Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where Is Love?

Years ago, as a freshman in high school, I landed the title role in the musical “Oliver”. I was excited about the part, but as opening night approached, my voice started to change. The shortest kid in school, I had anxiously awaited for puberty to arrive, but it came at such an inopportune time! One of my solos was a song entitled “Where is Love”, which I sung to an audience that heard one cracking note after another. On stage, I was smiling, but inside I was totally embarrassed. My response at the time was an inner vow to not sing a solo in public again, and for nearly ten years, I was silent.

I didn’t think of it at the time, but “Where is Love” was really an appropriate title for the moment. In reality, love is something that we strive for, and yet despite our best efforts, we can’t always hit the right notes. Life’s twists and turns sometimes cause us to sing off pitch or to crack on the high notes so that the intended melody results in relational discord. With the painful memory of unsuccessful results, it’s easy to make that inner vow: “Why put myself through that pain again? I’m through!”

But we were made for love: to be loved and to love in return. We weren’t made to understand perfect love as infants, but with trial and error, we learn to love better with each attempt. One of mankind’s greatest continual mistakes is forgetting why we were made. We were made for love, but it’s so much easier and pain-free to seek the comfort of accomplishment, finding identity in our talents, thinking that our abilities define who we are.
The Church is just as guilty of this mistake as the world around us, if not more so. We have been given resources for advancing the Kingdom, but we squander it on our temporary pleasures. We have been empowered by gifts of the Spirit, but these are often used to build pastoral kingdoms rather than building up the Body of Christ. The 12th and 14th chapters of 1 Corinthians discuss spiritual gifts as they are distributed throughout the Body for the building up of the Body. But right in the middle of this discussion, Paul goes down an important rabbit-trail:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
[Amazingly, even the use of spiritual gifts and the understanding of spiritual truths can be applied without love, and is therefore meaningless. All of our accomplishments, all of our talents, any miracles that come through God’s use of us are meaningless without love. We were made for love and not for accomplishment. The accomplishment isn’t a bad thing, but without love, it’s empty. So Paul reminds his readers what real love is… ]
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 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. 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.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)
One of the above descriptions of love that jumps out at me is when Paul says love “keeps no record of wrongs.” Forgiveness is such a key component of love! I also find it interesting that evil is not contrasted with good: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Love is rooted in truth. Forgiveness doesn’t deny the truth of an injustice, but it chooses to release the guilty party from their just due. It acknowledges the wrong act, but pardons the offender. Love reflects God’s grace.
So where is love in the church? It’s not necessarily rooted in programs. It’s not necessarily evidenced in extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit. It’s not necessarily a component of profound Biblical teachings. It CAN be in all these things, but it’s not the program, the manifestation or the teaching that is important… it’s the people.
We were made to know others, and to be known ourselves. We were made to love and to be loved. It takes patience and kindness. It stays away from envy, boasting, and pride. It refuses to dishonor others, refuses to seek self-edifying activities and refuses to be angered easily. It always forgives… and ultimately, always perseveres.
So where is love? It is in the people who allow God’s love to change our selfish tendencies, one day… one moment… at a time. The mature believer is the one who has learned -- truly learned -- to love, because the power of love is greater than any other spiritual gift.
“We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

This is the Day

I did a search at biblegateway.com for the phrase: “This is the day which the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” I hear it so often in Christian circles that I expected it to be scattered throughout scripture. But unless I did something wrong in my word search, I only found it listed once: Psalm 118:24.
I started searching for this phrase because I hear it frequently enough in Christian circles as an admonishment to rejoice in each and every day. But I see a lot of suffering going on around me, and I can’t honestly say I rejoice in each day. Let me give you a few sound bytes from my past week:
  • A friend’s nephew, a young adult, is in a coma
  • other friends of mine are close to being evicted from their home
  • I hear a phrase repeated in the workplace “Pick your ‘O’… overtime or out-of-work!”
So I did this search to get some context for what it means to rejoice and be glad in “this day”, thinking that it’s probably found in multiple places. I wanted context to understand where and how often it’s used, but like I said, all I found was one verse in Psalm 118.
I remember reading an email once that asserted Psalm 118 is the very center chapter of the Bible, wedged between the shortest chapter (117) and the longest chapter (119). To be honest, I never bothered to see if that was true until now. Bible trivia is not important to me. I value the wisdom of Scripture because I value truth and I want to apply truth to how I live my life. But there’s also this part of me that just doesn’t want to be “wrong”, so I had to see if Psalm 118 is in fact the center chapter of the Bible. So… (drum roll please)
Nope. Close, though… Psalm 117 has 594 chapters both before and after it, putting the shortest chapter right in the middle. So why does it matter?

I don’t know if it does… but it emphasizes the reason why I started the word search in the first place. There are so many things that we accept as true without ever questioning it. We call it “faith” when we blindly accept what men have said what we should believe, but the faith that really matters comes from a belief in what God says is true. If we hold in faith to concepts that come from men and not from God, we represent religion. But if we are willing to let go of religion and hold true to what God says is true, we represent the Kingdom of God.

Religion, I would argue, is counter-kingdom. When we forward silly emails that demand compliance with man’s rules, asserting “truths” that aren’t true and mores that enslave, all the while keeping a real relationship with God at arm’s length, we misrepresent the Kingdom of God. Whether it’s an email, or a doctrine or some set of behavior that’s considered appropriate for Christian circles, ambassadors of the Kingdom need to be disciplined in asking “how does this line up with God’s truth?”

I believe that all truth is God’s truth, but not everything people convey as “true” is based in fact. Opinions, agendas, and misperceptions limit our ability to understand truth, but regardless of our limitations, I believe that the truth is still out there to discern. I believe that God has created an order to this universe with an expectation that we will seek to understand. Proverbs 25:2 reads: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” The scientific method is founded on the beliefs that 1) reality is based on truth and that 2) truths about reality can be proven.

As followers of Christ, we are called to be ambassadors of the Kingdom. Christ’s only harsh words were reserved for the religious hypocrites of the day. He blatantly refused to follow the man-made, religious constraints, but He unswervingly adhered to the ways of God as provided in Scripture. For this, the religious authorities sought to have Him killed. But the reality of God is greater than the perceptions of man, and so by His death and resurrection, a greater understanding of truth can be understood by those who are open to the truth. And so, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” (Psalm 118 ).

So we can rejoice in the Lord (Phil 4:4), knowing He is greater than our limited perception of reality in this day -- greater than the momentary trials of this day -- and that He will be faithful to bring forth that day of our reward (Luke 6:23).
So in context, Psalm 118 reads (in part):
17 I shall not die, but live,
         And declare the works of the LORD.
 18 The LORD has chastened me severely,
         But He has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness;
         I will go through them,
         And I will praise the LORD.
 20 This is the gate of the LORD,
         Through which the righteous shall enter.
21 I will praise You,
         For You have answered me,
         And have become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders rejected
         Has become the chief cornerstone.
 23 This was the LORD’s doing;
         It is marvelous in our eyes.
 24 This is the day the LORD has made;
         We will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save now, I pray, O LORD;
         O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.
 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
         We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
 27 God is the LORD,
         And He has given us light;
         Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
 28 You are my God, and I will praise You;
         You are my God, I will exalt You.
29 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
         For His mercy endures forever.
We can expect suffering in this life, but for those who persevere in the truth, there is great reward. We are pressed with suffering but not crushed into oblivion; we have not been abandoned by our God. (2 Cor 4:8-9) And we can expect that our God will bring us through the suffering into a deeper knowledge of how great and how loving He is, not allowing us to stay in our place of comfort as He leads us into a greater reward.

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)