Thursday, April 22, 2010

War of Words- Love

part 3 of a series

"For God so Loved the world..." -John 3:16

"All you need is Love" -John Lennon

"It doesn't really mean anything."

If you grew up in the late 80's-early 90's you were most likely exposed to the movie "Ghost" starring Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg. During one scene, Moore's character tells Swayze's character, "I love you" (all the females who loved this movie can now commence with the ooooohing and aaaaaaaahing), to which he replies, "Ditto." She then presses him on why he never says, "I love you" and his answer is about the only line in the film I clearly remember, "Everybody says that, but it doesn't really mean anything."

It doesn't really mean anything. The first symptom of a changed definition is confusion of meaning. The film-writers were on to something, and as is typical throughout history, the arts precede philosophy, and we realized how a word that is so intrinsic to our nature, like "love", can lose it's meaning. We use the word love for everything.

Girls- "I love those shoes with that dress!"

Guys- "I love [insert favorite sports team here]"

Everybody- "I love ice cream!" (seriously, if you don't love ice cream I don't know if you can be American. It's in the Constitution, or it should be)

Then we turn towards our loved ones, people we cherish more than life itself, and we say, "I love you." What we have done, linguistically, is equate that loved one with a bowl of Rocky Road! The definition of love has been so broadened that it has become shallow and meaningless.

The Deification of Emotion

So, what do we do with such a shallow term? Do we discard it as useless? Do we abandon it, as so many other words that have gone before (e.g. when was the last time you heard someone say "forsooth" during a conversation?). No, amazingly enough, we have gone the opposite direction with love, and we have elevated it to a status above any other term.

First, let me point out that love, as it should be defined, does enjoy an elevated status in the Scriptures. Paul wrote an entire chapter on it in I Corinthians, where at the end he points out, "now these three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love." (13:13). But the love he refers to is not the shallow view of love. It is not the love that "doesn't really mean anything." But it is this shallow, diminished view of love that has been elevated in our culture.

Society has taken the term, "God is Love" (I John 4:8) and has turned it on it's head to say, "Love is God" thus elevating a shallow, emotional feeling to the status of deity. The problems this generates are tremendous. I have seen church-going people use love to justify adultery ("but I love him), overindulging their children ("I will feel that they won't love me if I don't give in"), and even homosexuality, ("God won't condemn our behavior because we love each other.")

But the repercussions of such a view not only generates problems within the church, but outside of it as well. When church leaders take a stand and condemn lifestyles that are forbidden in scripture, whether it is pre-marital sex, cohabitation before marriage, or homosexuality, those leaders are perceived as intolerant, bigoted and even hypocritical. How is this possible? Because the world views us as blaspheming against their god of an emotional and shallow form of love.

True Love Is...

It would be wonderful if I could sum up the definition of love in one sentence. Many have tried and there are some great efforts out there that attempt to do just that. But in trying to form a Biblical view of love, I am confronted by the fact that the ancients used multiple words that are translated today as love. For instance, the Greeks had four words for love:

1. Agape- This is the unconditional love that God has for us. It's a love that says, "no matter what you do, I will love you, even if you don't deserve it." This is the love described by Paul in I Corinthians 13

2. Phileo- A love shared by good friends. The words camaraderie and friendship best describe this love. To the Greek philosophers this, not agape, was the highest form of love.

3. Storge- A familial love. The love you share with your closest relatives.

4. Eros- A physical love- This word is where our English term "erotic" originates.

When we talk about God's love, we mean "agape". When we talk about the love we should have for our fellow Christians, we are talking about "agape + phileo" or "agape + storge". When we talk about the love a husband has for his wife it is "agape + phileo + eros." As you can see, "agape" is the common denominator for the love a Christian is to share, and it is "agape" that we are to share with those outside of Christ.

But this Biblical view of love is not empty emotionalism. No it is something that is active and requires something of us. Read first Corinthians 13 sometime and note how many verbs are used in conjunction with love. Take note of John's command in I John 3:18- "Little children, we must not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth." Biblical love acts, even when it doesn't "feel" like it. This is what will separate us from the world, when we can show love, even when someone is deemed, "unlovable". In fact, that is how we will overcome the false definitions of love that are floating around, we will let our actions speak louder than words.

Friday, April 16, 2010

War of Words- part 2

part 2 of a series


One of my favorite films is The Princess Bride. The movie is chock-full of quotable lines and humorous zingers. Early in the movie, Princess Buttercup is kidnapped by three "villains;" Vizzini, Fezzik and Inigo. As they sail across the sea, Inigo notices a boat in pursuit. Over the next several minutes, after each update of how the mysterious stranger continues to advance upon them, Vizzini spits out, complete with a lisp, "Inconceivable!" After several utterances of the same epithet, Inigo makes the observation, "You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

I believe that as we seek to engage the world around us with the good news of Jesus we are using words that are defined by the world in a way that differs vastly from our long accepted definitions. It's as if the people we speak to are saying to the Church, "You keep on using these words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean." The result: disconnection, confusion and rejection of the Gospel. We are left scratching our heads and muttering, "Inconceivable!"

The Rules Are Changing

I have four beautiful daughters. I love them very much, but as much as I try to believe to the contrary, they are not perfect. They often love to play games with each other. Some games are real, others are made up on the spot, all are played with intense competition. The Richmond gene pool runs deep with a fierce lust for not merely defeating an opponent, but destroying them. Couple this with the genetics of my equally competitive wife and what you get is a recipe for a knock-down, punch you in the face type argument over Chutes and Ladders.

Recently, my oldest daughter, Ellie, taught chess to my second oldest, Jenna. In turn, Jenna decided to teach it to the five-year old, Savannah. Before long, Jenna was making up rules on the spot in order to reinforce her chances of winning. Savannah, easily the most competitive of the four, was not to be outdone. She simply removed all the pieces from the board, took them to her bedroom and proclaimed herself the winner, to which Jenna protested vehemently.

What happened? The rules changed. The battle-lines were redrawn. What started out as a civilized chess match became a chaotic melee that hardly resembled the original game. This is what Satan is attempting to do in the battle for the souls of men; he is trying to rewrite the rules. How is he doing this? By redefining words that make up the very core message of the Gospel message. Words like love, joy, communion and fellowship have all suffered a severe makeover, yet the Christian subculture is largely unaware of the shift occurring in the minds of our friends, neighbors and co-workers.

A Confession

I have a confession to make. I'm a nerd. (I know, I know, some of you are quite startled by such a revelation and may need to take a break from reading in order to collect your thoughts. Feel free to do so, I won't be offended.) One of my "nerdy" interests is words and their origins, or the science of etymology (not to be confused with entomology, the study of insects. Bugs; ICK!). As I said, it is a hobby and I by no means consider myself an expert, yet I feel I am up to the task of taking you through a journey over the next several posts and exploring how some vital words have changed, and what we may be able to do about it. In doing so I hope to make you aware of the ever-changing landscape of the battle we are fighting and we can shift from being reactive to pro-active in bringing people to the foot of the cross.

To be continued...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

War of Words, part 1

Part 1 of a Series

Several years ago I flew to Florida for a preaching opportunity. The church in Florida had booked my flight out of Huntington, WV which happened to be the closest airport to us at the time. Huntington is a small airfield situated on a mountaintop.

Small airport = Small airplanes.

I am not small.

So when my 6'7" frame tried to squeeze into an airplane designed to hold 20 people the result was humorous. Imagine a human accordion squeezing and contorting to fit snugly into a space designed for the munchkins of Oz. I nearly choked when the attendant said I needed to buckle-up for take off as if I was going to come loose and fall out of the seat. No, I did not need a seat-belt. What I needed was a crow-bar (or a "Caution: Contents under pressure!" sign). That's when the words you dread to hear came over the intercom, "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I'm sorry to inform you that our flight has been delayed due to fog on the mountain."

After the collective groan from the dozen passengers, the flight attendants handed out a small bag of pre-packaged cookies to the now captive flyers. At the time I didn't want to eat the cookies lest I expand another millimeter and become a permanent fixture of the aircraft. Visions of Winnie the Pooh stuck in Rabbit's hole served to tame my appetite so I resorted to playing with the bag of goodies. A small pocket of air was trapped inside the bag during the packaging process which delighted my bored mind to no end. I squeezed air from one end of the bag to the other making a nice crinkly-rattle type of sound. I even found that I could use the bag as a percussion instrument:


I know, not very catchy, but hey, I was bored!

Then it happened. "POP!" The seam on the bag burst and my precious cookies were no longer protected by the foil packaging. They were exposed and in danger of becoming stale, which is a cardinal sin to a cookie connoisseur such as myself. I had to do something. My mind raced. I needed something that I could put the cookies in that would have a nearly air-tight seal. Then my eyes alighted on the perfect solution. The air-sick bag! It came fully equipped with a sticky strip to seal the contents within. It was exactly what I needed so I placed my snack in the bag.

Fast forward about an hour to when it came time to disembark the sardine can with wings. As I made my way up the narrow aisle, I had to turn sideways in order to pass between seats. In my forward hand I carried my cookies. The ever-watchful attendant noticed the package, and per her training offered to dispose of the airsick bag along with it's contents. At first, I was oblivious to her interpretation of the bag in my hand,

"Oh! No thanks. I'm saving this for later."

Her look of utter confusion sparked my slow brain to realize what she thought was in the bag. In vain I attempted to explain,

"You don't understand. I tossed my cookies in there."

Alas, by this time she was thoroughly flummoxed and I, tired of preventing my fellow passengers from disembarking walked away from a situation where words failed me, leaving behind a confused woman who was just trying to do her job

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where there was a mental disconnect from the person/people you were trying to communicate with? I have and it's disconcerting and discouraging. Especially when sharing the Gospel. I have heard countless stories of good, intelligent Christian men and women being discouraged when they attempt to share the gospel. They try and try, but the result is not much different than my experience with the flight attendant. Their words fail them and their audience is totally disconnected from the message they were attempting to share.

Over the next several postings I am going to explain one of Satan's tactics in this age of information. It's a tactic that creates confusion and often a disconnect between Christians and non-Christians. What is this tactic? It's the changing of definitions. Stay tuned.

If I Could Ask God Anything by Kathryn Slattery

As a former curious kid and a father of four inquisitive daughters I elected for a change of pace and chose to review a book geared for children and Kathryn Slattery's If I Could Ask God Anything caught my attention. The 200+ page book is divided into major sections (e.g. Questions about God, The Bible, Jesus, etc.), and in this way it reminded of a kid's version of a survey of Christian doctrine. Questions usually averaged about a one page answer (some more, some less) and were written on about a 3rd-4th grade reading level. I found the book to be fairly thorough and informative.

Now for the negatives. I rarely expect any author to be in exact agreement with me on all things, but this book fell short in some areas. I had some doctrinal concerns, especially with the questions concerning salvation and baptism. I also felt that at times the author interjected opinion over scripture, especially in the section concerning guardian angels. Overall , I think the book is a good reference for parents to use with their children, but I would be wary of handing it to my child without me there to help explain. Besides, it's kind of hard to beat the ultimate answer book, The Bible.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Road Trip!

Road Trips.

As a kid I loved them. The highlight of the year was piling into the car for a 26-hour drive to Nebraska. Along the way we played games, read books, tried to sleep and found unique ways to get on each other's nerves. It was the perfect formula for building memorable moments that are told and re-told for years.

Memories like the time my sister (about 5 years my junior) was three years old and a common, ordinary housefly decided to stow-away on the trip. as we entered about the seventeenth hour of the drive (about 3am) my father, hopped up on about every form of caffeine you can ingest is struggling to keep his weary eyes on the road. Mom and myself have drifted off to sleep. And then my sister discovers the fly. To the average person a fly is nothing to fear. A nuisance? Yes. Worthy of being on the business end of a rolled up newspaper? Absolutely! But something to be terrified of? No, unless you are a three-year old. To a three-year-old a common housefly is as fearsome as a fire-breathing dragon. Needless to say, when this unsuspecting fly alighted upon my sister, an ear-piercing scream of terror pierced the quiet atmosphere of the car. Mom jolted awake and I found my self clinging to the headliner. My father, nerves frayed from sleep deprivation, fought to keep the car on the road.

What ensued was a confused conversation that took the form of the following:

Dad: "What was that?!?"

Mom and I: "Angie screamed."

Dad: "Dave, what did you do?!?"

Me: "I don't know. I was asleep."

Dad: "Well, don't do it again!"

Me: "What? Sleep or make her scream?"

As you can tell, I was less than helpful. As for the winged culprit? He had disappeared for the moment. Ten minutes later, we get a repeat performance that would have made a B-Movie queen proud. This ensued for several rounds until we finally discovered the source of the commotion and rolled down the window to set the captive free.

What memories are you making for your family? Currently, I am in the van headed to Kentucky with 4 excited children, and they are laughing and playing and singing, and I have discovered that I still love road trips.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Revolutionary Paul Revere by Joel J. Miller

Woven into to the tapestry of American history is the familiar image of a man riding through the New England night crying out, "The redcoats are coming! The redcoats are coming!" on the eve of the battles of Lexington and Concord. What Joel Miller does is he takes that two-dimensional picture and adds depth and life to a man who should be known for so much more than one historic night. Starting with the journey of his indentured servant father, Miller spins a yarn that takes us through Paul's apprenticeship, his famous ride and so much more. Along the way Paul masters his craft, serves in the military during the French and Indian War, and socializes with the likes of Sam Adams and John Hancock. He joins secret societies like the Masons and the Sons of Liberty, which thrusts him into the role of chronicler of the Boston Massacre and partaker in the Boston Tea Party. Eventually, Paul ends up being the official messenger between the Sons of Liberty and the Continental Congress, which lands him the historic role of being the harbinger of battle.

But the story doesn't end there. Paul again serves his country through military service. What is most remarkable is that after independence is won is that Paul personifies America's entrepreneurial spirit. From silversmith to dentist to forger to bell-maker, Paul takes advantage of his new found liberty to build a successful business and uses his abilities to help his new country and when the war of 1812 breaks out, 80 year old Paul volunteers his services once again for the cause of Liberty.

As a lover of history I quickly devoured this book. Written in a narrative style it was easy to read while being well-documented. I fully recommend this book to anyone curious about one of America's early heroes. In doing so you will learn of a man who sought to serve his country no matter what his age, social status or financial situation. May we be so patriotic.