Category: Love

We have forgotten how Jesus fished

Listening to the hymn, “Fishers of Men,” this morning I thought of Jesus’ words about how he would draw all people to himself.

Real fishing like I did with my dad decades ago involved casting a plastic lure attached to a monofilament line in among the underwater lairs of hungry bass. One fish bites. I set the hook into their mouths by yanking out the line’s slack. The bass fights. One of us wins; one loses.

When Jesus called Simon and Andrew to be fishers of men he did not call them to cast spiritual lures with hard-to-see line and trick unsuspecting people to grab hold and fight.

Simon and Andrew used nets to catch fish. They cast their weave out of their boat and hoped to capture fish below. I do not think Jesus was calling Simon and Andrew to go and cast spiritual nets to capture unsuspecting people. It surely is not what Jesus did.

Jesus merely meant: Come go with me and become a person who spends his day drawing  people, not fish, into your life. All metaphors have limits; they do not work completely. They help us get over a mental hurdle. Simon and Andrew’s lives were centered around fishing; Jesus’ call invited them to center their lives around humanity.

Starting somewhere in the not-too-distant past, my brand of Christian began to think of “fishing for men” as casting lures, snagging spiritually hungry people, and wrestling them into the church boat.

That is not what Jesus wants us to do. He wants us to do it the way he did it — by loving God and by loving our neighbor as ourselves. The lure of love has no hooks; it merely attracts. People who hunger for real living are drawn by that love.

Many people do not “go” to church because they do not see it as a place of love. Most people want to “be” in a community of love. They will reside where they are loved (wanted, respected, cared for) whether it be a bar, a gang, a club, or a church.

“And I, Jesus, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32, NRSV)

He draws. If we do not draw people, it is because we are not like Him, we do not love.

New Testament love stood at foundation of MLK’s work

The New Testament concept of agape love informed the civil rights work of Martin Luther King, Jr., as he became the voice of the movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Along the way of life,” King wrote, “someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.”

King clarified that he was not speaking of “some sentimental or affectionate emotion,” but rather as a connection that “means understanding, redemptive goodwill.” He went to the Greek language to make his point, explaining the meaning of agape.

Agape . . . is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. It is not set in motion by any quality or function of its object. It is the love of God operating in the human heart. . . . Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. . . . Another basic point about agape is that it springs from the need of the other person.

African American theologian J. Deotis Roberts called love the “key concept” in King’s worldview. “King had a passionate commitment to the love ethic in his theology.” King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, noted that King’s “belief in a divine, loving presence that binds all life” provided the “central element” of King’s philosophy of nonviolence.

In a 1967 address to an antiwar group, King repeated some of his words about love but added another twist. “When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life.”

Roberts questioned the depth of King’s doctrine of agape, but said King “overcomes many of our theoretical concerns as his ethical theology bears fruit through action.” Mrs. King made this same connection in calling her late husband an “apostle of love” and an “apostle of action.” King understood the relationship between love and justice.

In his first speech of the Montgomery bus boycott, King said the following, with responses from the crowd in parentheses:

Let us be Christian in all of our actions. (That’s right) But I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk about love, love is one of the pivotal points of the Christian faith. There is another side called justice. And justice is really love in calculation. (All right) Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love. (Well).

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)

Time to fall out of love

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)

“Love” is an extremely important word because it speaks of a very powerful reality. Our culture today, however, generally speaks of love in a manner very different from the biblical agape love.

Take Nate Ruess for example. He’s the lead singer for the band, Fun, and now has a solo single, “Nothing Without Love.” This is a great song about the power of romance.

Three years at sea after the storm
And this sinking ship of love you put me on
God, I wish a gust of wind would come
And carry me home …
She made me feel hope, you know
I am, I’m nothing without love

Those lyrics convey a deep sense of lost love. The words are pure poetry, which make you hurt with the writer.

Oh baby, show me a sign
Send up a signal that everything’s fine
Come on, slide up right here by my side
You know that I wanna rest in your light

The longing comes from somewhere deep in the grieving person’s soul.

I am nothing without love
I’m just these thoughts without a pen
And I would take credit for this song
But I am nothing without love

Isn’t this so true? We feel like nothing without love in our lives. And Ruess repeats and repeats the refrain, “I wanna rest in your light.” Love brings light to life.

Ruess is an artist. He has captured something important in the human experience with words set to a rather simple pop tune.

There is, however, a problem – a very big problem. This is a difficulty raised by the majority of popular songs and movies; it is the problem of a false god. The god of popular American culture is romantic love. Children, youth and adults are fed a steady stream of this philosophy through the art of some very gifted people.

P!nk is another pop writer and singer who captured the shallow unsatisfying nature of romantic love. In her 2012 song, “The Truth About Love,” which has nothing to do with God and contains at least one word I cannot print. P!nk says:

The truth about love comes at 3am …
And you say to yourself
I’m gonna figure it out, I’m gonna crack that code …
‘Cause, no one has the answer
So I guess it’s up to me to find the truth about love is it comes and it goes

Note the “it comes and it goes” line. Biblical love does not come and go; it stays.

A strange fascination with his lips on toes
Morning breath, bedroom eyes on a smiling face
Sheet marks, rug burn, and a sugar glaze
Shocking me all, they can eat your eyes
It’s the truth about love

P!nk, in so very few words, captures the allure of erotic attraction. But note her verdict on these enticements – “they can eat your eyes.”

I think it just may be perfect
The only person of my dreams
I never ever ever ever been this happy
But now something has changed
And the truth about love is it’s all a lie
I thought you were the one, and I hate goodbyes

This kind of love is “all a lie.”

The truth about love is it’s blood and it’s guts
Purebreds and mutts
Sandwiches without the crust
It takes your breathe, cuts and leaves a scar

This love leaves hurt and scars in its path. That’s the truth, P!nk says.

I think it just may be perfect
The only person of my dreams
I never ever ever ever been this happy
But now something has changed
And the truth about love is it’s all a lie
I thought you were the one, and I hate goodbyes

The feelings pass; the emotion has no lasting substance.

Rod Dreher, in his new book, How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem, has a very counter-cultural perspective on love. After reading a letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to his son, Dreher said he turned away from “the vision of romantic love that books and movies told me was true, because now I knew better.”

In the 1941 letter, Dreher said Tolkien “warned his son to be wary of courtly love, which exalts ‘imaginary Deities, Love and the Lady.'”

I have not read the full letter nor the book, but Dreher is onto something. Our culture knows very little about the self-giving love exhibited by Jesus. What it knows is romantic attraction that has been redefined as love. It uses the language of being “in love,” as if it is something thrust upon a person rather than using it as a strong and active verb.

Bible translations even have fallen prey. In Genesis 29:18, the better translations say, “Jacob loved Rachel.” A few popular Bibles have language like the New International Version’s, “Jacob was in love with Rachel.”

Catch the difference. In the first, Jacob did something. In the latter, Jacob experienced something.

If I were a betting man, I would wager the New Revised, King James, New American Standard, and Holman scholars got it right by using the very active “loved.”

We need less falling in love and more loving – giving of self to others.

Virtually, every popular movie and most songs are about the emotional experience of falling in love (or, in country music, having your heart broken after falling in love). No wonder children grow up thinking falling in love is the greatest thing that can ever happen to a person.

This thrill of emotion leads young people to misunderstand what it means to really share a life with someone else. Couple this misunderstanding with declining sexual morality, and you have emotionally charged men and women (boys and girls) engaging in the most intimate of relationships with someone for whom they will soon lose their emotional attraction.

You get “soul mate” language that is used to justify the breakup of marriages and families.

Falling in love is about emotion; loving is about giving and commitment.

Rod Dreher understands the difference between what the world calls love and what the Bible calls love because of his sexual adventurousness prior to getting right with God. Dreher is a Catholic, but he’s reading pretty much the same Bible. He writes:

Many Catholics think the Church makes too big a deal about sex; some think the Church should say nothing about sex at all. But practicing chastity after my experience with sex, I understood the Church’s teaching. All the lies I had told myself, and that our culture tells us, about what sex is for left me feeling hollow and unsatisfied.

I didn’t want sex; I wanted love. I mean, yes, I wanted sex, but when it was decoupled from love, that desire was a counterfeit, a false idol. It was destructive to me and to the women I had been with. I realized around this time that by trying to banish that guilty feeling so I could be as free as I wanted to be and thought I had a right to be, I was killing off the most humane part of myself.

When I embraced chastity, I had no idea if I would ever get married. The thought that this might be a lifetime thing filled me with dread. But the prospect of going back to the Egypt from which I’d just been delivered was worse. So on I went, trusting that God knew what was best for me, and that I would rather die to my body with him than live in my body without him.

God did eventually lead Dreher to a woman he could love deeply, and you get the sense from reading his story that it is very much like the biblical one quoted above — Rod loved Julie. It happened when he first held her hand on a visit to Austin. And as Rod tells the story, it conveys an experience of deeper emotion than can be encountered in a culture that misunderstands love as something one falls into.

We went to dinner that night, and out for a late coffee on Saturday. We spent Sunday together, and had our first kiss in the parking lot of Waterloo Records. Three days later, me back at my job in Florida and her in Austin, we were emailing, talking about marriage.

It was crazy. But we both knew. Four months later, after only a few weekends spent together but many, many emails and phone calls, I flew to Austin and, kneeling in a chapel in front of an icon, proposed marriage. She accepted. …

How in the world had that happened, and happened so quickly? Sure, I’m a hopeless romantic, but I am convinced that if my own heart had not been purified by those three years I spent walking through the fire, I would not have recognized that the smile of the beautiful, pure-hearted woman who was my own Beatrice, for whom I had been praying and longing for many years.

Now, that’s a love story, and the depth of it was only made possible by the purity and pursuit of real love that preceded it.

The object of our love is the key

The Apostle John stated that God is love (1 John 4:8), but many years later H. Richard Niebuhr made a great distinction in regard to the thinking of Jesus. “Though God is love, love is not God” for Jesus.

Niebuhr’s words were published in 1951 in what has become a classic, Christ and Culture. And, as with any true classic, there is a timelessness to the insights.

An interesting thing has happened in America since 1951; it seems that love has indeed become a god in our culture. Almost everyone exalts love; fewer exalt the God who is love and who, in Christ, showed us what love really looks like.

Jesus had his thoughts and worship fixed firmly on the God of love, faith, hope, and humility — not on those attributes themselves. “The greatness and the strangeness of Jesus’ love of God does not appear in his love of cosmic love, but in his loyalty to the transcendent power” of God the Father, Niebuhr wrote.

Jesus had a single-minded devotion to God, and his ethic was centered in God the Father and the value of the human soul, Niebuhr said. He was referring to Jesus’ “Great Commandments” to love God and others. These loves, however, are not on equal footing. “It is only God who is to be loved with heart, soul, mind and strength; the neighbor is put on the same level of value that the self occupies.”

Love and worship of God were at the center of Jesus’ theology and ethic. We err when we place love and worship at the center. The object of our love and worship is the key. When we put God at the center, then love and worship flow from our lives, and then other people want to know more about the source. And thus we are reminded of how worship, Christian living and evangelism are connected. When we worship God and live for Christ, evangelism becomes more genuine, more authentic because we have become more like Christ.