share your thoughts and comments on Facebook or in the Comments section below.

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Listen: Where is God when we suffer?

Suffering and death have touched us all in some way and whenever tragedy strikes, many people begin to question God. We ask tough questions about why terrible things happen and why God doesn’t intervene. Things happen in life that just don’t make sense and are not fair. 


While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I address some of these tough questions and offer hope for those who are hurting in my recent message titled Where is God when we Suffer?

click here to listen
The main scripture I reference is Romans 5:1-11 which says that we can rejoice in our suffering because of the hope we have in Jesus and a reconciled relationship with God. 

I hope you are encouraged by this message. 

Why do bad things happen to good people?

One of my coworkers lost his son recently in a tragic accident. He wasn’t breaking laws or engaging in high risk behavior. He was just completing a chore in their back yard. Our company as well as our community has been shocked and heartbroken by this sudden loss and I know many people are asking “why”? Of course no one has a good answer that will make things better for those mourning, but I think it’s important to clear up some things people say about God during times like this.

image
My enthusiastic son helping paint our bathroom. Losing him would be devastating to our family.

I’ve heard people say things like, “God must have needed him” or “I guess it was just his time to go.”

The idea that God “takes” people through causing their untimely death is atrocious. I know people mean well and are just trying to make sense of a senseless situation, but this idea is just wrong and not helpful. And it’s not biblical. (When God took Enoch he didn’t strike him dead, he just took him; and this is the exception rather than the rule)

God doesn’t kill young people because he needs some extra hands in heaven. God doesn’t need us to do anything for him and he certainly doesn’t cause tragedy in our lives for his own benefit.

The truth is this: crap happens and it doesn’t make any sense.

We live in a fallen and broken world in which sin and evil and death prevail. God loves people enough to let them make their own choices, even if it means walking away from him or hurting others. God didn’t design us to die–he designed us for eternal life. But sin entered the world and caused death to result. So even now, we live in mortal bodies that are subject to pain, sickness, and death. Not one of us will get out of this life alive.

But here’s the good news…

God made a way for us to overcome the power of sin and death. He carved out a provision for sinful and broken people to be reconciled to him and once again be designed for eternal life.

This life on earth as we know it is temporary and full of troubles. It’s often much shorter than we think it should be, and certainly it’s unfair. But what we do here and how we live matters. The choices we make now will have a lasting impact not only in this life, but also in our eternity.

God made a way…we just need to trust him and accept the gift of eternal life he offers. You see, when we lose a loved one it’s difficult because we miss them and can’t be with them anymore. But for those who have trusted in Jesus and accepted the gift of eternal life there is tremendous hope. Not just hope for themselves, but hope for the ones they leave behind.
Bad things happen to good people all the time…and it will continue to be this way indefinitely. But God has intervened so that death is not really the end and he has given us hope beyond this life so that we can live this life to the fullest. God is not the cause of our suffering, but He is our comfort and our cure.

For the Weary…and the Busy

Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

Do you ever feel weary or like you’re carrying a heavy burden? Do you ever feel like you’re at that point where you just might fall apart?

I’ve been there before. With two young, active kids at home, me and my wife are exhausted more often than not. Sometimes it seems like everything that could go wrong does—the kids are sick, the house needs cleaned, the cars need fixed, I had a bad day at work and I come home to find one more thing that broke that I can’t afford to pay someone else to fix and then my son decides to throw a tantrum over nothing.

If this was one unique, happens-every-now-and-then kind of day it might be more bearable.

But its more of a normal day that happens over and over again with only a few details changing.

When one day is tough and drains my energy, it usually runs into the next day which in turn starts out on the wrong foot as well. Then that day does the same thing to the next day. And the day after that.

Of course not all days are exactly the same and they are not all ridden with crises—but when I allow the bad days to knock me down and affect the attitude of my heart, even the good days can get tainted by it.

I recently asked my wife what she wanted to do for her birthday. She thought about it and responded that she would really like to check into a hotel room, even for just one night.

Of course I was intrigued at first, until she clarified that she would like to do this alone—by herself, no kids, no husband, no expectations. She just wants to get a break from the daily grind and the occasionally-controlled chaos that is our lives. She just wants to watch TV, then go to sleep without interruptions.

I often feel this way as well; I just need a break and some rest. But I rarely find it.

Jesus invites us to come to him, especially when we are weary, with heavy burdens. He says he will give us rest—that is, rest for our souls.

The phrase take my yoke upon you refers to two oxen being connecting together by a common yoke—they would carry or pull their heavy load together.

Jesus is saying that he wants to help you carry your burdens. He wants to teach you and guide you and give you rest in your relationship with Him.

You need only to take the step of coming to Him.

I’ve had a relationship with Jesus most of my life, but I often get caught up in my mess and forget that he doesn’t want me to be anxious, overwhelmed, and exhausted. He wants me to lay my burdens on Him; to rely on Him to guide and teach me and to give me real rest that lasts.

In what ways can you come to Jesus to find rest?  Share your thoughts, you never know who might need to hear them.

Comment below or share on Facebook.

Overcoming Fear in Our Lives

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a local church for their Sunday services. I spoke about fear, including why we fear, the problems it causes, and how to overcome our fears. I would like to share some of that message here with the hope that you will find it helpful and encouraging.

What is Fear?
Before I get too far, I want to describe what I mean when I talk about fear. I’m sure we all know what fear is and have experienced many types of it in our lives. But not all fear is the same. You see, God created us with some natural instincts—fear being one of them—to help us survive. The fear of physical harm is what keeps us from walking out in front of a truck traveling down the highway. Fear of other physical, emotional, or social pain can help us think twice about our actions and words and help us avoid hurting ourselves and others. A healthy fear of God can keep us humble and help us honor Him in what we do.

IMG_2633However, in addition to these healthy forms of fear, we often experience much more troublesome types of fear that lead to anxiety, depression, phobias, and ultimately a timid spirit and a life defined by inaction. These fears can be based on evidence from past experience, or can be completely irrational. Either way, if left unchecked this unhealthy fear can overtake our lives, steal our joy, and hold us back from living in freedom. For our purposes today, when I talk about fear I’m referring to this second, unhealthy and unfruitful type.

 

 

What causes us to fear in the first place?
Believing lies that are told so often and so loudly that most people believe them.
You will fail.
You’re not good enough.
Making money is the most important way you can provide for your kids.
You alone must provide for ALL of your family’s needs.
You NEED to have or do or get ______ fill in the blank.

We say we believe God—that He is our provider, that He is all-powerful, that He is good—but we live our daily lives as if none of that is true.

We worry about today, tomorrow, and next week

We worry about making enough money for us/our family

We get anxiety about our health and that of our kids, family and friends

Deep in our hearts we may believe that God is good and that He cares for us, but we get distracted by our worldly troubles and forget the Truth

John MacArthur commentary: Phil. 4:6 do not be anxious. (See notes on Matt. 6:26–33.) Fret and worry indicate a lack of trust in God’s wisdom, sovereignty, or power. Delighting in the Lord and meditating on his word are a great antidote to anxiety (Ps. 1:2). in everything. All difficulties are within God’s purposes. prayer and supplication with thanksgiving . . . requests. Gratitude to God accompanies all true prayer.

 

What good things might we be missing?
When we give in to fear in our lives, letting it determine our thoughts, attitudes, and decisions, we miss out on many good things that God may have for us.
1) You may be afraid of losing your job, but there might be a better job waiting for you.
2) You may be afraid of going to away to college or moving to another town, but if you don’t go you may be missing new friendships, experiences, and opportunities
3) You may be afraid of submitting every area of your life to God because you’re not sure what He may ask you to do or where he may ask you to go, but you might be missing His purpose for your life and the important good works He has prepared for you to do.

4) You may be missing the Peace of God

John MacArthur: Phil. 4:7 peace of God. See note on v. 9. Inner calm or tranquility is promised to the believer who has a thankful attitude based on unwavering confidence that God is able and willing to do what is best for his children (cf. Rom. 8:28). surpasses all understanding. This refers to the divine origin of peace. It transcends human intellect, analysis, and insight (Isa. 26:3; John 16:33). guard. A military term meaning “to keep watch over.” God’s peace guards believers from anxiety, doubt, fear, and distress. hearts . . . minds. Paul was not making a distinction between the two—he was giving a comprehensive statement referring to the whole inner person. Because of the believer’s union with Christ, he guards his inner being with his peace.

What can we do to keep fear from holding us back and stealing our hope?

1) Confront lies in your life and find evidence that proves them wrong (write it down)
Start: Punch fear in the face, escape average, do work that matters by Jon Acuff
Jon talks about confronting the voices of fear and doubt by writing them down whenever they get loud in your mind
he says actually getting them out of your mind and down on paper takes away some of their power and helps you confront them with the truth

Note from John MacArthur Phil. 4:8 true. What is true is found in God (2 Tim. 2:25), in Christ (Eph. 4:20–21), in the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), and in God’s word (John 17:17).

2) Prayer and Supplication, with thanksgiving
supplication: to ask humbly and earnestly; appeal, implore, petition, plead; earnestly just means to be sincere and serious
when we appeal to God humbly and share the desires of our hearts, along with our fears and anxiety, we need to remember and give thanks for all the good things God has already done in our lives; remembering what God has already done and being thankful for everyday blessings will help take away the power of our fears to control us
Pray in the Spirit, seeking God’s will above all else

3) Meditate on scripture and remember God’s promises
I have found it helpful to study a Bible passage and write down some observations, applications, and prayers that I can go back and read over when I need encouragement.

Conclusion

When you’re struggling with fear and anxiety, whether its focused on a decision to be made or just your daily responsibilities and relationships, remember to:

  1. think about what problems living in fear causes in your life
  2. Consider what good things you might be missing by giving in to fear
  3. identify lies that you’re believing about yourself, your life, and God and confront them with the truth
  4. Read the Bible and focus on God’s character and promises
  5. Submit yourselves—your fears, your hopes, your dreams, your children, your health—to God through continual prayer and supplication, asking him to give you His peace, guarding and guiding your heart and mind in Jesus
  6. Remember who God is and who you are

 

What fears are you struggling with today? What fears have you already overcome?

Share your answers in the COMMENTS, on Facebook, or send me an Email.