“WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW…”

 

“…is love sweet love.” Sweet love won’t do it. Try agape. The Corinthian charismatics needed plenty. Rival factions vied for control. They couldn’t stop arguing, even going to court. Love feasts turned sour. Gifts without fruit means flying with one wing—and crashing.

 

Paul addressed these pastoral issues (I Corinthians 1-6), then answered their inquiries (7-16). They asked about spiritual gifts. He answered abuse with proper use. Love undergirds everything.

 

“And now I will show you a way that surpasses all others.” They had the gifts, but they were toys for toddlers, not tools for builders. People watching them said, “I don’t know what you’ve got, but I hope I don’t catch it.” Paul is not contrasting fruit with gifts. He is saying, “Love is the only way the gifts operate.” Agape: Selfless love, other-directed, demonstrated at the cross. Three part to I Corinthians 13:

 

  1. LOVE IS NEEDED (1-3).

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Cor. 13:1). Knowing all mysteries and knowledge would come in handy. Not without love. How about mountain-moving faith? Miracles? People willing to die for the faith. It profits me nothing without love.

 

  1. LOVE IS A VERB (4-7).

Love is patient. These are verbs, fifteen of them; not one adjective. Love is an action, not a feeling. Measure your love by the level of your willingness to suffer: “Love is longsuffering” (KJV). Better to suffer than cause it. That’s what Jesus did, so you can too!

 

Love is kind. Jesus put a face on God, a kind face. “God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). How would I treat those who cursed me? I’d say, “No rain for you today.” The Holy Spirit can make us kind even with people who don’t return it.

 

Love does not envy. Eight negatives follow the two positives. Love wants others to outdo us. How Christ-like! Not mine by nature—mine by grace.

 

It does not boast, it is not proud. Humble people are easy to be around. Humility enhances unity. We need a big heart, not a big head. That is the mind of Christ—and you have it.

 

It is not rude. How easily unedited words can bruise. Let’s watch our manners. Jesus is not rude.

 

It is not self-seeking. When we play the victim, it is all about us. Dying reverses that and makes others more important.

 

It is not easily angered. A friend said, “Just so you know, Paul, it is almost impossible to offend me.” I want to live like that. When going from 1 to 7 in two seconds, I understood the phrase “not easily angered.” I want to be sssssssssslow—just like Jesus.

 

It keeps no record of wrongs. Paul had a scorecard and a good score. When he threw it away, he found living by grace satisfying. Want to toss your scorecard?

 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Let’s rejoice with every advancement of others, not guard ourselves with defensiveness.

 

Love always protects. You feel safe around true lovers. Always trusts. It’s a good feeling to be trusted. You can put the best construction on others. Always hopes. People who give us hope enable us to get through storms. Always perseveres. Love makes us fight for people. Love never fails. If you don’t know what to do, love will tell you. It’s failure-proof.

 

  1. LOVE IS ETERNAL (8-13).

Gifts are temporary. Love travels with us to the new earth.

 

GOD’S WORD IS ALIVE!

 

My son-in-law, Drew, asked me to teach a group of twenty-five young adult interns on hermeneutics, Bible interpretation. The first thing I did was to read a love letter I had given my wife some years ago:

 

“WHY I’M GLAD THAT I MARRIED YOU:

  1. You love me and you always have.
  2. You were beautiful when I married you—and you still are.
  3. I trust you that you will always be faithful” (and about seven more lines). I asked if they had problems understanding any of it. “Not a word,” they responded.

 

So I held up the Bible and said, “I want to dismantle two myths, 1) that the Bible, God’s message of love, is hard to understand, and 2) that it is boring. It is neither. If you make either one of these assertions, it is revealing nothing about the Scriptures and a whole lot about you.”

 

But let’s face it: we’ve all had times, perhaps many, when it was dry, difficult to understand, and frankly boring. However, we get past that glitch quicker when we acknowledge the Word of God to be what it is—powerful, transformational, breathing with life, and exciting!

 

  1. C. Sproul was asked by the president of a Christian College to come and teach the Bible, adding, “We really want you to make it come alive.” R. C. fought back the words, “Did I miss something? Has it died? Did anyone attend the Bible’s funeral?”

 

We don’t to make it come alive. It makes us alive. Peter wrote, “You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, by the living and abiding word of God” (I Peter 2:23). When that seed is planted in us, it abides for decades, doing its powerful work.

 

“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joint and marrow, and it a discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). I don’t read the Bible; it reads me. I don’t stand in judgment of the Word. It stands in judgment of me. I do not scrutinize the Scripture; it scrutinizes me, revealing where my thoughts and actions are not aligned with the Word and will of God. How powerful is this book. It changes those who surrender to it.

 

As a single man I spent a week in a cabin in Colorado. I hardly saw anyone the whole week. I lived in the book of Philippians, saying it over and over during the day. One night as I went to bed, I raised my hands. I felt that I could almost touch Christ, but it was too sacred to try. I had lived for days in the Word, and it seemed to make the Living Word, Jesus Christ, almost tangible. How grateful I am for the Word of God. It builds me up, holds me in check, and reveals the greatness and goodness of God to me.

 

“Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Job declared “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (23:12).

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).

“It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I speak to you, they are Spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).

“All scripture is God-breathed…” (2 Timothy 3:16). Let it bring you life—today!

(GRAND) FATHER’S DAY

 

So I asked my father-in-law, thirty-eight years a missionary in Japan, “What was your biggest joy as a father?” He responded, “Our kids traveled with us. Where we went, they went. And they cooperated.”

People asked me, “How did you get your kids to do that?” I replied, “Do what?” They said, “We don’t see ministers or missionaries with the whole family doing the stuff. You are pulling it off. How did you teach them?”

 

“I didn’t have an answer. What were they seeing? I guess they observed kids not whining because they had to go along, working with each other, taking out the instruments, cleaning up and loading up afterwards, and engaging fully in the morning, not sitting in the corner playing video games. It was our life, and it was theirs. No distinction.”

 

“We had seen that as toddlers they made good missionaries. They invited people to church before we did. Why not bring the gang along? They got the point. It was the way we always functioned. They didn’t feel put upon for being the children of missionaries and having to go to the meeting—they were the meeting. They sang, played instruments, shared testimonies—and they still do! It is in their blood.

 

We didn’t hear them moaning, except when we six were in a crowded car for eight hours without air conditioning and sticking to each other. They were normal kids. But we treated them as part of the team.” (Note: Karen and Miriam played with Grandpa Phil last Sunday at our outdoor Lydia House Church. It was beautiful. Steve and Mark would have been playing had they been here. It may happen July 31st!)

 

Karen and I took our family along, but only in part. We were called the Von Anderson family because we sang often. Sure wish I had done a lot more. They could have gone on a many more ministry trips.

 

Second question to Grandpa: “What counsel would you give to young dads?” As he started talking, I started writing: “When kids run into problems, which children will, I want to encourage them more than scold them. It gets kids through problems better than harassing. If they think I’m carrying around a big stick, ready to swing it when they get out of line, they won’t feel my love. And they will get the feeling that God also has a big stick. And He wants to catch us doing something wrong, so He can whack us.”

 

“Not true. Nobody has a better heart. No one loves you more. Love is compelling. It is not me vs. the kids or God vs. us. We are on the same team. I wanted my children to know that more than anything else. And I was glad that my kids caught that. God is for us, not against us.” Hey, that sounds like a Bible verse.

SPEAKING IN TONGUES

 

…powerful and practical. Have you turned the key of your car in the last six months and it didn’t start? Have you turned the key of your heart in the last month and could not start the engine?

 

If you speak in tongues, do so now for thirty seconds. What did you just do? You offered perfect prayer to the Father through the working of the Spirit who helps us pray. And you built yourself up in the process. How often should you speak in tongues? How much building up do you need? Are you overdosing on encouragement? The Scriptures say that…

 

he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (I Cor. 14:5). Those built up are prepared to build up others. Tongues prepares us for the other gifts. Those not built up often expect others to build them up. Do you go to church to strengthen or be strengthened? I Corinthians 14:26 gives the appropriate answer.

 

This one gift focuses on the giver. It is for you. Lots of discouragement, depression, and despair out there. We need mega-doses of encouragement. A regular practice of speaking in tongues helps to heal depression, mental illness, and discouragement. How do I know this? Because you feel better when you speak in tongues? No. Because the Word of God says that we build ourselves up.

 

Read Acts 2:1-4. All the gifts were present in the Old Covenant but one—tongues. God saved this gift for New Covenant people: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). The only gift that was given to build us up is available to ALL. Makes sense. God would not say, “This gift edifies you, but it is only available to some.”

 

Happened again in Acts 10 and 19. Corporate speaking in tongues empowers a body of people, increases revelation, and strengthens prayer. We have privatized this gift. At Pentecost they were all together. Happy Birthday, Church!

 

“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all” (I Corinthians 14:18).

Paul was not bragging. He was urging his friends to use a gift that he found to have incredible value. So what did you learn about it, Paul? “Increased revelation, encouragement, counsel, help in praying, healing, unity.” He also said…

 

“I would like every one of you to speak in tongues…” (I Corinthians 14:5a). Why is that in the Scriptures? To keep people from saying, “I prayed and nothing happened.” Yes it did. You received. Passivity and unbelief keep people paralyzed. They think incorrectly, “Maybe I am not supposed to have it.” Paul would not say, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but, of course, not everyone will.” Ask for it, believe you have it, then speak or sing out!!

 

What about Paul asking the question, “Do all speak in tongues?” (I Cor. 12:29), begging a negative response. The context suggests that Paul is speaking of tongues as a ministry, not simply as a gift. All can prophesy, but all are not prophets. All can speak in tongues, a few have a ministry of bringing messages in a tongues.

 

So we pray, “Father, forgive us for demeaning this gift by not exercising it faithfully, both alone and with others. Forgive our indifference. We ask, Holy Spirit, dispel our doubts and discouragement. Lift from us the spirit of heaviness and give us the garment of praise. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

RESPONDING OR REACTING

 

We cannot control circumstances. We can control how we respond to them. Life is not contained in situations. It is contained in the response. How you answer determines whether life is flowing in and out of you or you are just being led or knocked around by experiences.

 

You are not responsible for what people do to you. That is their issue, not yours. You are responsible for your responses. If you excuse your anger and say, “I cannot get over it because of what they have done,” then you are being controlled by the circumstances instead of taking charge and acting responsibly. People being eaten alive by resentment don’t yet understand that life is contained in the response, for better or for worse. People who forgive those who don’t deserve it are proving that it is possible not to live by circumstances but by our replies to them.

 

We cannot choose our circumstances any more than we can choose the weather. But we can make choices on how we will interpret those circumstances. How we interpret events rather than the event itself is the difference between life and death.

 

“In all things give thanks.” Really? When you’ve lost your job or when the car breaks down at a really bad time. Yes, because your joy didn’t rest in the job? It rested in Jehovah. So circumstances can come against you and your keel keeps the boat from tipping. Your hope is in the Lord, not as the line in the musical “Oklahoma”—“everything’s going my way.”

 

It is not what happens to us that determines joy; otherwise we would ride the roller coaster of up and down emotions, which truckloads of people choose to do. It is what happens in us that makes the difference. One brother reacted to his sibling’s sinfulness and his father’s seeming stinginess and irresponsibility. The younger brother accepted his immaturity, was able to receive forgiveness, and discovered just how generous his father was. Same dad—opposite responses. One receives grace, another stiff-arms the compassion that is two feet away. So with God. Some are discouraged because He hasn’t come through for them. Others are singing His praised, weighed down by blessings. And the circumstances have nothing to do with the difference.

 

Are you living with any negative emotions bottled up inside, like fear, shame, rejection, or bitterness? Could it be that you failed to understand that you were not responsible for what was said or done to you, but you could still respond in a way that could lift those crippling emotions? Perhaps you can stop right now and ask a good Father: “Are some of those emotions inside my heart? Did I choose to blame you for my painful disappointments? Did I react with anger out of the pain I felt rather than with a response of forgiveness?

 

Good news: you still have the grace of choosing. Power is given and released in the response, not in the event. You can reinterpret the event and take your God-given privilege of choice to receive forgiveness for wrong responses and extend forgiveness to those who have hurt you. Suffering well keeps your heart open, your mouth closed, and your conscience clear (I Peter 2:22,23). A wise thing to do—a wise way to live.

SINGLED OUT?

Congratulations! You are now in the majority. 51% are singles, compared to 37% in 1976. And yet singles sometimes feel like the exception. Understandable. The center of gravity rests with marriage. It’s God way to keep the race supplied (“be fruitful and multiply”). Marriage is God’s plan for most, but not for all. Don’t worry; if want to get married, you probably don’t have the gift of celibacy (Matt. 19:10-12).

 

 

In I Corinthians 7, the chapter that talks more about singles than any chapter in the Bible, Paul gives the edge to singles. He regarded marriage as a kind of concession: “Better to marry than to burn with passion” (9). Good chapter to see advantages of single living. Paul encourages the unmarried and widows to consider them. Here are some exhortations to the unmarried, especially if you feel singled out:

 

FORGIVE. People will hurt you. All of us need to live above offense. Be thankful you get opportunities to practice. One of my sisters said that before she got married she would always be asked to bring the salad/vegetable plate. Assumption: singles can’t cook. Don’t tell my daughter Karis, the kulinary kween.

 

One gal in her late twenties said she now felt younger than her younger sister, because the sister had married. The mother treats her differently, as if she is not as mature. As if marriage automatically matures you. It takes whatever you have and intensifies it, like grace or anger.

 

Another said that singles are sometimes made to feel not as successful. A single girl who was nannying was thought to be wasting her time and should get a career job. By contrast, a married gal who was nannying was thought to be using her time well. Ouch! “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

 

LIVE HOLY. It’s clear that marriage is the proper atmosphere for physical love. Singles need to learn how to deal with the flame that brings an urge to merge, a flame that burns for years. Paul would say that “undivided devotion to the Lord” (I Cor. 7:37) can make up for it. Go after God, the greatest Lover. He doesn’t have skin on, but medieval saints who chose a life of prayer often bear witness to the ecstasy of a life lived with God. You will not be disappointed, but live with honesty and vulnerability. It helps to take the pressure off. Being outside the will of God makes a poor solution to unhappiness.

 

SERVE GOD’S KINGDOM PURPOSE. Major thrusts in missions from the 14th century on were accomplished by passionate young adults. Marrieds are not in the same position to respond to the call to take the gospel to the nations. Be exceptional! Make people proud of you rather than seeing you as failures for not being married.

 

Don’t over-spiritualize marriage. Being married to someone you cannot get along with is not fun. That includes truckloads. Ultimately, joy is found in God, not in either being married or being single.

 

STAY GOOD-LOOKING; DON’T BECOME A VICTIM: “I am the neglected single person.” Self-pity is not close to attractive. Life is hard. Don’t make it about you or it just became harder. Die to yourself. Security is not a wedding ring.

 

God knows you. He knows who you are and where you are. He is a good Father with great plans for you. Believe it—regardless!

SINGLED OUT?

 

Congratulations! You are now in the majority. 51% of adults are singles, compared to 37% in 1976. And yet singles sometimes feel like the exception. Understandable. The center of gravity rests with marriage. It’s God way to keep the race supplied (“be fruitful and multiply”). Marriage is God’s plan for most, but not for all. Don’t worry; if want to get married, you probably don’t have the gift of celibacy (Matt. 19:10-12).

 

In I Corinthians 7, the chapter that talks more about singles than any chapter in the Bible, Paul gives the edge to singles. He regarded marriage as a kind of concession: “Better to marry than to burn with passion” (9). Good chapter to see advantages of single living. Paul encourages the unmarried and widows to consider them. Here are some exhortations to the unmarried, especially if you feel singled out:

 

FORGIVE. People will hurt you. All of us need to live above offense. Be thankful you get opportunities to practice. One of my sisters said that before she got married she would always be asked to bring the salad/vegetable plate. Assumption: singles can’t cook. Don’t tell my daughter Karis, the kulinary kween.

 

One gal in her late twenties said she now felt younger than her younger sister, because the sister had married. The mother treats her differently, as if she is not as mature. As if marriage automatically matures you. It takes whatever you have and intensifies it, like grace or anger.

 

Another said that singles are sometimes made to feel not as successful. A single girl who was nannying was thought to be wasting her time and should get a career job. By contrast, a married gal who was nannying was thought to be using her time well. Ouch! “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

 

LIVE HOLY. It’s clear that marriage is the proper atmosphere for physical love. Singles need to learn how to deal with the flame that brings an urge to merge, a flame that burns for years. Paul would say that “undivided devotion to the Lord” (I Cor. 7:37) can make up for it. Go after God, the greatest Lover. He doesn’t have skin on, but medieval saints who chose a life of prayer often bore witness to the ecstasy of a life lived with God. You will not be disappointed, but live with honesty and vulnerability. It helps to take the pressure off. Being outside the will of God makes a poor solution to unhappiness.

 

SERVE GOD’S KINGDOM PURPOSE. Major thrusts in missions from the 14th century on were accomplished by passionate young adults. Marrieds are not in the same position to respond to the call to take the gospel to the nations. Be exceptional! Make people proud of you rather than seeing you as failures for not being married.

 

Don’t over-spiritualize marriage. Being married to someone you cannot get along with is not fun. That includes truckloads. Ultimately, joy is found in God, not in either being married or being single.

 

STAY GOOD-LOOKING; DON’T BECOME A VICTIM: “I am the neglected single person.” Self-pity is not close to attractive. Life is hard. Don’t make it about you or it just became harder. Die to yourself. Security is not a wedding ring.

 

God knows you. He knows who you are and where you are. He is a good Father with great plans for you. Believe it—regardless!

 

EXPECTATIONS

 

…one way to starve relationships.

 

Jerry worked for an efficient but easy-going boss. Eight years of pleasure. When he got hired on at another company with a significant raise, he expected the new boss to bring the same atmosphere to the office. Wrong. It gave Jerry a less than remarkable outlook in his new position. Gratitude was replaced by low-level grumbling, something Jerry had not done for close to a decade. Didn’t endear him to his boss in the slightest.

 

His accountability partner helped him see the flawed thinking. He lowered his expectations—and the environment changed. Expectations suffocate gratitude, the fuel that causes relationships to get healthier. Gratitude makes us fun to be around, while expectations can give the feeling that we are being policed.

 

Marsha grew up in a healthy family—her new husband didn’t. She unconsciously expected that he would be like Dad. Truman felt the pressure—until a wise sister saint let Marsha know that lowering your expectations actually inspires faith, because we are putting our confidence where it belongs—in a God who always does “exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.” Marsha gladly repented. It took many months to clear the air, but she’s never going back. Gratitude is growing and so is the marriage.

 

Engaged couples are surprised when I have them write down their expectations—then throw them away. Here’s a better idea: “My soul, hope thou only in God.” Joshua told the people as they prepared to take the land, “You know…that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled…” (Joshua 23:14). It makes sense to put our expectations upon God. He exceeds them consistently, unlike our spouse, our boss, or our parents.

 

Healthy people who understand grace do not transfer expectations from God to people. The prophet said, “Do not put your trust in princes, or in the son of man, in whom is no help.” That’s not much. People with expectations live with deferred hope—on a regular basis. They are always being let down. That changes when they adjust the focus of their hope.

 

Expectations impose unreal standards. You must meet my needs. Couples who live by expectations minimize grace, the component that releases power into the lives of others. It is the grace of God that allows us to overcome sin (Romans 6:14). The same power brings an atmosphere of freedom to a marriage—or to any relationship.

 

How about sitting down with your spouse or close friend and have a time of transferring expectations? Could change the environment quickly. And then do it for your boss, your pastor, the president, and anyone else that you are inclined to judge. What if you were challenged in all your relationships to shower people with grace—and you met the challenge?! (Truth is the other necessary component of healthy relationships, and it is administered with grace).

 

So do we live the same way with ourselves? Do we not set goals? What about the passion to succeed and the inner drive to excel? God-given. Faith in God always acts. It is not passive. It says something and it goes somewhere. Read Hebrews 11. By faith Noah built an ark. Not bad for 125 years of his life. A God-centered faith (weak in ourselves, strong in God) turns average people into mountain movers!

 

TO MARRY OR NOT TO MARRY

 

Paul said not. “I wish that all men were as I am” (I Corinthians 7:7). “It is good for them (unmarried) to stay unmarried, as I am” (8). Many are single, but not for Paul’s reason. They want marriage, and it isn’t happening. We have urged young men to get married—and for good cause. Many are passive and have over-estimated ministry and underestimated marriage.

 

We have not held out the good option of choosing the single life. Catholics, far more than Protestants, have offered that choice. It has brought great gain—and great loss. Celibacy is a gift, not a mandate. Some can, others can’t (or at least don’t). Paul presented the option for those who could, adding that “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (9).

 

What do people do who want to be married and the fire threatens to get out of control? This is a tough one. Paul has just told married people not to deprive each other except by mutual consent, “so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (5). Singles do not have that privilege. No easy answer, but abstinence is the only alternative. Period.

 

I have yet to work with a young adult who speaks about having the gift of celibacy (Matthew 19:10-12). The church should help singles, whatever their age, to walk toward marriage and counsel them at every step. It can be extremely hard for some men to take the step and painfully difficult for women to wait, while the age of marriage in our culture continues to rise as well as the number who never marry. The distressing thought of single women with every passing day that they may never marry is both realistic and horrendous.

 

Paul, a stellar example that living singly can work well (or Jesus!), speaks about the advantage of singleness: “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can pleased his wife—and his interests are divided” (32-34).

Likewise for the unmarried woman (34). Bottom line: “I am saying this…that you may live…in undivided devotion in the Lord” (35). And he gives that edge to the unmarried.

 

Then the church should value the unmarried, invite them over, acknowledge how much they have to contribute, receive it gratefully, never treat them as second stringers or less important, and challenge them to be exceptional rather than just waiting. Singles, please forgive us where we have failed.

 

I have told reluctant men who seem distracted by ministry that marriage is ministry and that they should not put off marriage for ministry. On the other hand, we need also to tell singles devoted to serving the Lord, like many single women have been champion missionaries, that their ministry may be their marriage. They have lived with that “undivided devotion.” We must honor them as heroes and set their example up as something to emulate if God or circumstances lead that way.

 

Where living singly is a choice and not an undesirable outcome, it can serve as a standard for others to consider. We don’t want to over-spiritualize marriage. While it is the norm, it is not God’s plan for everyone. As a young pastor I connected with young Catholic charismatic leaders who had chosen to live singly for the Lord. They were healthy and happy, and their example encouraged other young men to consider that option. May married couples preach the Gospel in their love for one another, and may singles, especially those called to the single life, teach us how to live with uncompromising passion for the Lord!