Is Love an Action or Emotion?

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I’ve heard both sides of this argument.  Some say that love is a feeling that is proved through our actions.  Others say that love can’t be an emotion because God cannot command emotions, so love must be an action that may result in feelings.  I think that love is both.

Romans 5: 5,8 says, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us … God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  John Piper’s explains that, as we see in verse 5, love of God is experienced in the heart.  And as we see in verse 8, the love of God is demonstrated in history.  This would mean that there is head knowledge involved AND also affection of the heart.  

If we look at 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, we see both aspects of love: “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.  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.”  We see in verses 4-7 that love is not just a feeling.  God commands us to love others and he specifically shows us what that looks like.  Therefore we can see that love is most definitely an action.  However, if we also look at verses 1-3, we can see that love can’t be only an action.  Speaking in tongues, prophesying, giving to the poor, suffering for Jesus’ name, and trusting in God are all actions, but Paul says you can do all these things without love.  

Trials and Troubles

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Job 2:10b says, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”  That’s a good question.  But one I hesitate to answer.  Not because I don’t know the answer but because of the hard truth that this verse conveys.  The good is obviously preferred.  But the trouble?  That’s what changes, refines, and pushes us to God according to 1 Peter 1:6-7: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” God designed distress and hardships to strengthen the sincerity of our faith just as fire refines gold so that we can glorify Him fully.

John Piper puts it this way: “When gold is melted in the fire the impurities float to the top and can be removed. When the refining fire is over, the gold is even more valuable. So it is with your faith in God. You have faith. You trust his promises. But there are impurities in it. There are elements of murmuring and pessimism (I speak from painful experience). And there are tendencies to trust money and position and popularity alongside God—dirt mingled with the gold of faith. These impurities in our faith hinder our fullest experience of the goodness and greatness of God. So God designs to refine our faith with the fires of trial and distress. His aim is that our faith be more pure and more genuine. That is, that it be more utterly dependent on him and not on things and other persons for our joy.”

Our Heavenly Father, just as our earthly parents, does what He does for our best good, even when we fall flat on our face. It’s not that God forgot about us and for a moment let go of our hand. It’s more like what happens when a child is learning how to walk. If the parents never let go of the tiny chubby hands, never let the tot fall and get back up, the child will never learn how to walk. Through our tumblings, we grow stronger, we often learn more during the hard times.

So often, when we go through hardship, we feel like God has left us. We forget that “. . .we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). We seem to think that we are entitled to the good times but that we don’t deserve the bad times. Job reminds us not to just hold onto God in the good times but to also hold onto Him in the tough times of life when he says: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

You may be thinking that it’s too hard, that you shouldn’t be expected to find joy in sorrow, that Job cannot possibly understand this trial in your life. But what we seem to momentarily overlook is that Job 1:21 quotes the words of Job immediately following the death of all ten of his children and the complete annihilation of his livelihood. He had so much and one moment later had nothing. And in Job 2:10 (quoted above), while still mourning the death of his children and the ruin of his herd, Job is inflicted with painful sores; yet he still keeps his eyes on God. We need to have the faith of Job. We need to realize that we cannot ultimately understand the entirety of God’s plan.

In John 11, we read the story of a man named Lazarus. Lazarus was sick and his sisters sent a message to Jesus. Jesus, however, knew that through Lazarus’ death God would be even further glorified. Neither Lazarus’ sisters nor the disciples understood why Jesus waited two days before he went to Lazarus; they didn’t understand that it was God’s Will for Lazarus to die. Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, felt that if Jesus had come sooner, their brother might have been healed. They forgot that they were speaking to the One who in everything knows what is best. They didn’t understand His ways because they couldn’t see the end result, what God was planning, or what He had in store.

John 11:38-44 finishes the story for us: “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take away the stone,’ he said. ‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ’by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.”

I’m sure Mary and Martha never would’ve guessed what Jesus had in mind. If Jesus had come when they sent a message to Him, if He had healed Lazarus while he was sick, God would not have received the glory that resulted from Lazarus’ resurrection.

We should not feel that it is necessary to completely comprehend why we are currently in this season of life. Instead, we should continue forward with the realization that God has put us in exactly the place where we can give Him the most glory. Now, it is our choice: will we glorify Him by the way we live—no matter what is going on in our life? He may be using a hard time to grow and change us or to be more fully glorified.

Real Love

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My last post talked about my experience with my camper at Joni and Friends this summer. I have a lot of stories from that week at camp.  One of my favorite stories didn’t actually involve my camper.  The last night at camp, we had a talent show.  The campers are able to go up on stage if they want to and do anything whether it’s playing an instrument, dancing, singing, or magic tricks.  I heard one parent say how much she loved her daughter being able to get up there and perform.  It was something she couldn’t do anywhere else.  But here at camp, she’d get cheers and a standing ovation.  My favorite act of the night was when one couple came up on stage to dance to “Thinking out Loud” by Ed Sheeran.

The opening lines: “When your legs don’t work like they used to before and I can’t sweep you off of your feet…” summed up the whole dance because both of them were in wheelchairs.  As they circled each other in their wheelchairs, I couldn’t help but think that was true love.  They’d never be able to go on a hike together, but he could wheel up next to her and hold her hand.  They might not be able to experience a lot of things but they didn’t care because they were together.  It was an amazing opportunity to be able to watch their special dance.

“Real love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person” (Seth Smith).  We are all flawed in some way or another.  None of us are perfect.  We can’t go into a marriage or a relationship and expect smooth sailing all the time.  There will be problems, you will get hurt but love forgives and works through the problems.  Love gives you strength when the going gets tough whether that looks like financial struggles, a debilitating disease, or a physical handicap.  I want to love like that.

The Hands and Feet of Jesus

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I just got back from serving as an STM (short term missionary) for a week at Joni and Friends.  For those of you who haven’t heard of this ministry, we are trained to be a buddy for a child with special needs for about four days.  We participate with them in activities such as Bible study, arts and crafts, fishing, swimming, dancing, and a talent show.  While we are watching the children, there are programs for the parents to go to and relax.  I often heard that instead of going fishing or to the lake, the parents enjoyed just going back to their rooms and taking a nap because they didn’t get a chance to do that all year long.

I was paired up with a 9 year old boy who had aspergers and ADHD.  The first couple days were smooth sailing but the last full day of camp came with some difficulties.  My camper was non-compliant and physically aggressive and I wanted to give up.  When my patience was wearing thing and I just wanted to walk away, I kept trying to remind myself of his mom.  She’s raising him on her own–the father wasn’t in the picture, she works full-time, and is also busy at school furthering her degree.  I don’t know how she does it all but I was determined that camp would be a blessing and a relaxing break for her.

The last morning came with a session where the parents could share how camp had impacted them.  It was such an encouragement to see mothers and fathers getting up and sharing how many years they’d been bringing their families to camp and how they were looking forward to coming back next year.  But the biggest blessing of all came when my camper himself stood up and raised his hand.  When the microphone was handed to him, he said: “This was my first year at camp and I didn’t know what to expect.  But I had a great time and I made new friends.”  Then he turned to me, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “And I want to thank my STM, Addi.”  Let me just say the tears were forming.  His mom turned to me and said that he’d never talked in front of people before.  Crowds scared him and he wasn’t a big talker.

Galatians 6:9-10 comes to mind: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  

During that last session, the camp pastor read Philippians 4:11 which says: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”  Many of the parents at this camp were a wonderful representation of this verse.  They have learned to be content whatever the circumstances–whether or not their daughter will ever be able to say their name or their son will be able to see their face.  Whether or not their child will ever walk or ever be independent.  When the medical bills are piling up or another scare takes them back to the hospital.  When another surgery becomes necessary.  When their second or even third child is also born with autism or another disability.

I’m thankful for my time at Joni and Friends.  I always go to camp ready to serve and be a blessing but when I get there I end up being blessed far more than I can ever return.  The child-like faith and openness, the hugs and love from all of the campers reminds me that in some aspects of life, they are so much farther ahead than I will ever be.