What Love Isn’t

January 16, 2022 by  
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By Lori Freeland –

“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” (I Corinthians 13: 4-8).

I’ve read I Corinthians 13 a hundred times, trying to digest and mirror the model of perfect love. I used this verse in my wedding. I used this verse in my grandmother’s eulogy. I used this verse when I became a mother.

But in striving for an understanding of what love is I’ve never twisted the words to think about what love isn’t.

Thinking about what love isn’t offers me a fresh way to view how I treat the important people in my life. Or how I should be treating my spouse, my kids, my family, and my friends. Thinking about what love isn’t helps me to see where I need to make changes in my relationships and in the way I show others I care about them.

Love isn’t rushed.

Time is a commodity of which I own very little. Most days, giving up my minutes and hours can be a greater sacrifice than writing a check. I’m guilty of giving a gift card in place of a homemade meal when a care calendar rolls around. I’ve been known to pick up a Kroger rotisserie chicken and steak potatoes after one of my friends has a new baby. But, I can’t remember the last time I’ve spent the afternoon preparing a homemade meal to bring to someone. Time shouts love so much louder than money. Time is precious. Time hurts to give. Love takes time.

Love isn’t cruel.

Why would I hurt someone I love? But I do. More often than I’d like. Isn’t love supposed to be about putting the other person first? Taking their needs into account above my own? So why do I let those harsh, destructive words fly from my mouth uncensored? Why do I put selfish desires over the ones I care about the most? Why do I forget that it takes ten good words to replace an ugly one? Love takes patience.

Love isn’t keeping score.

What have you done for me lately? I’m guilty of this in attitude, if not in words. Like a scoreboard, if I do something nice for my husband, somewhere in the back of my mind, I expect him to do something nice back. Real love gives to give. No expectations. Love rips down the scoreboard. Love doesn’t keep a tally.

Love isn’t hopeless.

Some days my emotions jump all over the place. I take what people say, or don’t say, out of perspective and I don’t feel loved. How many times have I been the cause of that feeling of worthlessness in another person? How many times have I brushed off a moment to bring hope and encouragement to those I care about? How many times have I missed the signs of need in those around me and made them feel unloved? Love brings hope.

Loving those around us is hard. Even when the bonds and the feelings run deep in relationships we’ve cultivated. We’re human. With all the shortcomings that brings. Thank goodness we have the model of ultimate love in Jesus to rely on when we can’t be what others need us to be on our own.

For The Love of God

January 13, 2022 by  
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By Kathi Woodall –

Agapeland—many of us in our 30’s or 40’s grew up singing fun songs about a magical place whose name meant “Land of Love.” We all knew agape (pronounced a-gă-pē) love was God’s kind of love.

I’m not a kid anymore; I’m thirty-… Let’s just say I’m in that age range I mentioned earlier. Is there a grown-up story behind the magic of Agapeland?

Agape-love involves reverence, obedience, appreciation, pleasure, unwillingness to abandon, and desire. The Bible teaches about four agape-love relationships; God loves Christ and us, Christ loves us, and we can love each other.

God’s agape-love climaxes in one key passage. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10 NIV). This intense passage both defines love and is the evidence of God’s love.

God created the physical world—waterfalls, giraffes, and lilacs. He also created the conceptual world—hope, sorrow, and love. Since God created love, He also defined love. Chocolate candies and heart-shaped boxes don’t define love. Jesus’ death—His atoning sacrifice—defines love.

Friend, our sin made us the recipients of God’s wrath. God had to separate us from Himself forever. However, Jesus came as the atoning sacrifice. In so doing, Jesus turned aside God’s wrath and allowed it to pour on Him. Imagine God’s wrath—piercing as nails and burning as fire—as it poured down on each of us. Before it scalded us, however, Jesus reached out and deflected the molten stream. His nail-pierced hands turned aside the wrath of the Father so it fell on Him and not us. He said, “This is love: not that our children love us but that we love them. This is love: the wrath our children deserve will fall on me and not on them.” That’s the real definition of love.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is also the evidence of God’s love. Returning to 1 John 4:9, God evidenced His love in the ultimate way; He sent His Son to die, “that we might live through him.” He gives us eternal life on account of the Son. Our life is the evidence of His love for us.

Agape-love should also describe believers’ relationships. In and of ourselves, we are incapable of agape-love. Throughout the gospels, only God refers to Jesus as agapetos, or beloved. For example, God said at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 KJV). The remainder of the New Testament never used it in this context again. The usage of the phrase shifted after the Holy Spirit indwelt believers. Agapetos appears 53 more times; every use is between fellow believers.

John encouraged believers to agape-love each other. We are able to because of Jesus’ sacrificial example. John wrote a few verses earlier, we, “love one another for love comes from God; everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7 NIV). Love extended to us; we extend it to others.

God’s ways are so contrary to the ways of the world! To try to fit Him into our definitions twists and warps the whole process. He is the definition of love. He is the evidence of love. He is love. When we truly know God and His feelings for each of us, then that same love naturally pours out to others. Since He loves us in this way, no reason exists as to why we should not be displaying that same love for others. Those who are loved—let us love.

Love Letters

January 5, 2022 by  
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By Jennifer Slattery –

One day, while cleaning out our closet, I found a shoebox tucked behind a bunch of clutter. Curiosity bid me, and I pulled it down and sifted through the items. It contained rusted railroad nails, an antique pocket watch attached to a chain, old baseball game stubs, and numerous other creased, rusted, or slightly tarnished items. My heart was touched to see the softer side of my husband displayed in the saving of each item.

I’m certain every stub and nail told a story, perhaps of the first baseball game he attended or the watch given to him by his grandfather who has since passed. But what touched me most were the numerous slips of paper and cards I found buried beneath it all, my young, immature writing scrawled across them.

I had to giggle at my immaturity. “I love you,” heart, heart, dot the exclamation point with a large heart. Those letters had touched my husband deeply, so much so that he had saved them all these years.

I paused, remembering the first love letter he wrote me. He’s not much of a talker, and even less of a writer. He’s notorious for the one word email. Or, the blank email, with everything I need to know written in the subject heading.

But on this day, he was Casanova with a pen. It was our first marriage retreat hosted at a nearby hotel. We went with scarred, yet healing hearts, and a bit of baggage. One of the first assignments we were given was to write a love letter to our spouses.

My husband and I found a quiet corner in a far back hotel hallway and set to writing what was in our hearts. We wouldn’t write about what was bothering us. It wasn’t time to resolve past hurts. It was time to love, and to tell each other what we cherished most about one another and our marriage.

Honestly, I was expecting a two, maybe three sentence letter: “I love you. I’m glad I married you. Love Steve.”

From the corner of my eye, I watched my husband hunched over his paper, pen in hand. He wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I write fast, so I finished first and set mine aside.

He continued to write. If only I had saved that first letter. I have no idea where it went, but it touched me so deeply, tears poured from my eyes as I read it.

Never underestimate the power of a written “I love you.” It has the power to heal, to soothe, to defuse, and to unite.

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1 NIV).

Sometimes we can get so caught up in the day to day, we forget to tell our spouses how much we love them. Often, we forget to think about our love for them. If you dwell on the negative, you’ll find it every time. But, if you seek out the lovely, good and pure, you’ll find it’s been there all along.

This Valentine’s day, I encourage you to write your letter a spouse telling them what you appreciate about them and what you love about your marriage. Perhaps, in the letter, reminisce about a romantic moment shared between the two of you. And most of all, cherish your spouse, focusing on their good qualities—those things that drew you to them—not things you wish they’d change.

A Dime for You and A Dime for Me

December 29, 2021 by  
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By Pat Hodges –

Sometime ago my wife told me a testimony of when God came through for her in an amazing way for what seemed like a trivial want. She was at work and wanted a soft drink during her break. She counted all the change in her pockets, which came to forty cents. The soft drinks in the vending machine cost fifty cents. She described that a little voice spoke to her and told her there was a dime in the change slot in the vending machine.

She went over to the vending machine and put her forty cents in. She then reached into the change slot searching for what the little voice had told her would be there. Sure enough, her fingers touched a coin, but to her amazement, she didn’t pull out one dime, but two. After getting her drink, she wondered why there had been two dimes instead of just one. She went back to her work station and found out her co-worker was also a dime short of getting a soft drink. With a big smile on her face, she handed the co-worker the dime.

God is not somewhere off in His own world, totally out of touch with our wants, desires, and needs as we might feel at times. We tend to think our wants and desires are too trivial for God; that He has no interest in them. We need to remember He cares about the small things, not just the big things, in our lives.

An example of this can be found in Luke chapter five when Peter and His brother had been out fishing all night and had come up totally empty handed. Out of frustration, they were ready to throw in the towel and call it a failed night. But Jesus showed up and told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Peter protested, but went ahead and obeyed the instruction. To their stunned amazement, there were so many fish their nets broke.

I’m quite certain that if we could go back and interview Peter before this occurrence, he might very well have had the same opinion that a lot of Christians have. God is too busy to pay attention to me and my wants and desires. But here, we see that even though Jesus was about His Fathers business, it was in the heart of the Father to bless Peter and his brother and to give Peter the desires of his heart.

Can you think of times when you might have dismissed praying for something believing your Heavenly Father wouldn’t be interested or would not want to take the time to listen to your heart’s desire? He’s more interested than you know.

Sins of the Past. The “S” Word: Part Two

December 20, 2021 by  
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By Lori Freeland –

Sin.

A past.

Everyone owns both. Combined, they can be quite unattractive. My sins plus my past? Definitely ugly. Certain periods of my life intertwine with blemishes I can’t scrub off. They feel dirty. Repulsive. Shameful.

Can you relate?

Whether I color my past transgressions white, gray, black or some palette of all three, a sin is a sin is a sin. God doesn’t differentiate between my white and my black. He doesn’t measure the gray and deem me good or bad. Acceptable or unacceptable. Fit or unfit.

“We have all fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

Some of my bad choices I’d rather not relive. Rather not reflect upon. Rather not revisit. I’d rather bury them in a hole under twelve feet of dirt, six feet of cement, and a semi.

But that’s not always my choice.

What if one day, tomorrow or many tomorrows down the road, a few of those mistakes come rapping on my door and no longer afford me the choice to stuff them down in denial? Do I pay for them over and over? Do I live in bondage to my past? Should I punish myself forever? Forever can be a really long time.

Sins burden. They’re heavy. They’re draining. They pilfer joy and generate fear.

Maybe we all have at least one or two skeletons we’d like to keep locked in the cellar. Things that bring us shame, humiliation, or terror if another person were to discover just what kind of life we’ve led. Maybe we’ve worked hard to keep them buried under that dirt and cement.

Fear and oppression are harsh places to live. They color your heart, your world, your perspective.

Is there alternative to the shame sin drops at our doorstep?

Absolutely.

I don’t have to live in slavery to my former choices. To my past. No matter what I’ve done. Are there consequences for my actions? Yes. Will I have to live with those? Maybe. But not in fear and not in bondage. What is brought into the light can no longer hold darkness.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

Yes. God offers me freedom. Like an over exuberant charge card rampage, when the debt comes due, He writes the check. He even covers the interest. His blood covers everything.

Everything.

The white lies. The muddy fabrications. The unpure choices. The murderous thoughts. The cruel words. All of it. Gone. And I’m left with a choice to seek forgiveness complete with a clean, white slate.

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25).

And if God doesn’t remember my sins, why should I? What an amazing gift. One I don’t want to blow.

What this gift offers me isn’t free reign to sin some more and come back begging an apology each time. What have I learned then? Nothing of value. What this gift does offer is a way to be different. To move into God’s light and make better choices so I can leave my past in the past, where it belongs.

Will I still continue to make mistakes? Of course. But I won’t live in bondage to those mistakes. I will do my best to forge ahead and, “…sin no more…” (John 8:11 KJV) knowing He will help me walk the path He’s designed. Resting in the knowledge that when I veer, His arms are always open.

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