Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Last Hook

What's love got to do with it? Simple. Everything. As I reflect back on my life, it's that one word, love, that's lurking in the shadows. Waiting. Eluding. Taunting. Occasionally making an appearance only to disappear — as if it never existed. The question for me has always been... Why?

The last two years have resulted in a series of reflections and revelations about love, so maybe the best place to start is a definition of what love is... That should be easy. Right?

Google defines love as the following:

- (noun) an intense feeling of deep affection.
- (noun) a person or thing that one loves.
- (verb) feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone).

Perfect. That's been my definition of love all my life, and describes every relationship I've ever had. Intense feelings? Yep! Romantic? You bet! Sexual attachment? Guilty!

But maybe Google got it wrong, let's check another source... Wikipedia defines love as the following:

Love is a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes that ranges from interpersonal affection ("I love my mother") to pleasure ("I loved that meal"). It can refer to an emotion of a strong attraction and personal attachment.
That should seal the deal for us:

Love is a variety of different feelings... it involves affection, pleasure, emotions, attraction, and sexual attachment.
But Wikipedia goes on to say:

Love can also be a virtue representing human kindness, compassion, and affection—"the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another".
The good of another? Now you've got my attention. One of my favorite quotes of all time is by C.S. Lewis: "Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained."

A virtue? That doesn't sound the same as an intense feeling or a deep romantic or sexual attachment. If a virtue is behavior showing high moral standards it sounds like we need to go beyond feelings and physical attraction. I think if we're going to do that we need to find a more reliable source to define love. A source that is trusted. A source that hasn't been perverted by the conforming of culture and society. A source that has undergone and withstood scrutiny. And it would be really great if this source was old... really old.

Coincidentally I've read a few books about a "Book" that "has withstood 2000 years of intense scrutiny by critics, not only surviving the attacks but prospering and having its credibility strengthened by such criticism." (The Uniqueness of the Bible, By John Ankerberg)

Let's see what the Bible has to say about love:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
- 1 Corinthians 13:4
Wow! That sounds more like it doesn't it? This sounds like a virtue worth pursuing and experiencing. The question I find myself asking is "Have I experienced this love before?" The answer is "sort-of, kind-of, yes"... Not very convincing huh?  In the context of my immediate family I've been blessed to be surrounded by love the entirety of my life; but in the context of my personal relationships this concept of love has eluded me again and again. Don't get me wrong. I've convinced myself I've been in love, and spent year after year, and relationship after relationship, thinking and believing that was in fact the case; however, as I study how Scripture defines love in 1 Corinthians 13:4, I have to be honest with myself and come to the conclusion that I haven't experienced this kind of Christ-centered love in my relationships. Glimpses of it? Sure. But collectively, that just hasn't been the case for me. That might sound depressing, but it actually is encouraging, as we read in John 8:31 that "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

The truth is something we can work with. Messy or not, in truth we draw closer to and find God. So looking back through this new (although it's not new) definition of love, and through the lens of Jesus Christ, I can objectively reflect on the people and relationships I've experienced, and the choices I've made, and learn from them. After all, isn't that the point of failing? Getting back up... and don't miss this... moving forward.

We fall... we rise again...
Proverbs 24:16 tells us that "for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes."

We move forward...
Philippians 3:13 tells us that "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

There's something very important we often miss in this process. It's the concept of forgive and forget. We're Biblically commanded to forgive (Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 6:15)? How many times? As many times as it takes (Matthew 18:21-22). What's my point? If you don't forgive others, God your Father will not forgive you (Matthew 6:15). We should not only forgive, but we should do so at the pace we want God's forgiveness. Let me say that again. We should forgive others at the pace we want God's forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard, because it's not natural, but it is a choice. But here's where I think most of us get confused, as I did for so long. Are we commanded to forget? You'll find lots of commentary about forgiveness, but not so much on forgetting. Why is that? I agree that as far as it can be obtained, we should forget what is behind and press forward (Philippians 3:13); however, we're allowed to remember. In fact, we're designed to think and feel, and therefore we will instinctively remember things that have happened to us — especially pain and loss. I believe that we don't forgive and forget, but we forgive and remember, and we show the same grace and mercy to others that Jesus showed us. We remember the past. We reflect on the past. We learn from the past. We gain wisdom from the past. But we don't live in the past. We press forward and try not to make the same mistakes again.

That's been the missing piece for me, far too many years. I used to struggle with the should've, would've, could've and pressing forward. That was a choice I was wilfully making, and it came down to a decision to not fully surrender my life and my relationships over to the Lord. Would I look back and reflect? Yes. Would I learn? Sort of. But would I actually take what I learned and do the hard work of applying it to my current circumstances and decisions? Nope. I just wanted God to give me a second, third, fourth, and fifth chance... but when those chances became realities, I would tell God: Thanks, but I've got it from here. And inevitably I would see the past repeat itself, and what's even better, I'd act surprised at the outcome, almost convincing myself I wasn't sure how it went wrong, and why?

For me it came down to lack of trust, and ignorance. Ouch! Ignorance?! I've been called several names in my life, but only ignorant once, and it stung more than any other name. But turns out it was true. By not knowing the real meaning of love and the true source of love, I was fighting an unwinnable battle. It took patience, honesty, obedience, and me getting to a point where I was absolutely, positively, unconditionally, unequivocally and irrevocably surrendered to the Lord before I received the clarity I had desperately been seeking.

But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
- 1 John 4:8
Could it really be that simple? The answer is simply Yes! I didn't know love, because I didn't know God. Up until a year ago I had never asked God to be part of any relationship. Ever! Sad, but true. But as I grew in my relationship with Christ, something unexpected started to happen. I started to experience a love that I had never felt. The kind of love that is patient, kind, gracious, supportive, humble, honoring, unselfish, content, and joyous. A love that keeps no record of wrongs, rejoices in the truth, and always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. It wasn't the love I expected, but it was exactly the love I was seeking and needed. I didn't know what I was looking for, or who I was looking for, or maybe more importantly who was waiting for me!

The love of Christ Jesus now covers my life, and provides the lens necessary to completely heal and let go of all the what ifs and press forward with a fully transformed heart, mind, and spirit. The hooks that once were twisted in my heart and caused me so much pain, sadness, and lost time have finally been dislodged. One hook at a time the precious grace and love of Jesus Christ brought me one step closer to my freedom. The key for me was recognizing that I couldn't obtain freedom through own efforts. My freedom from my past, my pains, and my failures could only come through Jesus.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
- John 8:36
It was and is through my relationship with Christ, and Christ alone, that I was set free from the bondage of sin and the vicious cycle of my past. As I draw closer to the Lord, and intentionally make the choice, and it is a choice, to pursue Christ, and to invite Him into my life daily, I'm able to rely on God's love, confidently, and to grow and mature in every respect.

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.
- 1 John 4:16
We all have experienced hooks in our lives. What's yours? Mine was a broken relationship and the seemingly shattered dream of a family not-to-be. Maybe yours is an addiction? A failed marriage? Anger? A lost job? Gambling? Pornography? We there yet? It's not enough to just go through the motions. It's not enough to give one-day a week to God. It's not enough to give bits and pieces of your life to God. We must not lack the substance required to live according to the Holy Spirit. Maybe it's time to reevaluate your life and put it under the microscope of an all knowing, all seeing, all powerful God. It's in that moment where I decided to go 100% all-in and fully invest in my relationship with Christ and completely surrender it all to Him that I found the love and the relationship that had eluded me. It was then, and only then, when I realized for the first time in my life: I am completely and entirely content. I already have the family I've been praying for. I already am loved, and know love, because I know God.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
- Ephesians 4:15
My challenge to you is to stop and ask yourself if you're fully invested in your relationship with Jesus Christ? Are there areas in your life where you are lacking? Are there relationships that need some work? Do you intentionally seek God's will? Have you invited Christ in to your life? If not, I hope today you'll consider asking Jesus to be your personal Lord and Savior and let Him start transforming your heart.