Sunday, July 31, 2011

July 31 -- The Kind of Love that Ignites Faith (Part 1)

Bit of review. We know grace is more than just the unearned favor of God that got us saved. We still have the favor and power of God to overcome and get us through anything we face. (Heb. 4:16). That power also exists to help us avoid the temptation to any sin. (Romans 6:14)
How do we get this grace? We can't do anything to earn it. God gives it to us because He loves us and because we've accepted Christ. However, the Bible says that we have "access by faith into this grace in which we stand." (Romans 5:2) If we need God's power, we need to access to it and the way we do is through faith.
So, what's faith? According to Hebrews 11:1, it is two things: (1) the foundation of all of our God-given hopes and dreams and (2) the unwavering, unquestioning proof that the unseen power and Word of God is more real than what we see and hear in the world. That's tough. There are times that what I face seems to overwhelm me and I need more. I feel like the dad that told Jesus, "I believe. Help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24) Essentially, he was being honest and saying, "I want to believe You can do what You say You can do, but it's hard for me to not have doubt. Please, help me overcome that doubt!"
We build faith by what we hear. (Romans 10:17) That means we can build faith in good stuff, or we can build faith in junk if that's what we're listening to. There are times that we may not understand what we hear, so we get understanding through the Holy Spirit.
There are several kinds of faith. If we are not Christians and not a part of God's family through Christ (yet) then we have no faith. However, it's possible to be a Christian and act like you have no faith. Jesus scolded the disciples for that when they were scared they were going to sink just a few hours after Jesus' word to them was that they were sailing to the other side of the sea. (Mark 4:40)
The second kind is that you can have a dead faith. James talked about this and it's a person that has faith, but he is isn't exercising it with any kind of works at all. For faith to be alive, it's got to be active. (James 2:17).
The third faith is having little faith. This is not where you want to be. However, it's not altogether horrible. "Little faith" was enough for Peter to have walked a few steps across liquid water before he realized that he couldn't do what he was doing, got afraid and started to sink. (Matthew 14:22-33) "Little faith" also worries about little things (Matthew 6:28-30) and big or great faith realizes that God can do great things.
The faith we aspire to is "great faith." Jesus commended a Roman centurion (gasp!) for having great faith because he understood that Jesus had authority over things that we can't see. (Matthew 8:5-13)
You might be thinking, "OK, so if I can have great faith that will give me access to grace and great power, I've got all I need." Wrong. You can have faith strong enough to move mountains, but if love isnt your motivating factor, then you are nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2) Wait a minute. The goal here was to be able to have God's powerful grace to work in my life, but you're saying I can end up with nothing? What kind of a racket is this?
Love That Activates Faith
There are different kinds of love. I can tell you for sure that love is not what popular culture tells you it is. Love isn't what you hear about on the songs on the radio. Love isn't what you see at the movie theatre.
The Greek word most often used in the Bible -- and what we need to walk in -- is agape. That is a deep abiding love that we will see described in 1 Corinthians 13. There are other types, but we need to focus on what the Lord calls for from us. It's found in 1 Corinthians 13, linked at the top. There are a few themes we should emphasize in our daily lives so we can activate the faith we have.
1. Love is selfless. You can see that emphasized throughout: "does not parade itself, is not puffed up...does not seek its own..." I don't think love and selfishness can co-exist. That's not to say that you can't take care of your own needs. You can't end up doing any good for God if you haven't taken care of your own needs, but you also can't use that as an excuse for spending your time on your own stuff.
The other way that selflessness exhibits love is in what it says about your relationship to God. Many limit selflessness out of a fear that their needs won't be cared for. If I'm always out doing for others and putting them first, how am I going to get by? That's an attitude that denies God. God has given us His Word that we'd be cared for. He told us to seek His Kingdom first and all the things we need would be added to us. (Matthew 6:33) He told us that He would provide all our needs according to His riches in glory (imagine the size of that treasure it enough for your needs?) by Christ Jesus. (Phillippians 4:19) If you don't have a selfless love, is it because you don't trust God to meet your needs? After all, if everyone is selfless, while I'm helping someone out, God will be sending someone to help me out.
2. Love does not keep a record of wrongs. This phrase is at the end of the 5th verse in the NIV translation. I like that translation of this phrase the best. It's tough. For most of us, when we get done wrong, we want to make sure people know about it. We put it on Facebook. We call our friends. We tell our co-workers (when we should be working). We put it in the prayer request sheet (which is why that sometimes is degraded into a gossip tabloid). We tweet about it. We may even write a country song about it. We want people to know that we've been wronged. We also hang on to it.
I wish I could have found a Youtube clip from "Rain Man" I could insert here. You remember Dustin Hoffman playing autistic Raymond Babbitt. His younger, and very self-absorbed, brother Charlie Babbitt had gotten impatient and frustrated with Raymond and grabbed him by the back of the head (or something). Raymond pulled out a notebook and started writing, "Major injury. (insert date). Charlie Babbitt hit Raymond on the back of the head. Major injury. (or something like that)"
Poor Raymond. Please realize I'm not referencing the portrayal of autism. But Raymond was doing what many of us do. He was carrying aroung his Book of Major Injuries. His little notebook may not seem like much, but some of you are weighed down with a phonebook sized Book of Major Injuries. Others of you have a multi-volume Encyclopedia of Major Injuries shackled to you. You wonder why you can't walk in love when you're dragging along a 2-ton weight of Major Injuries.
Here's the hard part. Let it go. That's right. Don't seek revenge. Forgive. Don't wake up in the morning and feed the hurt. Don't let that hurt keep you from enjoying a day that the Lord has created for you. God has a plan for you, but that plan doesn't include getting a cart to haul around your past Major Injuries. Once again, trust God that He'll take care of all of those things.
If you combine the translations of this passage from the NIV ("does not keep a record of wrongs") and the New King James ("thinks no evil"), you start to see why this is important to a life of love. If I keep a record of wrongs that Sally has done to me, what am I going to think of Sally? Almost necessarily it's not going to be what an encouragement she is or how gifted and what a blessing she is. Instead, I'll be thinking of what a worm she is and how I hope she'll get exposed. That's not love and without love, my faith is nothing. Do you want your Encyclopedia of Major Injuries or do you want God's power in your life? It's your choice, but you're not going to have both.
I do want to add a qualifier. This does not mean that you stand by and accept or continue to live in abusive situations. Those should be turned over to the proper authorities and not tolerated. But even in those situations, sit down with The Counselor and other counselors that He has gifted us with on Earth and find a way to cut loose something that really is a major trauma so that it doesn't hold you back. I've heard it said that the best revenge against someone who tried to hurt you like that is to live well. God enables you to do that to His glory.
Next week, I'll be looking at two other aspects of real agape love that can activate your faith to make it productive.