What is Love?

love

Dictionary.com defines love as “a passionate affection for another person.” But then again, Dictionary.com also believes that boys can turn into girls, so they’re probably not the best source for getting an accurate (let alone biblical) definition of love.

And it’s incredibly important for us to understand what love is. After all, we are repeatedly commanded by Jesus to love:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 25:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27)

Jesus reiterates this commandment in His final discourse:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34)

Heck, God goes as far as to say that He is love:

“We have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

So, what is love? Is it a feeling? Is it being nice? Is it an open door, or a battlefield, or a drug?

According to the bible, love is obedience to God’s commandments:

“If you love Me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” (John 14:21)

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2-3)

This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in them.” (2 John 6)

In any given situation, the most loving thing you can do is the thing God has told you to do. No wonder God gave us these wonderful commandments. It wasn’t just to keep us in line; it was to keep us in love, and as long as we obey His laws, we can be certain that we will be walking in love*.


Notes:

* Some readers might deny this biblical definition of love, citing the Pharisees as a counter-example. After all, the Pharisees supposedly kept the law, and yet would not be considered very loving by Jesus’ standards. In actuality, the Pharisees didn’t keep the law—at least they didn’t keep the whole law. Sure, they kept some of it, but they also rejected a whole lot of it (Matthew 23:23, Mark 7:8-13). Obeying a few commandments while intentionally ignoring the rest isn’t true obedience, and thus isn’t love.

Tell Someone that God is the Healer

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Mark 5 recounts the tale of the “Woman with the Issue of Blood.” We are told that she had some unspecified medical condition, described “a flow of blood for twelve years” (Mark 5:25). She had spent all the money she had to visit the best doctors money could buy, but only grew worse.

Finally, when she heard about Jesus, she declared in faith, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well” (Mark 5:28). Sure enough, she gets exactly what she said: As she reaches out to touch the men of his garment, she was immediately healed, and Jesus commends her for her faith, saying “Your faith has made you well” (Mark 5:34).

Much could be said about this story: her faith, her words, her salvation (the same word used to describe our salvation is used by Jesus to describe her healing). But there is one verse in this story that is oft overlooked.

When she heard about Jesus…” (Mark 5:27)

This woman was ritualistically unclean. She had a rather unpleasant ailment, and would have been an outcast of society, rarely leaving the comfort of her home. And yet, she somehow inexplicably heard about Jesus.

How?

Someone left his comfort zone to tell this diseased and destitute woman about the long-awaited Messiah.

We know nothing of this mysterious someone. He (or she) isn’t even mentioned directly in this passage. But this someone is the hero of the tale. For if someone hadn’t delivered the message, this woman wouldn’t have been healed, this chapter wouldn’t have been written, and countless believers wouldn’t have been blessed by this story of faith and salvation.

We need more someone’s in the church today. We need men and women who are willing to visit people like this woman, people who aren’t welcome in society, people who aren’t visited, people who frankly smell bad or look unseemly or aren’t a joy to be around.

We need believers like the four friends of the paralytic, who, refusing to take “no” for an answer, stormed Jesus’ house with their crippled friend in tow, going so far as to bust a hole in the roof of a stranger to get their friend to Jesus (Mark 2:1-4).

Too many sick people are more like the 38-year paralyzed man in John 5:

“Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.” (John 5:7)

It might be unpleasant. It will be inconvenient. But it’s necessary. And it’s our call as followers of Christ:

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14)

So next time you see someone with a runny nose, or a broken leg or an incurable blood disease, tell them about our Healer. Tell them about our Great Physician. Tell them about the God who does all things well. How else will they be saved?

Encouragement from Genesis

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I recently reread the book of Genesis with several teenagers from the church. While discussing it, the most common thing the students brought up was all the weird and terrible things the main characters kept doing:

  • Abraham lies about his wife being his sister, and she is almost swept into Pharaoh’s harem
  • Lot, while inebriated, impregnates both of his daughters
  • Judah sleeps with (who he assumes is) a prostitute, then tries to have her executed
  • Jacob deceives his father to steal from his brother, then spends twenty years running from God
  • Isaac, like his father, practically sells his wife into an enemy king’s harem to save his own skin

And that’s not the half of it! From cowardice and theft to sexual deviance and murder, they were guilty of it all.

But here’s the beautiful thing… God still blesses them!

Despite their sin, despite their selfishness, despite it all, they are still God’s people.

Why?

Because God made a promise. God promised some idol worshipper named Abram that if he forsook his previous life and followed after the one true God, that God would bless Abram and all his descendants after him (Genesis 12:1-3). And Abram, while certainly not perfect, followed God (Genesis 12:4). Abram, though he occasionally faltered, believed what God had said (Genesis 15:6). And God kept His promise.

And an entire family, an entire people, an entire nation was blessed because of it.

And the Lord said, “I will be with you and bless you. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven. And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 26:2-5)

There are two lessons to learn from this:

  1. You are blessed because God made a promise.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably not perfect. You make mistakes. You slip up. But guess what? In spite of all that, God will still bless you. Why? Because of someone else’s faithfulness.

If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29)

  1. The choices you make will bless your family for generations to come.

Over four thousand years ago, some guy in the desert listened to God, and God blessed him. His wife didn’t always listen to God, but God blessed her because anyway. His kids didn’t usually listen to God, but God blessed them anyway. His nephew didn’t listen to God, but God blessed them anyway. His grandkids and great-grandkids ran from God and disobeyed Him, but God blessed them anyway. And four thousand years later, a world that largely ignores God is still being blessed by Him. All because of a promise God made:

In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

Your obedience affects those around you. Your faithfulness will transcend your short time on earth. So don’t just live for yourself. Live for your family. Live for your community. Live for the generations that are yet to come. They are counting on you.

BIBLICAL ECONOMICS: God Cares about the Poor

There is much conversation today about poverty. From politics to the pulpit, from backyard talks around the barbeque to internet debates on Twitter, everyone has something to say about the poor. But what does God say about the poor?

The bible makes it clear that God cares for the poor. We are told throughout scripture that God:

  • defends the needy (1 Samuel 2:8, Psalm 12:5)
  • is a refuge for the poor (Psalm 14:6, Isaiah 25:4)
  • saves and rescues the poor from destruction (Psalm 35:10, Psalm 72:4, 12-13, Psalm 109:31, Jeremiah 20:13)
  • listens to the prayers of the impoverished (Psalm 34:6, Psalm 69:33)
  • promises to help the needy (Psalm 69:32, Isaiah 14:30, Isaiah 41:17)
  • and lifts the poor up close to Himself (Psalm 113:7, Psalm 140:12, Psalm 146:7)

Not only does God care about the poor, but He commands us to care for the poor as well. We are commanded:

  • not to exploit or take advantage of the poor (Deuteronomy 24:14, Proverbs 22:22)
  • not to deny or pervert justice towards the poor (Exodus 23:6, Leviticus 19:15)
  • to be kind to the needy (Proverbs 14:21, Proverbs 14:31, Proverbs 19:17)
  • not to oppress the poor (Proverbs 22:16, Proverbs 28:3, Zechariah 7:10)
  • to share with the poor (Leviticus 19:10, Proverbs 22:9)
  • not to mock the poor (Proverbs 17:5)
  • to speak up for the poor (Proverbs 31:9)
  • to consider the poor (Proverbs 29:7)
  • And to listen to the poor (Proverbs 21:13)

Furthermore, Jesus cared for the poor, and commanded His followers to do the same:

  • Jesus first announced His ministry with the claim that He was anointed to “preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18)
  • He regularly told His followers to give to the poor (Mark 10:21, Luke 6:38, Luke 12:33)
  • He was so charitable to the poor that when one of His followers left a room, it was assumed they were going to give to the poor (John 13:29)
  • He told His followers to make sure to spend time with the poor and invite them to fellowship together (Luke 14:13)
  • Part of His ministry was preaching the gospel specifically to the poor (Matthew 11:5)
  • Jesus famously told His disciples to feed the hungry and thirsty, clothe the naked, and take in the stranger, claiming that caring for the “least of these” was caring for Jesus Himself (Matthew 25:34-40)

Jesus’ followers took these commands to heart:

  • Paul wrote that Christians should be hospitable and charitable to those in need (Romans 12:13, 2 Corinthians 9:7)
  • John wrote that caring for others in need was evidence that a believer was filled with the love of God (1 John 3:17)
  • In their respective ministries, both Peter and Paul were eager to remember the poor, and encouraged each other to do so (Galatians 2:10)

From the Old Testament to the New, it is evident that God cares for and helps the poor, and that He expects His followers to do the same. But a few questions arise:

How are we to help the poor?

What are the causes of poverty?

We will examine these questions related to the biblical view of poverty in a series of future articles, BIBLICAL ECONOMICS.

charity-poor

God isn’t mad when your storehouse is full

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In Luke 12, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who built giant barns to store all his grain. After he completed the construction of the new barns, he died. Jesus concludes by calling him a fool and then saying, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Recently, I’ve heard a few people expound that the moral of Jesus’ parable is that money is bad. Particularly, it is immoral to save money, be it your 401k, retirement, or investments of any kind.

But that isn’t what Jesus said.

In the parable, Jesus criticizes the man for storing up things for himself but not being “rich toward God.” Jesus doesn’t condemn men who have both treasure on earth AND treasure in heaven; He is solely concerned with men who choose to have earthly treasures rather than heavenly treasures.

We see this truth throughout the bible. In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Paul tells Timothy to “command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them to good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

Paul writes that we can store up treasure in heaven by being ready to give and willing to share the resources God has blessed us with. But he also says that God “gives us richly all things to enjoy.” God doesn’t have a problem with you enjoying what He has given you; He only commands that you be ready to give.

Finally, Proverbs 8 says “I [wisdom] traverse the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice, that I may cause those who love me to inherit wealth, that I may fill their treasuries.” Proverbs makes it clear: God-given wisdom will fill your storehouses. Clearly Jesus (who became for us wisdom from God, 1 Corinthians 1:30) doesn’t have a problem with wealth, storehouses, and savings. He merely points out that to ignore heavenly wealth is foolish.

According to Jesus, Paul, and the Old Testament, it is possible to be rich in both earthly treasure and heavenly treasure. The key is being willing to give. So give. Share. Do good. And enjoy.

IRS Kerfuffles and the Leading of the Holy Spirit

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I’m in the process of trying to close escrow on a house. But it has not been easy.

While getting our loan, we found out So Cal Edison had mistakenly opened a claim against us for a bill we had actually paid. This happened almost a year ago, but we didn’t find out until this last month. I called So Cal Edison and they agreed that a mistake had been made, but that there was nothing they could do. They advised I call the collection agency to clear it up. I called the collection agency, and they informed me that, unfortunately, there was nothing they could do, and advised I call So Cal Edison to clear it up.

It took a week of kind, harsh, understanding, and irate calls and hours on hold to finally resolve the situation.

Then things progressed. Until…

Our lender called me to say they had not received 2017 transcripts from the IRS. They told me to call the IRS and have them fax the transcripts over. I called, and after several calls were dropped, I finally made it to an agent appropriately named “Mr. Smith.”

After several hours on hold, Mr. Smith finally informed me that, while the IRS had received, processed, and cashed the check we sent, they had accidentally misplaced our tax return. On behalf of the IRS, Mr. Smith was very sorry, but informed me there was nothing he could do to correct this mistake, as there was no protocol to handle these sorts of situations (which happen more often than you’d think, he told me). My best bet was to send them everything again (sans the check), and wait (and hope) for the trusted IRS to process everything correctly this time.

Through this (and many other unforeseen issues), it became apparent: the devil was trying to prevent us from closing escrow. God must really want us to buy this house.

But what if, instead…

* * *

I’m in the process of trying to close escrow on a house. But it has not been easy.

While getting our loan, we found out So Cal Edison had mistakenly opened a claim…

… My best bet was to send them everything again (sans the check), and wait (and hope) for the trusted IRS to process everything correctly this time.

Through this (and many other unforeseen issues), it became apparent: God was trying to prevent us from closing escrow. God must really want us to NOT buy this house.

* * *

In the bible, Gideon wasn’t sure if God would save Israel. So he decided to look for a sign: he would leave a cloth out on the ground, and if the cloth was wet in the morning, Gideon would know that God would save them.

Morning came, and the cloth was wet. But then Gideon realized, “This could just be a coincidence.” So he decided: he would leave a cloth out on the ground, and if the cloth was dry in the morning, Gideon would know that God would save them.

Morning came, and the cloth was dry. At this point, Gideon stopped asking for signs, and believed what God had actually said a few verses earlier: “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you? Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:14, 16).

* * *

It’s easy to look for signs… until you realize that signs aren’t usually very clear. The IRS lost my tax return. That could mean God doesn’t want me to buy this house… or it could mean that God does want me to buy this house… or it could mean that government agencies are not very efficient. Who knows? (Probably the third one.)

My point is this: God doesn’t lead through circumstance. If He doesn’t want you to do something, He’s not going to send the IRS after you; He’ll just say, “Hey, don’t do that” (Acts 13:2). Better yet, chances are He has already told you what you should and shouldn’t do in scripture.

So rather than make your decisions based on esoteric signs and circumstances that could be interpreted in any number of ways, make your decisions the way God intended: based on the revealed Word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Anything else is just chance.

50 practical things Jesus did with His disciples

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  1. He taught them (Matthew 4:23)
  2. He ate with them (Matthew 26:26)
  3. He traveled with them (Mark 6:1)
  4. He went camping with them (Matthew 8:20)
  5. He went to church with them (Mark 1:21)
  6. He worshipped with them (Matthew 26:30)
  7. He prayed with them (Matthew 26:36)
  8. He prayed for them (John 17:9)
  9. He spent time with them doing regular things (see below)
  10. He fished with them (Luke 5:4)
  11. He hiked with them (Mark 3:13)
  12. He barbequed with them (John 21:9)
  13. He hung out at their place (Mark 1:29, Matthew 9:10)
  14. He invited them over to His place (Mark 2:1, Mark 3:20)
  15. He stayed up late to help them (Mark 1:32)
  16. He met their families (Mark 1:30)
  17. He gave them nicknames (Mark 3:17 & Luke 9:54, Matthew 16:18)
  18. He allowed them to be them (as evidenced by Peter’s entire existence)
  19. He called them out when they were sucking (Luke 9:55)
  20. He encouraged them when they were on track (John 1:47, Matthew 16:17)
  21. He joked around with them (Luke 24:13-36; great 15-minute sermon about it here)
  22. He cared deeply about them (John 17:12)
  23. He talked theology with them (Matthew 13:24)
  24. He talked politics with them (Matthew 22:21, ; Matthew 20:25)
  25. He talked business with them (Matthew 20:15)
  26. He made them uncomfortable (John 6:60-61)
  27. He explained things to them (Matthew 13:11)
  28. He used words they could understand (Matthew 13:47, Matthew 4:19)
  29. And when they still didn’t understand, He slowed down (Matthew 15:16)
  30. He gave them advice (Luke 10:25-37)
  31. He helped their businesses (Luke 5:6-7)
  32. He defended them (Mark 9:18-19)
  33. He fought for them (Mark 2:25-7, Luke 22:31-32, 1 John 3:8)
  34. He served them (John 13:5)
  35. He served with them (Matthew 14:19)
  36. He sacrificed for them (Matthew 17:12)
  37. He corrected them (Luke 9:50)
  38. He challenged them (Luke 10:8-9)
  39. He expected more from them than they expected from themselves (Luke 9:13)
  40. He trusted them (Matthew 21:1-3, John 19:26-27)
  41. He gently rebuked them when necessary (Mark 10:38)
  42. He harshly rebuked them when necessary (Matthew 16:23)
  43. He forgave them and gave them second and third and twentieth chances (John 21:15-17)
  44. He was patient with them (Luke 9:46-48)
  45. He never left them, but He allowed them to leave Him (John 6:66)
  46. He invested in them, even when there seemed to be little to no results (Luke 9:43-56)
  47. He was human with them (John 11:35)
  48. He lived with them (John 1:14)
  49. He showed them how to live (John 10:10)
  50. Essentially, He did life with them. Every. Single. Day.

Don’t Go, and Make Disciples

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We all know the great commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19)

Now here’s my question: What is the first thing Jesus commanded in this verse?

You probably said “go,” right? And… you’d be wrong.

You see, the word “go” in this verse (the Greek πορεύω) is in the passive tense, meaning He’s not actually commanding us to go. A more accurate translation would be, “As you go, make disciples of all the nations.” [1]

Most of us think our commission is to go somewhere (preferably some country far, far away) and get people saved. But that’s not what Jesus is saying. He isn’t telling us to go somewhere; He’s simply acknowledging that we all will inevitably go somewhere. And whenever we go somewhere, what are we supposed to do? Make disciples.

When you go to school, make disciples.

When you go to work, make disciples.

When you go to the grocery store, or soccer practice, or the neighborhood barbeque, make disciples.

No matter where you go, your commission is to make disciples.

So what are you waiting for? People are waiting. Get going!


 

[1] A few versions translate this passage accordingly:

  • Having gone, then, disciple all the nations (Young’s Literal Translation)
  • Therefore having gone, disciple all the nations (Berean Literal Bible)
  • Therefore, as you go, disciple people of all nations (International Standard Version)
  • So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations (God’s Word Translation)

Is It Wrong to Help People in Order to Spread the Gospel?

use meI’ve heard non-Christians levy this accusation at helpful believers several times:

You’re only helping that person so you can tell them about Jesus!”

Is this a genuine concern? If even part of our motivation in serving others is to preach the gospel, does that make it wrong?

As always, let’s look at the scriptures:

But when Jesus saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

In this passage, Jesus is moved with compassion for two reasons. First, He noticed their physical condition. They were weary and scattered. The NLT uses the words “confused and helpless” to describe their condition. Jesus certainly was aware of their problems, and wanted to free them of their distress.

Secondly, Jesus was concerned because of their spiritual condition. They were like sheep having no shepherd. They weren’t a part of God’s flock (John 10). They were separated from God (Eph. 2). And not only that, but Jesus identified that the reason they were weary and scattered was because of their spiritual condition. In other words, their utter separation from God resulted in their physical plight.

In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve sinned against God, they died spiritually, which led to death in every area of life. Separation from God resulted in all sorts of bad stuff, including sin, sickness, poverty, and strife. And we can work hard to battle sin, sickness, and poverty, but at the end of the day, all that is doing is attacking the symptoms rather than the source. Spiritual death is the problem; everything else is just a side effect.

That’s why Jesus said to John’s disciples,

The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matthew 11:5)

Jesus offers help to people in need, but ultimately, He offers the gospel to them, because the gospel is what will actually fix their problems.

Is it wrong to help people in order to spread the gospel? Certainly not! If you’re not preaching the gospel, you’re not really helping. You’re just covering up a wound that’ll get worse and worse.

* * * * *

I wrote a book. It’ll change your life. Buy it here. Enjoy.

Teaching My Son the Definition of Bravery

Inigo MontoyaAs some of you know, I have a six month old son. His name is Jack. And he’s awesome.

He’s just on the verge of talking. In fact, his mother is convinced he’s started saying “mama,” but since there’s no video confirmation, his first words are still up for grabs.

But soon he’ll be talking and learning new words.

That’s where you come in. There are several words you’ve been using incorrectly this week, and it’s going to confuse my son. So my request is that, regardless of your political or religious affiliations, that you would make an attempt to use these words the way the dictionary says they should be used.

The words in question are “brave” and “dignity.”

This week, a woman committed suicide. Many people are calling it a “brave” and “dignified” way to die. Now I’m not looking to discuss whether doctor-assisted suicide is a good or bad thing. I’m mainly concerned with the language we’re using to describe it.

“Bravery,” as I understand it, is putting yourself in danger or harm for the sake of others. Most dictionaries agree, saying that it is the ability to face danger, fear, and pain.

The soldiers defending our country are brave. They put themselves in harm’s way every single day to assure that you and I are safe. Many of them will die protecting us. They face danger, fear, and pain so you don’t have to. They are brave.

Christians who are being beheaded as we speak are brave. Terrorists are threatening to murder them in grisly ways unless they renounce their faith and embrace Allah. They have held to their convictions, and have been slaughtered as a result. They are brave.

Brittany Maynard didn’t want to fight. She didn’t face pain. She chose to bow out early, to die of a drug overdose in her bed rather than survive as long as possible for the sake of her husband, mother, and friends. That is not brave.

In any other context, we would call that cowardice. But at any rate, no one in their right mind would call that bravery.

But we didn’t stop there. Not only are we trying to confuse my son with nonsensical definitions of “bravery,” but we are also calling the way she died a “death with dignity.”

The implication is that those who have chosen to fight their illness rather than give up early have not died with dignity.

My grandmother died seventeen years ago fighting cancer. She lost all her hair, lost significant amounts of weight, and was bedridden in her last days, before dying a few days after Christmas. To say Brittany Maynard died with dignity is to say my grandmother died in an undignified fashion.

One was a fighter. The other was too afraid to fight.

One thought of her family. The other thought of herself.

One ended up losing the battle. The other gave up with a bottle of pills in her hand.

My purpose is not to criticize Brittany Maynard. Really, I just want my children to know what words actually mean.

We don’t need to call Brittany Maynard’s actions cowardly. That’s unnecessary, and will just make people mad. But please, for the sake of my son and his developing mind, let’s give up this ruse of calling her actions “brave” and “dignified.” Because her death was neither brave nor dignified.