Especially for Pastors :: November 2013

Increasing and Abounding in Love
by Dr. Joe Johnson

“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” 

What is your life message? What are you pursuing in life? If you created a bumper sticker for your life message, what would it be? One person wrote, “Fishing is my life.” When you signed up on Facebook, what did you say was your religious view? My daughter Anne wrote, “Loving my neighbor (yes that neighbor).” I wrote, “Loving Jesus and the person in front of me.” (I first heard this spoken by Heidi Baker). Jesus commanded us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as we love ourselves….to love one another as he loved us (Mark 12:30-31, John 13:34). Paul encourages us to pursue love and clothe ourselves with compassion and love. He prays that we may have our roots and foundation in love so we may have power to understand how wide and long, how high and deep is Christ’s love, and that we may come to know his love, although it can never be fully known (1 Corinthians 14:1, Colossians 3:12, 14, Ephesians 3:17-18).

Dallas Willard taught me that transformation happens best when we use the VIM model. VIM is an acronym for Vision, Intention and Means. If we lose our way in following Jesus, pastoring, or in any area of our life, we may need to revisit our vision. I use the VIM method to increase and abound in love.

VISION: Increasing and Abounding in Love

I am created in God’s image to be a lover. Misty Edwards sings the vision, “God is a lover looking for a lover.” God is love, and it is possible for me to love like God loves. This is because the kingdom of the heavens is here, within reach, available. I focus on becoming the kind of person on the inside who loves like Jesus loves. We change from the inside out! Jesus’ character includes the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Jesus’ love has captured my heart. Jesus loves me—every part of me. He loves me in my weakness. I love the One who loves me. I would like my legacy to be, “Joe really loved Jesus.” The Apostle John described himself as, “I am the one Jesus loves.” Sometimes I enjoy skipping as a way to celebrate this affirmation. I am learning to skip again with my three-year-old granddaughter, Camille Hoang, at Disneyland.

The order of the kingdom is clear: we are first loved by God, and then we extend that love to others. The order is important because the love we extend to our neighbor is the same love we receive from God. We love because God loves us first. This is not just an historical event that happened once but happens every day, every moment of my life. Soren Kierkegaard’s prayer teaches this truth:

You have loved us first, oh God! Alas! We speak of it in terms of history as if You have only loved us first but a single time, rather than that without ceasing.You have loved us first many times and every day and our whole life through. When we wake up in the morning and turn our soul toward You—You are the first—You have loved us first; if I rise at dawn and at the same second turn my soul toward You in prayer, You are there ahead of me. You have loved me first. When I withdraw from the distractions of the day and turn my soul toward You, You are the first and thus forever. And yet we always speak ungratefully as if You have loved us first only once.

If I pray to God, “I love you!” I need to add one word to this prayer, “I love you, too!” The Apostle John spoke Jesus’ message to the church of Ephesus: “Return to your “first love” which you have forsaken” (Revelation 2:4). I believe that “first love” is not my love for God but God’s love for me. In worship I give back to God the love he has already given to me. I pray this vision, “Holy Spirit, pour the love of God into my way of being in the world so I am overwhelmed with this amazing love of God” (Romans 5:5).

INTENTION: I Choose to Receive and Give Love

I have decided that I am going to learn how to love as Jesus would love if he were in my place. Jesus commands us to go and make disciples of all kinds of people (Matthew 28:18-20). The Greek word, mathetes, means learner. An apprentice is a person who hangs out with Jesus so he can be like him and do what he does. I have decided to be the kind of person that easily receives and gives love. Receiving love is a way of loving. We do not slide into becoming a disciple—our choice is of central importance. I do not slide into becoming a person who loves like Jesus—I decide to do this. I have decided to examine what motivates my behavior in order to see if it is done in love. Paul encourages me to do this in 1 Corinthians 13 where he writes that if I speak with the tongues of men and angels but do not love, I am noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. In other words, I’m a gong show—that’s all it is. If I have the gift of prophesy, understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and surrender my body to the flames as a martyr, but have not love, I profit nothing.

MEANS are practices and training exercises through which God transforms our heart (will, spirit), mind (thoughts and feelings), body (strength, habits), social relationships and soul to enable us to increase and abound in love. Whatever means the Holy Spirit stirs in our hearts are the best ones for us. Here are a few of the “means” that I have chosen this past year.

  1. Study the meaning of love.
    One form of love is compassion. Compassion is experiencing a heart of tenderness and mercy for someone. The Hebrew word for compassion is racham. “Can a woman forget her nursing child and not have compassion (racham) on the son of her womb?” (Isaiah 49:15). When Jesus saw the huge crowd, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). The Greek verb translated here as “compassion” means literally, “his guts were moved” (splagchnizomai). We would say that his heart was profoundly moved. When Jesus sees you and me, his heart is profoundly moved. We receive his heart of compassion for the sheep who are without a shepherd—the lost, the lonely, the least, the little ones. Compassion is the word used to describe the running father’s love in the parable of the prodigal son: “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion” (Luke 15:20). The love of God includes mother (feminine) love as well as father (masculine) love. In Jesus Christ there is all strength and all tenderness.

    Another Hebrew word to describe God’s love is ahab, which means delight in being with us, to like, to take pleasure in, to have affection for (Hosea 3:1, 11:1). God delights in us. He finds pleasure in us. He enjoys us. “But you will be called Hephzibah….for the Lord will take delight in you” (Isaiah 62:4). We are God’s favorite. We are pleasing in the Father’s eyes. For the Lord takes pleasure in his people (Psalm 18:19).

    Hesed is the Hebrew word for God’s covenant love (Hosea 2:19; 6:6). Sometimes the word is translated as unfailing love or mercy. It is love that is enduring, not just a momentary decision. It is generous, in excess, outrageous, unrestrained, going beyond what can be expected. Hesed is God’s unconditional, merciful love which has no one else in mind. Hesed occurs 250 times in the Old Testament; it is the equivalent of the New Testament Greek word, charis (Ephesians 1:6)

    The most familiar biblical word for love that we all know is agape. Agape is willing good for the person we love. I memorized the best description of this love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient (suffers long) and kind; it is not jealous, does not envy, does not boast; love is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way (having the last word) ,it is not irritable (easily angered) or resentful (keep a record of wrongs). Love does not rejoice in the wrong but rejoices in the truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails, never gives up, love never runs out on me.” The love described in this passage is not about me, it is about God’s agape love. The central point is that love is at the core of our life together. It is God’s love—his perfect and unfailing love—that is being described. We could insert the word “God” for the word love. “God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, God does not boast. God is not easily angered, God keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres. God never fails.”

    I continue to study God’s love. Sometimes when the Yankees lose I confess the sin of schadenfruede, which is a German word which means “rejoicing in the suffering of others.” Love is not jealous, which is the fear that I am going to miss out. There is an acronym for this fear that many are experiencing: FOMO, “fear of missing out.” Or I may fear I am not going to get what I deserve. Envy is anger at others for the attention or success they have that I want. I may be envious of the attention or love someone is giving to others instead of me.

  2. Study and learn how to love our neighbor.
    Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” My neighbor is the one in front of me or sitting beside me. My neighbor is not the whole world—God loves the whole world. There are specific ways to minister healing love for different kinds of needs. For those who are going through overwhelming suffering we may be led by Holy Spirit to imitate Job’s friends. They sat in silence for seven days showing deep respect and honor for Job and his suffering. We love by not giving snappy explanations for suffering. We live with mystery and no answers to our “Why?” God tells Job, who wants an explanation for all of his troubles, “You wouldn’t understand.” Jesus teaches that everyone suffers, goes through tribulation. Anne Lamott writes in her book on prayer, Help,Thank You,Wow, “Life is like chutes and ladders.” Remember when you played “Candyland” as a child? We are climbing ladders, getting closer to the end and winning the game. Then we land on a “chute” space and slide backwards, sometimes all the way back to the beginning. We are forced to start again from where we landed.
  3. Experience receiving and giving love in community.
    We first learn love in the community of our families. This does not happen for everyone. I am thankful that followers of Jesus have a loving community, especially small groups, in which to learn love. We practice loving through laying hands on a person. Fifteen of Jesus’ healings included touch. I enjoy teaching on hugs by giving names to identify several different ways of hugging. You might have a favorite to add to this list: hand shake, buddy hug (arms around each other at above the belt), burp (patting backs), back rub (rubbing backs), cheek to cheek, full embrace (bear hug), holding a person, knuckle (bump), group, pew hug (leaning over a pew like an A-frame). I recommend the YouTube Video called, “Free Hugs—Italy” accompanied by the sound track, ”Hallelujah.” Whenever I use this video to teach on loving through hugs, I invite everyone to identify the different kinds of hugs as they watch. When someone is suffering the pain of loss, I often hold them a little longer when I hug them. That is when the tears start to flow. I often say, “I love you!” but not much more.
  4. Worship.
    Worship is focusing on the vision of the greatness, goodness and love of God. One morning recently I spontaneously started singing, “Jesus Thou art all compassion, pure abounded love Thou art” from the hymn, “Love Divine.” God’s loving, manifested presence touched my body, which responded with tears as I was singing this worship song to Jesus (not just about Jesus). My favorite worship song is, “One Thing Remains:” “Higher than the mountains that I face, Stronger than the power of the grave, Constant through the trial and the change, one thing remains. Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me.” I enjoy lifting my arms as high as possible during worship. The Hebrew words for praise and worship in the Psalms include using our bodies. I break passivity and I open my heart to receive and express love to God. Sometimes worshiping Jesus and praying includes the physical expression of tears like Jesus had: “While he was on earth Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears to God. … God answered him. Though he was God’s Son, he learned trusting obedience through what he suffered, just as we do (Hebrews 5:7-8, MSG). Sometimes I believe I have the gift of tears. Spurgeon called praying with tears “liquid prayer.” Jesus learned obedience. I will often say, “I am learning with Jesus” to trust that our dear Father is always near. This frees me from focusing on my performance in loving.
  5. Practice humility.
    “Humility is being occupied with God instead of being occupied with self.” Andrew Murray

    Humility is a grace connection. Here are a few ways to practice humility from Jeremy Taylor’s “19 Rules on Humility.”

    Humility is not about criticizing myself, but about being realistic about myself.

    Exposing others’ weaknesses is not caring.

    I don’t need to congratulate myself when I do things better than others.

    I can be thankful for my weaknesses, faults and imperfections because they help me see that we are all human.

    I can be content when others do well even if I don’t. I personally say this to be free of envy.

  6. Eliminate hurry in my life.
    It is impossible to love in a hurry. Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time, and time is the one thing hurried people do not have. I practice not being in a hurry whenever I drive in the slow lane.
  7. Use humor.
    Laughter releases the joy and freedom to be real, which is really good for receiving and giving love. I enjoy including jokes whenever I teach because it helps disarm legalism—focusing on my goodness in order to qualify myself to receive God’s love. The Carmelite nun, Teresa of Avila, embraced an earthy spirituality that was free of pious pretense. A story is told that she was sitting in a privy with a prayer book in one hand and a cinnamon roll in the other. The devil appeared to her and was scandalized at her irreverence so he sanctimoniously reprimanded her. Teresa responded, “The sweet roll is for me, the prayers are for God, and the rest is for you.”

    Here are a couple of jokes to make your day:

    *For all my Country Music friends: “My toe is broken. My car is broken down. A lifetime of country music has prepared me for this.”

    *For everyone who is waiting to hear another story about my Norwegian friends, Ole and Lena told their friend, Sven, that they had been married for 30 years. Sven asked Ole if he had done anything to celebrate with Lena, and Ole said that sounded like a good idea, so he took Lena to Norway. Five years later Sven suggested that Ole find another way to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Ole said that sounded like a good idea, so he went back to Norway, picked up Lena and brought her home.

  8. Embrace my purpose or destiny in life—be a lover of God and love the one in front of me.
    Agnes Sanford uses the phrase “sealed orders” to describe God’s destiny, plans and purpose for our life. These are not orders like you would receive as a soldier—it is our way of being in the world, loving and being loved. The Apostle Paul teaches that God has wonderful plans for our life and good works that he has prepared for us to walk in even before we were born: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago (Ephesians 1:4; 2:10, NLT). I invite you to use your imagination as a way to be with Jesus and listen to what he wants you to know about your way of receiving and giving love. Joan of Arc was reprimanded for saying she was hearing God’s voice. Her accusers told her this was not God speaking, it was just her imagination. She responded, “That is the way God speaks to me, through my imagination.” Use your imagination to be with Jesus in heaven before you were born, and listen to him tell you his wonderful plans for your life. What is the song he is singing over you? What is your response to what Jesus is saying? Enjoy being with Jesus and hearing his dreams for you.

This is my prayer for you: “May the Master pour on you God’s love so it fills your life and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you” (1Thessalonians 3:12, The Message). I pray that when others bump into you and me, God’s love splashes on them.

Joe Johnson is the founder and director of Heart of the Father Ministries located in Laguna Woods, California. Joe travels internationally teaching on healing, spiritual formation, freedom, and the Father’s love…