Is Your Love Like Peter’s or Jesus’?

In John 21:15-19 Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. This is one of those times we must go to the Greek to see what is really happening.

The first two times Jesus asked if Peter agape’ed Him, to which Peter replied he phileo’ed Him. The third time Jesus asked if Peter phileo’ed Him, which grieved Peter.

There is an important difference between agape and phileo. It appears Peter thought phileo was more important than agape, while Jesus believed–thereby setting the standard–that agape is more important than phileo.

So what’s the difference?

Phileo is defined in the Strongs concordance (5368) as to be a friend to, to be fond of, or have affection for, as a matter of sentiment or feeling. This contrasts with Agape (25, 26) which is to love in a social or moral sense, with affection, or benevolence, including the judgment and deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety.

Consider Proverbs 17:17,

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

You have affection with friends, while siblings–notably brothers–have an adversarial role which prods us to learn conflict resolution. Conflict with friends is painful and might end the friendship. Conflict with siblings is painful, yet the loyalty of siblings usually wins out.

God does not merely want our fond affection of sentiment and feeling that changes with circumstances. Instead of that shaky structure He wants the foundation of our love for Him to be our loyalty based on our judgment and deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety.

God defined Agape in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love is not proud; love is not rude; love is not selfish; love is not easily provoked; love thinks no evil, does not rejoice in evil but in truth; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,  endures all things. Love never fails.

When God asks a question it is for us to think and learn, because He already knows. Jesus asked Peter if he agape’ed Him, and Peter said he phileo’ed Jesus, but Jesus challenged him on that. He wanted Peter’s agape and it appears by His question He was not even getting phileo. Note that phileo runs from the cross while agape embraces it.

Peter had a lot to think about, and when the Holy Spirit came on the day of Penticost and indwelled him, he did agape Jesus, with the ultimate evidence of embracing the cross.

How do you love God, phileo or agape?
How do you love your spouse?

Is your love based on circumstances and emotion–which change like shifting sands, or on the decision of will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety–an immovable foundation able to endure the storms of life? Are you able to embrace the cross?

Remember Jesus said we are to take up our cross to follow Him. He wants us to be ultimately dedicated lovers of Him, and our spouse is our practical training ground.

If it’s not costing you your life–putting to death your corrupt nature with its selfish desires–then it’s not agape.

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The Moon: Romantic or Judgment?

The Moon startled me this morning–an orange disk hovering over the horizon. In the afternoon I drove eastward with the moon high in the sky and remembered a walk my intended and I took one night in our dating days. She looked up, saw the Moon, and asked if I could see the Man-in-the-Moon.

I never really had. I looked at it and described what I–a man in love–did see:  a young woman with long hair flowing back in the breeze, carrying a picnic basket before her, with her long dress trailing behind as she strides forward to meet her love. My young woman loved that!

Today I see the Young-Woman-with-Picnic-Basket, and I see the Man-in-the-Moon, a face looking down sadly on a world full of sin.

But the Moon was not always sad. Between Genesis and the Flood the Moon was pristine, a clear face reflecting the Sun to its utmost.

When the fountains of the deep opened, water and rock shot into space creating comets, asteroids, and meteors. Some of these scarred the Moon into its saddened countenance. This scarring was one effect of God’s judgment on a world full of sin.

Every generation alive was washed off the surface of the Earth and swept into their muddy graves–their just deserts served by the rejected Righteous One. One family was saved in the Ark. The Moon looks sadly down to remind all the descendants of that righteous judgment.

By displaying the past, the Moon warns us of the coming judgment: “God is just! Sin requires judgment!”

And the Young-Woman-With-Picnic-Basket calls out with love and hope and a future, “Therefore abandon sin and run to His grace and mercy! Run to the only salvation available! Run to the cross of Christ, accept Jesus’ death as yours, that His life may be yours!”

Truly, the Gospel is in the sky.

What do you see in the Moon?

How to be Married 60 Years and Counting

I like happy old people who have been married their whole life to the same person. This is increasingly becoming a real accomplishment.

I know a couple who spoke their wedding vows over sixty years ago. Here is his advice on how to achieve this outstanding accomplishment:

  1. Say, “I love you” regularly with meaning!
  2. Respect each other.
  3. Be affectionate with each other.
  4. Do not take your spouse for granted.

So simple, so effective.

Here are a few reflections on these tips.

1. Use your words. It is not enough to say “I love you” at the wedding and think that will suffice for all time. Both husband and wife need to meaningfully say these three words to each other, daily if possible. And it is possible.

2. Use your actions. Respect each other. This translates into honor, courtesy, looking out for their interests, and behaving in such a way that they are confident you will always care for them.

3. Use your hands. Affection is the atmosphere where events of love happen. Be physical with each other! Not to the point people tell you to get a room, that’s what home and special getaways are for. Play nice and be appropriate, but be clear at home and in public that you like each other! Broadcast to your spouse and all those watching that you two are an item!

4. Use your mind. Keep the mindset that each day is new. Do not take each other for granted. Appreciate your spouse. Be thankful for the things your spouse does for you and for your marriage.

5. Use your spirit. Something my friend did not talk about but displays in his life is the unity of spirit he has with his wife. To go the distance you must believe in the same God and agree what that looks like in your life.

You can do it! Follow these simple guidelines and in a few decades you too can look back sixty plus years to your wedding.

How to Prepare for Marriage

I love to cook good food. The best foods take research, planning, and practice to truly delight a gourmet. Imagine you are a chef in a top culinary school preparing to be the star of your own restaurant. You would pay careful attention to learn and hone every skill you could to make sure your restaurant is a success, yes? How about your marriage?

God is the gourmet who owns the best culinary school where He invites you (and your future spouse) to train to be the star of your own marriage, in which He will either be delighted or … well, you don’t want to go there, although far too many do.

What are the three secrets to great French cooking? Butter, butter, and butter, according to the chef movie “No Reservations.” What are the three secrets to great marriages? Faith, hope and love. (Did you think I was going to say love three times? Nope!) Let’s take a look.

Faith: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) What is this substance, this evidence? It is simply trust of God’s character, His word, and His promises. This trust is best built through relationship with Him. He designed you and marriage, so go to the source and drink deep of the pure water!

Hope: You start with faith, learning to know and trust Father God through becoming friends with Jesus, which makes God’s strength and character available to you in difficult circumstances. This repeated drawing on His strength and character builds in you the ability to handle hard things calmly without complaining. In other words it develops your ability to love, which works the rest of His character in you. His character in you produces hope that will be fulfilled because of who Father God is and because His love is pouring through the Holy Spirit into you. (Romans 5:1-5, 1 Corinthians 13:4)

Love: You must be remade by Father God’s unconditional love. He pours it over you and massages it into your soul so you will live it to others, namely your spouse. So what is it? This love calmly and kindly bears tough situations and abuse. This love seeks to fulfill the needs of others. This love is humble and behaves well. This love thinks good things and rejoices in truth. This love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. This love never runs out and never says, “That’s it! I can’t take any more! You are going to pay!” Never. Ever. I’m serious. This love is deeper, stronger and longer than actual displays of spiritual gifts and power. This love is the beginning of eternal perfection. This love is real maturity. This love is the foreshadow of eternity, the taste of what your soul cries for from the depths of your being, and the promise that you will know Him as He knows you. Your family, friends, work and everyone else you come in contact with are your training team until your spouse shows up and becomes your primary training partner. (1 Corinthians 13:4-13)

Faith, hope and love. And the most important is the love which ties them all together. I hope you train well in these ingredients under the Master Chef before your spouse shows up, because that’s when the training goes to advanced courses. What will you say to your spouse if you have to go back and repeat basic courses when they are ready to hit the advanced courses? If there are any areas needing work, any areas you have hidden or are slacking off in, they will show up really fast!

How to Handle a Spiritual Nut

What do you do when someone tells you they had a spiritual experience that changed their life?

In “Till We Have Faces” CS Lewis, an Oxford Don around WWII, examines this very issue. He set the book in Greek mythology (not for the sensitive soul) to examine what to do when a most beloved sister claims to have had an enriching and life changing spiritual experience.

Parthenon detail replica

Image by SeeMidTN.com (aka Brent) via Flickr

Lewis portrayed what NOT to do, namely to attempt to convince your loved one their spiritual experience was “just in their mind” for in the end you may destroy them and find they did have a spiritual experience.

Gamaliel, one of the most respected Jewish teachers almost 2000 years ago who mentored the Apostle Paul, was also faced with this question.

The Jewish Council, on which he had a prominent seat, was faced with a group of men who joyously proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus with the resulting message of Father God’s love and salvation through Jesus. The Council wanted to kill these men for proclaiming a spiritual experience different from their own.

Gamaliel advised the Council to leave the men alone, for if their experience was of natural origin it would fade to nothing, but if their experience was of supernatural origin they would be fighting against God.

Advice from an Oxford don and a Jewish elder: do not harass them about it. They did experience something. Time will tell whether it was natural or supernatural. And you should seek to benefit from what God is doing rather than fight against it.

Regardless of how outrageous it may sound, be patient, love them, offer truth and wisdom, let them process their experience, and see what you can learn.

Francis of Assisi

Image by gwilmore via Flickr

What truth and wisdom can you offer? Here is the touchstone to examine all supernatural experiences: where is Jesus in their experience? Are they drawn closer to or driven further away from Father God, Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our Faith, and Holy Spirit our Councilor? Are they drawn into deeper dependence on God or are they becoming more self-centered? Is it resulting in humility or pride?

If God and supernatural experiences are not part of your life, invite God into your life and find out how amazing He is!

Recommended reading: “Practicing the Presence” by Brother Lawrence and a biography of St Francis of Assisi. These are on the “Too Good to Miss” list.

What Everyone Should Learn from Marriage

My last comment was, we practice marriage now; what does it mean for eternity? What are we supposed to be learning from marriage?

We practice marriage. We have this annoying flaw called sin. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” “If we say we have not sinned we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”

Practice makes permanent. If we practice sin, our marriages will be wounded and stunted. We need to minimize sin and practice what is good to have a healthy and strong marriage so it will function as designed to achieve the goals of marriage.

Vector image of two human figures with hands i...

Image via Wikipedia

Goals? What are we practicing for? What should we learn from marriage? Marriage is the primary training ground for all types of relationships, especially our relationship with God. Marriage is the context that offers the relationships of husband-wife, father-son, father-daughter, mother-son, mother-daughter, and brother-sister.

These types of relationship describe aspects of our relationship with God, give us practice grounds for developing a full, healthy, multi-angle relationship with God. And if we cannot have healthy relationships with ourselves, our spouse, and those around us, we will not have healthy relationship with God.

What do we practice? Love, truth, wisdom, and life. Why? Because Jesus is love, is truth, is wisdom, is life and we are made in His image, flawed with sin. Jesus will be these things in His marriage with the Bride (whatever He means by the concept and analogy). He is refining the sin out of us, from glory to glory, to be like Himself, to have His character. So we will be love, truth, wisdom, and life back to Him to the extent we allow Him to work these attributes in us, practiced with our spouse.

And what does it mean for eternity? As we minimize sin and maximize His character, becoming our true identity and developing the good, healthy relationship with our spouse that God intends, we get a glimpse of one of the core concepts of what eternity will be like: marriage with Jesus. Again, whatever He physically means by the concept and analogy, but the spiritual and soul level character and emotion is illustrated. Talk about Heaven on Earth! The Kingdom of God has come! And it is best developed and revealed in our marriages!

Are you giving love, truth, wisdom and life to your spouse? And to God?