Love: You Keep Using That Word…

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

John 15:12-14

The word love has a flexible usage in American English. It refers to anything from a passionate romantic attachment to a strong fondness for a flavor or aroma.

People use love to describe their feelings for their pet, their children, family, or their spouse. Love might describe an act rooted in compassion or an act stemming from sexual arousal or even a score in a tennis match.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Inigo Montoya

Like I said, it is a very flexible word.

But what does it mean? I guess that’s the problem with English. Love literally means all those things in my native tongue – and more.

"Love is patient and kind...

Even with all this flexibility, we the people still manage to misuse the term. We like to take a word that can perform the grammatical equivalent of a backbend and try to force it into something much more like a Gordian knot.

         "love does not envy or boast ...

For example, much of what is perpetrated in the name of love today would be more accurately termed indulgence or indifference. And if we’re brutally honest, sometimes we (myself included) use the word love as a neat slight of hand to cover our own laziness or fear of confrontation.

                  "it is not arrogant or rude ...

But perhaps the most gruesome twisting of this word comes when it’s applied in the name of my Lord to condone behaviors He actually gave His life to save us from. Or in plain terms, when sin is not only tolerated but celebrated and this celebration is called love.

                         "Love does not insist on its own way ... 

The truth is, sin is serious business. Deadly serious. And Jesus died to set us free from it. Not so we could run straight back into its often inviting – but always lethal – embrace.

                                      "it is not irritable or resentful...

Actual love should desire the best situation possible in the long term for the beloved, not just his or her short-term pleasure.

                                               "Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing...

For example, loving my children means laboring to instill a good work ethic into them both by example and by correcting laziness when it shows – even though it may be easier for me (and more fun for them) if I allowed their lives to be a nonstop Netflix and video gaming binge.

                                                             "But rejoices with the truth."  
                                                                     - 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

However, entertainment consumption never pays the bills, so if I take the easy route here and allow my kids a permanent pass on homework and chores, I’m actually inflicting damage by helping form habits and addictions that will hurt them in the long run.

Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man…

Proverbs 21:17a

Now take that one example and magnify it into a thousand careless acts of selfishness which impact eternity. Or maybe just imagine a couple thousand years, because eternity is too mind-bogglingly long to grasp. Which would you rather have: 80 years of fun and games followed by 1920 of agony? Or the reverse with unbounded joy tacked on for good measure?

And how many of us truly have agony for all our years? Few indeed, though even then, eternal joy would be worth it.

Now if we really believe what Jesus says, that He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and if we honestly love others, we’ll not only tell them about the glorious freedom from sin and eternal life He offers; we will behave as though we believe it, too.

Counting the Cost

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
(Luke 14:28-30)

Anyone who walks through this life with any kind of invisible illness or chronic pain knows what it means to count the cost. In my personal experience with chronic migraine, the ability to assess the risks of known triggers and weigh them against the cost – in my case, a migraine – is critical, especially if you are resolved to actually live and not merely exist until the end should come.

As a relatively handy illustration, I’ll relate a little experience I had on Holy Week this year. I have mentioned before that our small group was able to celebrate the Lord’s Passover under the guidance of a Jewish man and his wife during Holy Week. What I did not mention were the many migraine triggers that accompanied the event.

For one, any kind of stress – even what I call “good stress,” which includes enthusiastic anticipation – is a major trigger for me. Considering that I have longed to be a part of a Passover Seder almost since I read in the Bible that Jesus was a Jew, we can safely say that Trigger #1 was a go.

Then, of course, our small group meets in our home and since we would be having first-time visitors, I took the time to do some extra cleaning (which, in my world, lands the house extremely far from “Better Homes and Gardens” but at least puts us somewhere above “clearly, a natural disaster happened here.”) Getting overheated, particularly with moderate physical activity is a trigger for me. Because it was a fairly hot day and I did not bother to turn down the AC, we definitely had Trigger #2.

For some unexplained reason, I frequently get muscle cramps in my neck and upper back which can cause pain and, naturally enough, sometimes trigger migraines. Well, it must have been my lucky day because Trigger #3 was present as well.

I have at least two known food triggers – wheat, the consumption of which is an absolute guarantee for migraine fun, and alcohol which is only a trigger when there are other factors kind of pushing me towards the edge.

Matzo, of course, is made of wheat yet I did not want to be fussy, so I broke off the smallest pieces I could in order to participate. Knowing that there were plenty of triggers already lining up against me, I had intended to forgo the wine, but since a very helpful young man had already poured about an ounce in each adult glass, I once again chose not to speak up (although I did compromise by only having a sip at each point where a cup is supposed to be consumed during the meal). Ergot – Triggers # 4 and with all the others, #5 joined the party as well.

And yes, the following morning I woke up at around 3:00 a.m. with a doozy of a migraine; the kind that had me attempting a freaky, creeping sort of walk without fully raising my head and choking down the medicine while (very literally) praying that it would stay down long enough to work.

But it was worth it.

Sure, I lost a couple of days, but the heightened sense of communion with the Lord by participating in this very ancient tradition and the deeper understanding of how intentional His every act really is… well, there just aren’t words. For me, it was about knowing my God a little bit better. I had weighed the probable cost and decided to ante up.

Just so, when the Lord began the discussion that we jumped in on the middle of at the beginning of this post, He was trying to make everyone who was listening think for a minute. Understanding that the cost of following Jesus is… well, everything… we can see that it would be somewhat prudent to count the cost.

Following Him means He comes first; it is absolute surrender, and as my pastor said a couple of weeks back, when an army or nation surrenders to a conquering king, they do not set the terms. They accept them.

It is the same with Him, but I assure you that His terms are good. He asks that we give Him all that we are – absolute trust, absolute obedience, absolute surrender. Following Him means understanding that He sometimes withholds things that we are positive we need because He knows what is truly best for us. It means a commitment that extends for eternity and a willingness to be teachable and humble; to have our eyes opened to ugly and uncomfortable truths about ourselves and to feel the sorrow that our sin brings.

It means turning away from all of it – even the ‘pet’ sins that don’t seem that bad to us because He says that they are – and walking with Him no matter how hard things get.

In return, He offers us a life beyond the few brief decades of toil we have on earth; a life that will be free from sickness or sorrow or fear; a life in the glorious presence of God – an eternity to spend time getting to know the Eternal One.

I don’t know about you, but to me, that is definitely worth it!