I want to know what love is…

This month’s FBI newsletter:

Nearly forty years ago, the band Foreigner in their hit I Want to Know What Love Is, told of a lonely traveler who was desperate for love. His plea was for someone to show him what true love was. He has experienced lots of heartache and pain, but felt he had finally found love. As a listener to what has now become one of the top rock ballads of all time, the question is, what does Foreigner, or any other social commentator, mean when they say love?    As we enter the second month of 2016, and thus the second month of our Reach One campaign, we often associate this short month with love. In our culture, love has been twisted and distorted and the word carries very little meaning. The term is thrown around in the most lackadaisical of manners. As we think about our responsibility to reach out to others around us with the good news of Christ, we must recapture the meaning of this all important word. After all, the Word of God tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). The Apostle John is clear: “Anyone who does not love does not know God (1 John 4:8). How, then, do we know what love is? Where will we find the answer? May I suggest that we look no further than the Scriptures for our definition of love? We would do well to filter our culture’s definition of love through the lens of Scripture, knowing that there we will find God’s answer. I think we all want to know what love is and Paul has told us:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind;

love does not envy or boast;

it is not arrogant or rude.

It does not insist on its own way;

it is not irritable or resentful;

it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Love bears all things,

believes all things,

hopes all things,

endures all things.

Love never ends.

(1Co 13:1-8)

Are You Desperate? pt. 3

Over the last couple of months, we have explored the question: Are you desperate? We have seen how any time our mindset takes us away from being desperate for God, calamity happened. First, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve fall into the temptation of self-reliance and pride and fall away from their relationships with their Creator. Then, later in human history, all the people of the earth turn to wickedness and reject God. In fact, only one man, Noah, is desperate for God. God saves this one man because of his desperation.

As we continue to trace the biblical story line, we come to the account of the Tower of Babel. After the flood, the number of people increased rapidly. We are reminded that the whole earth had one language and the same words (Gn 11:1). The people gather together in one place and decide to build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens (Gn 11:4). They decide that they must make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the earth (Gn 11:4). Their goal is self-reliance. They do not want to be dependent on God. They have ceased to be desperate.

The Lord comes to view their work. They are trying to construct a tower to get to Him— one that will reach the heavens. They have built this monument to their own power and abilities. He knows that this is only the beginning of what they will do (Gn 11:6). Should mankind ever falsely believe themselves self-reliant, they will become godless. Should the facade of a large city and tall tower compel them to abandon the God who had brought their forefather through the flood, they will believe themselves to have no need for the Creator who desires they be desperate for Him. The Lord decides to confuse the language of the people and scatter them over all the earth.

This could be seen as a judgment on the people and I would have no doubt this is their perception. However, this act of scattering and language confusion serves to bless them in ways that I cannot imagine they understood. Their comprehension of the sovereign plan of God is clouded as their relationships with many of the people they know are broken because of distance and language barriers. They were on a path that would have led them far away from God and ultimately toward their own destruction. They would have ended up like those people who were caught outside the ark in Noah’s day. Their sin would have eventually led the Lord to pour out His wrath on them and their offspring. Surely they were angry with the Lord because of His response to this great tower and mighty city but because of His action against them they have a chance to see how truly desperate they are for Him.

This tower and city provided them no hope. It is truly impossible to be self-reliant. It is impossible to make it on your own. It is possible, however, for you to believe that you can be independent of the Lord, or anyone else for that matter. In the wicked human heart, it is possible to reason how one might journey through their existence desperate for only self-satisfaction. There are myriads and myriads of people who wander through the short span of time granted them by their Creator without ever abandoning self-hope and comprehending their desperation of the one who knit them together in their mother’s womb. For those who wallow in the ignorance of independence, it is true what the Lord says, nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them (Gn 11:6) because no one who sets His heart to be self-reliant will ever propose to be desperate for the Lord.

Friend, let that never be said of you. May it never been that you get to the point where you believe that all things are possible for you—that you can do anything on your own. The Good Book reminds us that with God all things are possible (Mt 19:26), however, we remain desperate for Him. We build strong towers and powerful cities, but that will wane under the power of our Creator. We occupy a world full of men who believe they can construct a way to God. Our God continues to show great mercy in reminding us time and time again that we cannot do it on our own. We must acknowledge and understand our desperation for Him.

The journey through the biblical story line does not end there in the place called Babel. There is a man who is on the horizon. I man God will call from his land and people. A man who will be the father of a great people. Will he be desperate after the Lord?

Are You Desperate pt. 2

In my article last month, I posed the question to you, “Are you desperate?” We examined how a lack of desperation had led to the downfall of Adam and Eve and as a result all those who followed Adam. This month I want to continue our journey through the biblical storyline. We come then to God’s dealings with Noah in the time when the world was destroyed by the flood. 

The Bible describes this as a wicked time. People had abandoned God. It did not take many generations. We read the words of God, My spirit shall not abide in man forever (Gn6:3). The evil of mankind was awful. Sin has permeated every inch of man’s soul and society.  Genesis records that The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gn 6:5). Imagine that. Things had digressed to the point where man could not even conceive of doing good. The entirety of his focus was on doing evil in the sight of the Lord. 

We are told that things were so bad that God regrets His decision to create mankind. How far they had fallen that the pinnacle of His creation is now the object of His regret! His anger toward their disobedience is such that His plan involves blotting out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them (Gn 6:7). Noah, and Noah alone, walked with God. We are not even given the assurance that sons were righteous. He stands as the one who was righteous and the object of the Lord’s salvation. Our focus is most appropriately on this one man whom God saves. However, we should not miss the reason that God pours out His judgement on the whole of the earth. 

Why had these people who were not so far removed from the Lord’s Garden meet their terrible fate because of such wickedness? Could they not recall to mind all that the Lord had said and created? Let me propose to you their problem: They were no longer desperate for the One who had made them. 

These people who fall under the tidal wave of God’s wrath had decided to use their mind for evil instead of a pursuit of the One they needed most. We are told that their wickedness was great in the earth (Gn 6:5). It was widespread. It was the thing loved and revered among the inhabitants of God’s creation. Wickedness was lauded and admired. It was the aspiration of humanity. 

They had also set their imagination to evil. They were being creative in how they sinned. This does not sound so different from our present age. In all corners of the earth, people are, at this very moment, thinking of new ways to sin. Humanity spends every moment conceive ways to be more reliant on our own understanding and less dependent on the God that has created us. 

We have become desperate to be wicked. Our desire is for things that do not save and have no power. We place our faith and trust in wickedness which is great in the earth. Our hope is found in our money. Our love is placed in those things that satisfy our flesh. 

We must become desperate to find favor in the eyes of the LORD. He must be the object of our affection and desire. We must use every imagination of the thoughts of our heart to please and glorify our creator. He, and He alone, is worthy of our praise. He has given us everything we need and more. He has offered us salvation through the precious gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, so that we need not be desperate for sin and self any longer. Now is the time of the people of God to be desperate—desperate for the Savior.

Pride and the Resurrection

It is easy to think too highly of one’s self. I am always humored by this in some people. One of my best friends will always say about someone who believes himself better than is that he, “Thinks more highly of himself than he ought.” Pride is paralyzing and the antithesis of the Gospel message. When we believe ourselves better than we are—better than nothing—we miss the need that we have for a saving touch from our powerful Savior.

This time of the year we remember and celebrate the resurrection of our King, we should remember it was a lack of pride that provided our redemption. If anyone should thinking highly about Himself it would be the King of Kings. However, the Son of God humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross. Therefore we should check our pride. Remove it. Kill it. Destroy it. It has no place in the life of the believer. Pride is the delighted statement that we know better than God and have no need for His ways. This must be vanquished from our thinking. Pastor Jonathan Dodson writes these words:

There is an antidote to pride, and it is not to think less of ourselves. Instead, we ought to dwell upon the God who did become one of us, who gracefully withstood our scorn and self-adulation. Jesus is the God who, in the face of pride, calls us to the cross. How can we be proud there, where our evil pins our God to a tree? In the midst of rejection, Jesus embraces our smugness and extends an accepting embrace. But we must look upon him. We must give up our self-made authority, and sense of accomplishment, if we are to receive his forgiving, awe-inspiring embrace.

Towering above the authority of Self, Jesus comes low — so low that his face is pressed to mortal bandages, to ensure the rescue of his persecutors. On Easter morning, he burst his grave clothes to give us a way out of our pride, to recover awe. The resurrection restores astonishment. It eats up our pride in soul-thrilling glory. The way out of pride is worship, to look upon a God who is greater than ourselves. We recover awe when we acknowledge the greatness of his sacrifice, the depth of our sin, and the height of his love — all in the person of Christ.

As we come to the cross, the place where our shame and sin were destroyed, we must come on our knees, humble before our God. We go to the cross remembering that the one who went there first, went there with a humble heart.

Jonathan Dodson is pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas, and author of the new book The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing.

Are you Desperate?

I want to ask you a question: Are you desperate? I realize there are several different ways you may go about answering the question. You may think there is a wrong or right answer; a particular answer that I am looking for by asking the question.

You may feel that you are not desperate, that you have all you need. Maybe that is because you are a Christian and believe Christ is all you need. That is a solid answer. Maybe you are not a Christian but know you are not desperate because you have great material wealth and status. That, too, is an answer.

You could, however, be on the opposite end of the possible answers. You know you are desperate. You do not have all you need. Hunger is a real threat to your survival. You struggle to pay your bills. You find yourself sinking deeper into debt. When you see the question you know that you are desperate and your needs are great.

Think with me about this question: Are you desperate for God? That changes things entirely. Many of you reading this have a relationship with God and therefore do not believe it necessary to find Him. You have found Him or, more appropriately, He has found you. This is where I want to direct the flow of this article and caution my fellow believers.

I believe the Bible shows a clear pattern of the necessity of being desperate for God. The pattern goes something like this: God calls someone to Himself who is desperate, they follow for a while, they slowly become less desperate for God, their relationship is ultimately ruined, they are separated from God, they become desperate once again, God calls them…

I think this pattern is present throughout the biblical storyline and that is where I want to take us over these next several articles. I want to dissuade us from getting to a place where we are no long desperate for God. I want to caution us against the comforts of easy Christian living and remind us that those people who were called by God in the Bible found their relationship with Him in shambles when they stopped being desperate. Let’s look this month at the beginning of the biblical storyline with the pinnacle of God’s creation, Adam.

You might think that Adam was not desperate for God. He lived in perfection as the manager of the Lord’s garden. However, he was desperate for God. All his hope was in God. He knew nothing but full dependence on the Lord. The Lord had breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and Adam lived in perfect relationship with the Lord. However, that desperation is questioned.  “Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” the serpent says to Eve, Adam’s wife. “Do you have to be truly desperate for the Lord?” he is saying. “Must you be fully dependent upon Him?” This provided Adam an opportunity to rebuff the serpent, lead his wife, and declare his dependence on God.

Adam’s answer has had repercussions throughout the rest of human history. Adam does not speak, but rather takes the very fruit that he has been commanded not to eat and consumes it. His actions state boldly to his wife and the serpent, “I am not desperate for God, there is another place I can find my hope!”  This answer destroys His relationship with His Creator.

Our God does not want us desperate for anyone or anything else. Ultimately Adam blames his failing on Eve who in turn blames the serpent. However, blame is inconsequential. The damage is done and the relationship is broken because Adam ceased to be desperate for God—his hope was elsewhere. Adam and Eve are removed from the garden, forced to toil, feel pain, and eventually die. Adam’s curse is passed down from generation to generation. Because he stopped being desperate for God, he fell into sin’s trapped and condemned the world.

God does not abandon Adam. We read the encouraging words of Genesis 4:26: To Seth (Adam’s son) also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord. After murder and pain, people began to call upon the Lord. People once again realized that they were desperate for Him.

Observations for the Day After an Election

As I peck away at the keyboard, millions of Americans will go vote today. Sadly, only about 1 in 3 Americans who are of voting age will actually vote in this election and many do not even take thie privilege seriously. I recently overheard a man at a fast food restaurant proudly proclaim he had written in his dog for the U.S. Senate. I am not sure that our soldiers and patriots intended to die for that vote.

A lot will be made depending on how things shakeout today. If the GOP wins the Senate, it will be seen as a death knell to the President’s legislative agenda. If the Democrats maintain control, it will be thought that there is glimmer of hope for the President’s second term. No matter the election, the President is always on the ballot.

As a former political hack and junkie, I want to share some thoughts that are always helpful for me on the day after the election.

1. You will probably not like the people you voted for as much after they are elected. If the person you have hitched your horse to is elected today, you probably will not like them as much tomorrow. They are, in the end, a politician and they represent a large number of people. If their goal is to affect change, they will probably have to do some things you do not like. If they want to get ahead and advance themselves, they will have to do some things you do not like. If they never do anything you do not like, they will probably not represent you very long.

2. Washington changes people. This is a best guess on my part, but it comes from some pretty good observations. One of two things is normally true about people who go to Washington. They are either hardened politicians who are keenly aware of the political game, or they are idealist in for a rude awakening. Washington is a place of backrooms deals and political maneuvering. While I want a leader who is above such things, the people who do not play the game are normally not in a position to bring home the bacon. If we are honest, that is why most people vote for a certain person or party; they believe they or their district will get something in return.

3. Local elections are important. I imagine a lot of voters do not know anything about names on the ballot past the first couple. How much time did you spend researching the judges or county commissioners? Those people may affect more change on you than the ones who ran non-stop television ads. Not a lot of money to run television ads for the soil and water conservation district positions. Are they important? That is a matter of opinion, but they are on your ballot and surely you do not want to be the type of person that plays a guessing game with your vote. Local officials plan your tax rates and oversee your child’s education. Do not neglect to know who you are voting for locally. That decision may haunt you more than the people you ship off to Washington.

God willing, the sun will come up tomorrow, new public servants will take office in December and January, and we will move forward. If tomorrow is disappointing, remember, the Iowa Caucuses are less than 430 days away!