Unity and Love

Unity and love go hand-in-hand. Unity

One cannot be fully experienced without the other.  Striving for unity in our relationships without a commitment to love is futile.  Hate groups have the appearance of unity but what they have is union NOT unity.  All it takes to form a union is a common enemy, but it takes love for true unity to form.  During World War II the USA formed a union with the Soviet Union against a common enemy – Hitler — but as soon as the threat of Nazism was extinguished, so was our common bond with the USSR and we stopped being friendly.  We were united temporarily against a common enemy, but that was all, what we had was a union, not unity, and even that was short-lived.

Some Christians are precariously united over a common enemy — they’re against the latest “badest” thing –but they’re not united in love for one another.  Our Christian fellowship can’t be determined by who or what we’re against.  We don’t need to show the world how much we hate whatever the most current evil issue is.  Instead, we need to show the world how much we love one another and them.  As Jesus said in John 13:34:

“By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Redwood trees can grow as high as 300 feet and yet they have a remarkably shallow root structure.  Do you know what keeps them strong, what keeps them from blowing over in the midst of a storm? Their roots may be shallow, but they intertwine.  Each tree derives strength from the others.  That’s not all.  Each tree also shares its resources with the others.  The trees that are closer to the water are able to give nourishment to the trees that are further away.  Jesus followers are meant to work the same way.  We are to be intertwined, interdependent and united in love.  We are meant to give strength and spiritual nourishment to one another.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “All your strength is in union — all your danger is in discord.” He could have been talking about Jesus followers, couldn’t he?  When we start fighting with one another, we stop being effective.  We need to keep in mind that we’re all in this together, and we need to hang in there with one another.

Mountain climbers are all tied together to ensure that everyone makes it to the top of the mountain. Likewise, we need to stay “tied” to one another to make sure that no one gives up but that every one of us makes it to the top of the mountain!

I think one reason so many people found shows like Cheers, Friends, and Seinfeld (ask someone you consider old about these shows!) so appealing is that these shows demonstrate relationships between people who are united in love. These flawed characters reach us because beneath their selfishness they are committed to each other. (In fact, the conflict between individual selfishness and group unity is what fueled most episodes.) Even though their character flaws are obvious to everyone in the group, they still belong to the group. People like that; they want to experience it for themselves.

A driving force in Paul’s life was to make that happen.  He wanted all Jesus followers to be united with one another in love. Are we driven by this ideal as well?  How is true unity formed? It is formed when we all fall head over heels in love with Jesus!

A thousand pianos tuned to one piano will all sound the same.  If the prime piano is in tune they all will be in tune.  If the prime piano is out of tune they will all be out of tune.

It is the same with unity among Jesus followers as well.  When we, as a group, are each in tune with Jesus — when we are all committed to following Him – we will find that we are committed to one another in love. But if we are tuned to anyone else or any other cause we may form a union but we will not form true unity.  Paul wants us to be united with one another in love; the source of our unity is the source of our love –  Jesus.

“Christian unity is not found in uniformity, organization, or a particular church, but rather in Jesus and our commitment to his teachings, and living them out in our lives…It is only as we join together with others who look different than we do but share a common love and commitment to the Truth that is Jesus, that we can know the completeness of the body of Christ.” -Bob Snyder

A driving force in Paul’s relationships was to help Jesus followers become united in love. Is that what drives our relationships?  Let’s look for ways to spread unity throughout our society by being more in love with Jesus that we are with ourselves.

Centuries ago Thomas A Kempis wrote this excellent reminder,

“If Christ is among us, then it is necessary that we sometimes yield up our own opinion for the sake of peace. Who is so wise as to have perfect knowledge of all things? Therefore, trust not too much in your own opinion, but be ready also to hear the opinions of others.”

Promote Love

I have always loved the biblical phrase united in love:  unity and love go hand-in-hand.  One cannot be fully experienced without the other.  Striving for unity in our relationships without a commitment to love is a futile effort.  Hate groups have the appearance of unity but what they have is union NOT unity.  All it takes to form a union is a common enemy, but it takes love for true unity to form.  During World War II the USA formed a union with the Soviet Union against a common enemy – Hitler — but as soon as the threat of Nazism was extinguished, so was our common bond with the USSR and we stopped being friendly.  We were united temporarily against a common enemy, but that was all, what we had was a union, not unity, and even that was short-lived.Some Christians are precariously united over a common enemy — they’re against the latest “badest” thing –but they’re not united in love for one another.  Our Christian fellowship can’t be determined by who or what we’re against.  We don’t need to show the world how much we hate whatever the most current evil issue is.  Instead, we need to show the world how much we love one another and them.  Only then will the world know us as true disciples of Jesus as Jesus said himself…By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34)

Redwood trees can grow as high as 300 feet and yet they have a remarkably shallow root structure.  Do you know what keeps them strong, what keeps them from blowing over in the midst of a storm? Their roots may be shallow, but they intertwine.  Each tree derives strength from the others.  That’s not all.  Each tree also shares its resources with the others.  The trees that are closer to the water are able to give nourishment to the trees that are further away.  Jesus followers are meant to work the same way.  We are to be intertwined, interdependent and united in love.  We are meant to give strength and spiritual nourishment to one another.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “All your strength is in union — all your danger is in discord.” He could have been talking about the Church, couldn’t he?  When we start fighting with one another, we stop being effective.  We need to keep in mind that we’re all in this together, and we need to hang in there with one another.

Mountain climbers are all tied together to ensure that everyone makes it to the top of the mountain. Likewise, we need to stay “tied” to one another to make sure that no one gives up but that every one of us makes it to the top of the mountain!

I think one reason so many people found iconic shows like Cheers, Friends, and Seinfeld so appealing is that these shows demonstrate relationships between people who are united in love. These flawed characters reach us because beneath their selfishness they are committed to each other. (In fact, the conflict between individual selfishness and group unity is what fueled most episodes.) Even though their character flaws are obvious to everyone in the group, they still belong to the group. People like that; they want to experience it for themselves. I like it; I want to experience it!

A driving force in Apostle Paul’s life was to make that happen.  He wanted all Jesus followers to be united with one another in love.  He wanted a church united in love.

Does that ideal drive us as well?  I used to think that the path to unity was common ground but I have come to believe that true unity is formed when we all fall head over heels in love with Jesus! That is what it means to be united in love!

A thousand pianos tuned to one piano will all sound the same.  If the prime piano is in tune they all will be in tune.  If the prime piano is out of tune they will all be out of tune.

It is the same with Christian unity as well.  When we, as a group, are each in tune with Jesus — when we are all committed to following Him because we love Him – we will find that we are committed to one another in love.  But if we are tuned to anyone else or any other cause we may form a union but we will not form true unity.   I believe we will only be united with one another in love when the source of our unity is the source of our love –  Jesus.

Bob Snyder wrote, “Christian unity is not found in uniformity, organization, or a particular church, but rather in Jesus and our commitment to his teachings, and living them out in our lives…It is only as we join together with others who look different than we do but share a common love and commitment to the Truth that is Jesus, that we can know the completeness of the body of Christ.”

A driving force in Paul’s relationships was to help Jesus followers become united in love. Is that what drives your relationships?  I believe the only way to spread unity among fellow Believers is by all of us being more in love with Jesus that we are with ourselves.

Centuries ago Thomas A Kempis made this suggestion, “If Christ is among us, then it is necessary that we sometimes yield up our own opinion for the sake of peace. Who is so wise as to have perfect knowledge of all things? Therefore, trust not too much in your own opinion, but be ready also to hear the opinions of others.”

Can we do that?  Can we bend a little bit for the sake of unity?  Can we pull back just a little bit for the sake of promoting love? Let’s give it a try.  Let’s make promoting unity in love among all who share the Faith a driving force in what we do.

 

What Drives You?

I’ve always enjoyed reading the stories of successful people; finding out what drives
them.  What I find completely amazing (and intriguing) is that most people — those who accomplish the most in their chosen field — are rarely driven by money.

Jay Leno is an example.  He makes about $30,000,000.00 a year hosting the Tonight Show.  If the desire to be wealthy drove him, he could stop right there.  Instead he
performs an additional 100 – 150 concerts per year for audiences across the country.  Why?Because he loves his work.  He loves to write jokes and he loves to tell jokes.  That’s the driving force in his life — he loves to make people laugh (failed miserably with Conan!).

Years ago I remember seeing film of Walter Payton’s summer training regiment.  Part of it consisted of him running hills.  There he was in the July heat struggling to work his way up a steep incline, the earth giving way with each step as Payton fought to maintain his footing, remain upright and keep moving toward the top.  It was absolutely fascinating to watch, because it was obvious that he wasn’t out there for the money – – he already had plenty.  He wasn’t hoping to earn or keep a starting position — he already had a lock on the job.   Why did he do it?  What drove him on?  He had a passion for football, and he had a
passion for being the best – that was what drove Walter Payton.

It is a good practice to periodically ask yourself, “What is the driving force in my life?  What drives me?”   You can find the answer to that question in the answers to a couple of other questions:

  • What do you think about while you’re driving to work/school/carpool?
  • What do you think about while you’re driving home?
  • What do you think about right before you fall asleep?

Answer those questions honestly and you’ll have a pretty good idea about what it is that drives your life.

Rick Warren wrote The Purpose Driven Life which has sold somewhere in the neighborhood of a gazillion copies.  What I like about Rick Warren is that before
he wrote the book, he lived it.  As a young man he became consumed with a passion for church planting. He was only 3 or 4 years out of college when he moved to Saddleback
Valley to start Saddleback Valley Community Church (now known worldwide simply as
the Saddleback Church).  He’s been there 32 years now and he doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.  He could, of course.  He could retire and spend the rest of his days relaxing on the beach and never again have to deal with staff problems or contentious church members or zoning laws or critics or any of the other nuisances of life.  But he keeps on
keeping on doing the job he started doing a quarter century ago.  Why?  Because the driving force in his life isn’t to build a nest egg for retirement, it is to bring people to a closer relationship with Jesus. That’s his purpose.  That’s the driving force of his life.  That’s what drives him.

What drives you?  Like Rick Warren says, we should be driven by certain purposes in life. What purpose drives you?  Success?  Money?  Revenge? Sex?  Power?  Leisure? Comfort?

In the second chapter of Colossians, Paul uses a phrase that never fails to get my attention. He says in verse two“My purpose is…” And he goes on to describe the driving force of his ministry.  He mentions three things that drive him.  The interesting thing is that they are all about relationships — how he wants to relate to those he knows and even those he doesn’t yet know.  He says, “My purpose is…” — and then talks about how he relates to others.  I find that very interesting and very relevant to our daily lives.

Whatever our purpose in life, one thing that we will certainly have to deal with is relationships.  Family relationships, social relationships, academic relationships, business relationships, church relationships.  Life is meant to be shared with others.   In many ways the quality of our lives comes down to the quality of our relationships.  So when we ask ourselves, “What purpose drives my life?” we are also asking, “What purpose drives my
relationships?”

Three things drove Paul’s relationships; to offer hope, promote love and bring faith.  Here’s Paul purpose statement:

(Col. 2: 1-5) . . .My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, . . .

I’ll write more about how this passage changed the driving force in my life for the good later.  Right now my purpose is to get to my cardiac rehab session on time (for once!).

Why We Love

Today I want to come back to a statement I made a couple of posts ago, namely that without Jesus it is impossible to live a life of love.  We must experience God’s love first hand before we can share God’s love with others. In other words if we have never received God’s love, we simply can’t share what we don’t have with others. 1 John 4:19 says We love because he first loved us”.

Our ability to love comes from God’s love for us.  The only way that we can live in His love is to experience His love firsthand.  And there’s only one way to experience his love — through the free gift of his grace.  God’s love is something we can never, ever, ever, ever, ever earn or deserve.  It is available in one format: as a free gift—never as a payback for our goodness, never as a reward for our hard work, but only as a gift.

The Apostle Paul wrote  in Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

God loves us so much that He sacrificed His son in order to make things right, in order to offer us forgiveness of sins. God loves us so much that He sent His son into the world so that we might have the power to live through Him.  God loves us so much that He has removed all fear of judgment and condemnation, and He has given us the kind of love that casts out all fear.  God loves us so much that He has put in us His Holy Spirit to enable us to love others as He loves you.  Each of us must believe this central message of the Bible: God loves you.(period)   Let that truth penetrate your heart and your heart will unfold to love God.   As John wrote in 1 John 4:19 “We love because He first loved us”.

Shortly after the earthquake in Haiti made a bad situation even worse for the people of Haiti Jonathan, Andrew, and Michael, three of my young grandsons, got up early on Saturday morning not to watch cartoons but to go stand in the freezing weather to sell hot chocolate to raise money to feed the children of the devastation in Haiti.  They raised almost $200, enough to feed almost 100 children for 1 day.  They don’t know anyone from Haiti.  They probably don’t even know where Haiti is.  They do know that God loves them.  I doubt they know that 1 John 4:21(NIV) saysWhoever loves God must also love his brother”. They just love because they are loved and they know God loves them. 

God loves YOU.  Go and love because you are loved. I pray for the day when we are so convinced of God’s love that we open the Apostle John’s exhortation in 1 John 4:18 “My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s do it”.

Real Love

Yesterday I ended my post with the assertion that loving others is impossible without Jesus.  Now, while some may be going “Whoa! Are you saying without Jesus you can’t love others?” Some of you may be thinking, “Whew! Good to know why I have such a hard time loving others.”  Put me firmly in that second category. 

I like to think that I’m a nice guy but I learned this ugly truth about myself a long time ago: Left to my own devices I’m not a very loving person. The truth is I don’t even like most people.  How can I love people if I don’t even like most of them. I try but people can be so annoying!  Like drivers who don’t know the fast lane from the slow lane.  And anybody who writes a check for a pack of gum in a grocery store.  And all “honkasecond” drivers who honk their horns quicker than I can press the gas pedal.  And anyone who calls me during Lost to ask me for someone else’s phone number.  And…whoa, where did that come from!  I have a problem  – to follow Jesus’ example and command I must love everyone but how can I love people who grate on me so? This is just one of the reasons why it is important to learn that real love is primarily an action, not a feeling.  It’s something you do.  The emphasis in our society is on how love makes you feel—when you’re in love you feel good. There’s no question about that being true. It does feel good to be in a loving relationship with your friends, your family, that special someone, your spouse, and certainly your fellow Jesus followers. But how we feel when we love or are loved should not be our motivation for loving others.

I’m convinced that Jesus is more concerned with our showing love than our feeling love.  Let me put that another way.  The goal for loving others is not to feel love but to show love.  In I John 4, the apostle John, older and wiser than when he wanted Jesus to call lightening down and destroy His enemies, writes what has to be the “greatest hits” chapter of the Bible. In this one chapter John writes a number of verses that, if you grew up in the church, you have heard all your life. And even if you didn’t you’ve heard them because many of these phrases are used in poetry and literature.

(v. 4) Greater is he that is in you than he that is the world.

(v.7) Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God for God is love.

(v. 12) No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

(v. 15) Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him and he in God.

(v. 18) There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear.

(v. 19) We love him because he first loved us.

(v. 21) And this commandment we have from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

What a great chapter! This chapter is foundational to understanding what it means for us to live a life of real love. 

(v. 10 NIV) This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us …

The love Christians are called to is not defined by what we do, but by what God has done.  The Blind Side is a movie based on the true story of how “Big Mike”,  a homeless, family-less, poor, black kid going nowhere, became Michael Oher — first round draft pick at left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens.  Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, a Christian family committed to doing the right thing, bring Mike into their home and make him part of their family. The transformation that follows is breathtaking — it is an inspirational example of human love.  But even this exceptional act of love doesn’t set the Christian standard for love. Not long ago our 3 year old grandson Miller called Mimi’s phone and said “I want you come to me house”.  Sheila said,  “Is your mama sick? Why you want me to come to your house?”  Miller said, “Because me love you.” But even a 3 year old’s pure love doesn’t set the Christian standard for love. God sets the standard.  He is love.  He revealed to us what love is.

(v. 9 NIV) “This is how God showed his love among us…”

He told us that he loves us, and showed us that he loves us. This is an important characteristic of love—it needs to be shown not just said. Sometimes we say, “I love people, I’m just not good at showing it. I’m just not good at saying it.” Guess what. We need to get good at it. Our words must be congruent with our actions. We need to learn to tell people with words and show people with actions that we love them.

The love Jesus calls us to is a sacrificial love. (v. 9-10 NIV) “He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him…he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  God’s love cost him something — it cost him everything. He gave up his Son, and his Son gave up his own life, so that we could experience forgiveness of sins and inherit eternal life. This was the only way it could be done. As Jesus faced death on the cross, he prayed, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” (Matthew 26:39 NIV) It was not possible. This was the way it had to be.

Why did it have to be this way? If God is God, why couldn’t he just say “Everyone’s forgiven” without the necessity of the death of Jesus? It’s because of God’s nature. God must be consistent with Himself. He is holy and just; therefore sin must be dealt with. But God is also merciful and compassionate; therefore sin must be dealt with according to His generous and loving nature. We couldn’t save ourselves, so He gave His Son to save us. He paid a debt He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay.

Jesus on the cross – that is sacrificial love. Makes our sacrifices seem small, doesn’t it? The love Jesus calls us to show sacrifices for the one who is loved.

Jesus calls us to a love that loves the unlovely. When you chose your best friend, your BFF you started with someone you liked, someone you thought would be a good and loyal friend, someone worthy of your love. Right?  You certainly didn’t seek out someone whom you knew in advance to be unfaithful, dishonest, manipulative, cruel, selfish and uncaring. you made the best of your friends your best friend.  That’s certainly what I did.

When I chose Sheila to be my bride I chose her not only because she was hot (she was and is) but because of all the girls I had dated and all the girls I had as friends she was simply the best.  She had the best character.  She was the most honest. She was the most loyal.  I chose the best to be my bride. 

But that’s not how Christ chose his bride. He didn’t choose the best; he chose the worst. God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NIV) We don’t receive God’s love because we’re worthy. We’ll never be worthy. We receive God’s love because he is loving, and he loves even the unlovely — you and me. This is the example we are to follow: not to show love only to those who are good and worthy but to show love even to those seem unlovable. Just like God loves us. God sets the standard for Real Love and only through Jesus can we show it to others.

Thank God for Meaningful Love

Following up on yesterday’s blog theme of  Thanksgiving.  Another great gift from God for which we should be thankful is meaningful love.  Especially when we consider the confused self-defeating meaningless love that is popularized in the media today. J udging by most movies and TV characterizations love has become just a synonym for pleasure. But pleasure is fleeting and love is permanent.  Meaningful love is permanent, self-sacrificing and active.   

Stephen Moore, in his poem entitled “The Second Mile,” states it this way:

Stern Duty said, “Go walk a mile
And help thy brother bear his load.
I walked reluctant, but meanwhile,
My heart grew soft with help bestowed.
Then Love said, “Go another mile.”
I went, and Duty spoke no more,
But Love arose and with a smile
Took all the burden that I bore.
‘Tis ever thus when Duty calls;
If we spring quickly to obey,
Love comes, and whatsoever befalls,
We’re glad to help another day.
The second mile we walk with joy;
Heaven’s peace goes with us on the road,
So let us all our powers employ
To help our brother bear life’s load.”

Paul says it best in GAL. 5:6 “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Jesus  is the ultimate expression of love because he is the ultimate expression of self-sacrifice. 

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote,

“Do not waste your time bothering whether you `love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”  That really says it all.  Love is not just sentiment, it is action.  Love is not just loving those like us or those we like, it is also loving those who are unlike us and even those that disgust us.  Love is faith expressing itself in acts of love.  Meaningful love, though often pleasurable, is not for our pleasure but is a way of actively expressing our faith.  Actively expressing our faith by being loving and unselfish has a wonderful by product: happiness.  That’s right happiness is a by-product of loving actively and unselfishly. 

In a world where love means less and less we should be very thankful that Jesus showed us meaningful love.