I can’t imagine…nor do I want to

A distant acquaintance of mine recently shared with a few of us the tragedy and sorrow that defined his holiday season this past year; brokenness and grief seemed to surround him and his family at every turn. I responded with expressions of sorrow, sympathy, and a promise to pray but qualified it with the recognition that I couldn’t possibly fully grasp what he was experiencing in life. I openly admitted my complete inability to step into what was transpiring in his life but secretly, I said to myself, “…and I don’t want to.”

I have no desire or interest in feeling his pain, his grief, and his sense of loss. The reason for my selfishness is that the only way possible for that to happen would be to suffer exactly as he had suffered (and will continue to suffer). No thank you.

Immediately, my mind and heart were drawn to the Christmas story. I found myself enjoying it all over again. What I could never do (and have no desire to), Jesus did. He can imagine, because He has experienced it, and He did so willingly.

On the one hand, it was exactly what He HAD to do to die in our place and pay the price for our sin.  Hebrews 2:14-18 states,

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.

Jesus did not come to earth in human form as an emotionally detached, relationally distant savior, though. What He did was so much more. The text also reveals that Jesus was tempted and suffered like us so that He could come to our aid in times of need. He was fully invested into our world in every way (apart from committing sin). In chapter 4, the writer of Hebrews develops this further.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus is able not only to come to our aid but is also able to fully sympathize with whatever our plight may be as He was been tested in ways as we are. He willingly stepped into our world, into our experience, so that can both rescue and sympathize with us. Jesus willingly and joyfully entered into our context to be both Savior and Sympathizer.

Dane Ortlund, in his book, “Gently and Lowly” movingly captures this when he writes that Jesus’ sympathy “…is not cool and detached pity. It is a depth of felt solidarity such as is echoed in our own lives most closely only as parents to children. Indeed, it is deeper even than that…his heart is feelingly drawn into our distress.” Later, he continues by saying, “The reason that Jesus is in such close solidarity with us is that the difficult path we are on is not unique to us. He has journeyed on it Himself.”

As a result, the writer calls us, pleads with us, to come close to Jesus with confidence (no fear!) for grace and mercy, for rescue from our sin and the soothing of our souls. He has the ability because He has the experience. He is willing because He is sympathetic. He does what cannot be done by any friend we have. He desires to with a love we cannot extend or even fathom.

Thank you, Jesus.

Christmas…the story of what pleases God

The Nativity account in Luke chapters 1 and 2 has always captured my fancy, much in the same fashion as a bride walking down the aisle captures the interest and affections of her waiting groom. The interest is not merely passing! The gazing eye wishes to capture every detail, searing the fullness of the image into the memory so as to never forget. That is indeed the Christmas story for me.

I will never tire of reading the verses and studying its truths. Quite possibly my favorite scene in the developing narrative is that of the shepherds. One of the details which is often quickly passed over (possibly thru familiarity) is found in the heart of the interaction between the lowly shepherds and the glorious, heavenly messengers sent by God to them.

 Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Luke 2:14

What is it, really, that pleases God in the Christmas story? It is a question we must wrestle with. The answer to that question must find a home in our hearts and minds, giving life to our daily pursuits and purposes. So, with what is God so pleased that He was compelled to send a host of angels to tell a group of humble shepherds out in a field?

The answer is definitely NOT humanity. What God was doing on that first Christmas Night was obviously directed at and for the good of humanity but it was not because humanity pleased Him. That God would be “pleased” with humanity, sinful and evil humanity, would be the same as a parent looking with pleasure upon their hellion children running amok in Walmart, creating strife and destruction in whatever aisle they found themselves in. No, most certainly not people. We aren’t pleasing to God; we are loved by God (Ephesians 2:4-7). His love for us makes what He did at Christmas pleasing for Him.

So, let me ask again, what was and is so pleasing to God? In short…

It pleased God…

*to initiate and offer peace

*to extend favor

*to send the Savior

…to sinful and rebellious humanity.

Additionally, God was pleased…

*to leave heaven

*to take on human flesh

* to be with us

…so that He could save us.

Paul further develops this in his letter to the Colossians.

“For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross…” (Colossians 1:19-20)

Dane Ortlund says it well in chapter 2 of his book, “Gentle and Lowly” when he writes, “The cumulative testimony of the four Gospels is that when Jesus Christ sees the fallenness of the world all about Him, His deepest impulse, His most natural instinct, is to move toward that sin and suffering, not away from it.” Later, in the same chapter, he continues, “Pity flooded His heart, the longing of true compassion.”

God’s pleasure at Christmas is wrapped up in the pleasure He takes in bringing salvation to sinful humanity; which leads me to the next logical question: Do I find pleasurable that which God does?

First and foremost, do I find pleasure in God’s offer of peace through Christ and welcome His extension of grace for my sin, or do I find that thought irrelevant at a minimum or at the worst, dramatically offensive?

The first leads to the second: Do I find pleasure in engaging people with the love, grace, and mercy of God the way He has engaged me? Do I, like Jesus, have an impulse toward the fallen, with a heart filled with the pity of true compassion fueled by the humility of one who needs it as much as anyone?

The Christmas story, the story of the birth of Jesus, is immensely pleasurable, but none of it is more pleasurable than the pleasure God has in bringing it to bear upon us. I pray you will find pleasure this Christmas in what brings God eternal pleasure.

Merry Christmas!

The Tranquil Peace of a Child

“Oh, to be that relaxed” I thought as I looked at the small child asleep in its mother’s arms. The child was perfectly at peace and completely at rest; oblivious to the chaos of the world around it. It is a state of being I long for. I want to tangibly experience what it feels like to be that settled and contented; to be that unaffected by the world that seems to want to engulf me in fret and anxiety.

King David knew what it was to experience such depth of tranquility. In Psalm 131:2 (NASB) he writes,

Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;

Like a weaned child rests against his mother,

My soul is like a weaned child within me.

There was nothing simple, quiet, casual, or leisurely about David’s life. Though anointed as the future king of Israel, he lived with the disdain of his brothers, faced the Philistine champion Goliath, was chased and hounded by King Saul who was intent on killing him (often to the exclusion of all other duties), and finally his own son (Absalom) led a coup to take the throne from him. Yet, he was able to testify of the quietness of his soul. The first verse of Psalm 131 gives us insight to how this could possibly be true.

O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;

Nor do I involve myself in great matters,

Or in things too difficult for me.

David was characterized by a spirit of humility and an attitude of submission by keeping his proper place before God. Great peace will surround us when we do not think more highly than we should or think of ourselves more often than we should. One of the greatest goals we can set for ourselves to be able to always look at ourselves, our true selves and our inner selves, in the mirror with vulnerable honesty.

David revealed the depth of his humility during the aforementioned rebellion by his son, Absalom. In 2nd Samuel 16:5-14 it is recorded that as David was fleeing Jerusalem, he was met by one of Saul’s descendants who began to curse him and throw rocks at him. One of David’s men asked for permission to go over and cut the insolent man’s head off but David refused.

Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over now and cut off his head.” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah? If he curses, and if the LORD has told him, ‘Curse David,’ then who shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” Then David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite? Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him. Perhaps the LORD will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day.” So David and his men went on the way; and Shimei went along on the hillside parallel with him and as he went he cursed and cast stones and threw dust at him.

Likewise, David did not grab at things that were not his to chase after. He recognized what was God’s alone to do. There is no greater example of this than when Saul was pursuing him, intent on killing him. While hiding from Saul, David had the chance to kill him. It would have been quick and easy. The threat would have been vanquished and the promised throne, which at the present seemed unlikely to ever be his, would be waiting for him to claim. First Samuel 24:6-7 records the pivotal moment.

So he said to his men, “Far be it from me because of the LORD that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the LORD’s anointed.” David persuaded his men with these words and did not allow them to rise up against Saul. And Saul arose, left the cave, and went on his way.

The crown was not for David to take. Instead, it was God’s to give to him when He saw fit.

David concludes this short, three verse Psalm with a cry for all of God’s people to heed.

O Israel, hope in the LORD

From this time forth and forever.

This is it, the secret to resting safe and secure from all alarm: Hope in the Lord! David was able to be humble because He knew God and trusted His Lord. He knew God was big and he was nothing. All he was, was from God’s hand.

He was also able to allow time to drag on with promises unfulfilled because his hope was not in what he could see or in what he was experiencing. His only hope was in the One who promised.

May we, as David, rest as a child holding fast in hope to the faithful word of our Savior and King who has promised to be with us until the end of the age (Matthew 28:2), has promised to exalt us at the proper time (1st Peter 5:6-7), and will one day return in glory (Revelation 19:11-21).

Which Jesus are we selling…optional or essential?

I have a couple of personal anecdotes I’d like to share with you. They are narratives which will neither surprise nor shock you as coming from me. In fact, both of them are entirely predicable in their context and their outcome.

The first happened when I was in college. There was this girl (see, totally predictable!). We had a couple of classes together (it was a SMALL college, I was NOT a stalker, really) and got to be friends. As predictability goes, I soon wanted to be more than friends. Much more. As confidently awkward as I could, I shared with this girl my deep and undying love for her. I loved her and had a wonderful plan for our lives together. It was perfect. We were perfect. Well, perfect except for part of her loving me the way I hoped she would. She liked things about me and enjoyed being around me (for the most part) but there was nothing which compelled her to want to commit her life to mine. I played all my cards but she just wasn’t interested in my love.

The second happened just a couple years ago. I was hanging out with a group of friends and we decided to get something to eat. We agreed that French fries were what we were hungry for so we headed for a local establishment which served fries you could get with a variety of toppings. They are kind of like French fry versions of nachos. I went with my personal favorite, bacon-cheddar fries with a side of ranch dressing. I was waxing eloquent to one of our group about how amazing they were. The greasy gooey goodness dipped in ranch is something they just HAD to try. No matter how I described the utter amazingness of the pile of cholesterol in front them, they just didn’t have a desire to taste (even a little) to see how good they were. Quietly another friend leaned over and whispered, “You know they are a vegetarian, right?!”. Oh ya, I guess that WOULD make a difference. But still, they are SOOOOO GOOD! Whatever…

In both cases, I was offering something that just didn’t appeal to them. I was offering nothing they wanted and nothing they felt they needed. I was reading Luke chapter 3 last month and I began to understand these interactions were exactly how I have been talking about Jesus with people. “He loves you so much! He is so amazing! How can you resist giving your life to Him?!” While all that IS completely true, the light went on in my spirit that I was missing the boat.

In Luke 3, John the Baptist comes preaching to those outside of Jerusalem. His calling by God was to “make ready the way of the Lord” (Luke 3:4). Simply put, his job was to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah, to prepare their hearts to welcome and receive the promised Messiah.

His methodology? He preached repentance from sin because of impending judgment (Luke 3:7-9). Seriously! He did not try to sell how beautiful, how wonderful, how incredible, and how amazing the Messiah would be. It is only in an understanding of the coming judgment for sin that we see the desirability and beauty of Jesus.

The beauty of Jesus is that He, who Himself is completely sinless, left heaven and came to earth so that He could suffer the Father’s wrath for our sin on the cross. He took my place in judgment, He took my sentence of death, and He took my guilt upon Himself. Jesus took the weight of my guilt (our guilt) upon Himself and suffered the fullness of God’s judging wrath in my (our) place. What could possibly be more beautiful than that?

Sin and judgment in the current religious environment of our world seems to be mostly ignored as outdated and irrelevant. The idea that God would sentence a person to eternal damnation in hell is scoffed at as ridiculous. The Bible could not be clearer on the subject, though. Hell is described as a place outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12) and a lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

Just because people reject the idea of hell (the biblical hell, not the “party with your friends” hell) does not mean it is not real. My daughter and her family recently moved to South Carolina. One of the first aspects of living there they had to prepare for was the reality of hurricanes. It was stressed upon them the necessity of securing and storing various essential items for when a hurricane would hit. The question is never “if” but rather, “when”. Tatum and James can scoff at the idea of hurricanes and how dangerous they can be but their scoffing will mean nothing but disaster when a bad one descends upon them with no time to adequately prepare. Such will be when judgement comes; “…and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew 24:39).

We must, I must, stop trying to convince the world of a Jesus which is an “optional” Jesus. Jesus is the definition of “essential” and it is within the scope of His “essential-ness” that we begin to realize how beautiful, wonderful, and truly amazing He is.

God, Government, and Constitutional Rights

A Complicated Mess

Life in this world has always contained a lot of moving parts. Since time immemorial, humanity has wrestled with itself regarding religious faith, moral conundrums, social upheaval, political rivalries and warring parties. It has fought against common enemies such as health crises, geological upheavals, and meteorological threats. Currently though, it would seem like all of these have decided to crescendo in unison. The big picture sure does seem to reveal a complicated mess in which we are attempting to scratch out our existence.

The Christian culture, though, seems to be having a particularly desperate struggle in the current milieu of God versus the government; not that this is a new or recent phenomenon since even a casual scan of history reveals this to be true.

The Struggle is Real

Christians used to band together in solidarity and support for one another. Christ calls Christians to unity. He calls Christians to bear each other’s burdens. He states unequivocally that Christians will be known by their love. Unmistakably, the Bible places a high priority on being good citizens. The sad reality of today is that more than ever, the place Christians used to go for comfort and succor (fellowship with one another) is now oft-times filled with animosity and judgmental division over what it means to live as Christian citizens.

Where is our Allegiance? Two Foundational Truths

A Christian (at least as best as I can deduct from the Bible) is one whose loyal devotion is to the Lord Jesus Christ and seeks to live in submission to His word. His Word, the Bible, gives two very clear instructions:

  1. Obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)
  2. Obey the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7)

Both of those statements are true without qualification (though if qualification is desired, take even a casual look at who the governing authorities were when Paul wrote the book of Romans) and without contradiction. The clear instruction of God’s word is that unless the governing authorities command us to disobey the clear teaching of the Bible, we are to obey.

The dividing issue can at first glance seem to be, is our allegiance to God or to our government? I do not believe that truly is the case for many of us, though. The battle for allegiance, I am afraid, is between my God and my “Constitutional” rights. What I see is too many of us putting an asterisk next to Romans 13:1-7. The asterisk indicating, “Unless I feel my rights are being violated.”

Christian, believer, Christ-follower (whatever you call yourself), if what your governing authorities say does not violate the clear teaching of the Bible, we are called to obey. The question should be, “If I obey what I am told to do, will I be disobeying God?” THAT should be our default setting.

Jesus did not tell us to stand up for our rights. He told us to “…be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1st Corinthians 15:58).

Jesus Himself fully gave up His rights for the purpose of bringing salvation to sinners.

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…” (Philippians 2:5-7)

Does that mean we passively stand by with apathy? No, not at all. We must engage the political process and be socially engaged to influence the thinking of individuals around us and the legislative bodies over us. Neither does this imply that all situations and contexts yield quick and simple answers. This does of necessity provide the only proper foundation from which we have the resources to ascertain how we are to live as Christian citizens in society.

What is at stake?

The reality is this, we are standing on the precipice of eternity. We have been called to live for something more than our earthly existence. We have been called into the service of our Lord to bring the gospel to our world. We are His ambassadors as our heavenly vocation (2nd Corinthians 5:20). Since we are His ambassadors, we submit our vindication and glory to the mighty hand of God (1st Peter 5:6-7).

When we claim to love and follow Jesus (Who set aside all of His rights as Son of God) but our greatest allegiance is to our “rights” we potentially become the most dangerous heretics of all. How can we call people to full devotion, loyalty, and faith in Christ, when we are ourselves are not? We do not obey our government because they are “good” (they are certainly not). We aren’t only to be in submission when it is convenient or in agreement with our worldview. We are to obey as an act of fealty and worship to our heavenly Father. I pray we think more deeply and with greater clarity as we seek to understand how to live as Christian citizens with humility, wisdom, and redemptive purpose.

Good Friday is good but is it still good enough for today?

Well, it is once again the Passion or Holy Week during which many will celebrate “Good Friday”. You know, the Easter equivalent of Christmas Eve. Though to the casual observer “good” may seem a bit odd when describing the brutal execution of the person worshipped by Christians throughout the globe, I believe most acknowledge why we dare refer to it as “good”. It is on this day that Jesus accomplished for us the forgiveness of sin, the removal of our guilt, and secured a place for us in the Father’s presence in heaven. That truth alone makes this day eternally and unmistakably “good”. It is a simple truth, but we must never allow the simplicity of it to be quickly brushed aside or allow ourselves to grow callous to the enormity of this day through familiarity.

The “good” of Good Friday is so much more than simply “going to heaven”. The significance of this day may be reduced down to “going to heaven” but a panoramic view of the death of Jesus on the cross takes in so much more. The event which transpired on this day has spiritual and social ramifications both eternal and temporal. The “good” in Good Friday is the good we as a race have always needed since Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, but no more so than we need that good today. To understand the fullness of the “good” we much look back upon the life and ministry Jesus while He was alive.

Jesus was without question, a good man whose life was filled with goodness. His goodness was loving, gracious, merciful, and kind. People came from all over to experience and be touched by His goodness. The story of His life is well-described in Mark 10:45 where it is said that He “came not to be served, but to serve”. It is critical, though, that we do not label Jesus as just a humanitarian who came to illustrate for wayward humanity what love looked like. The actions of Jesus were not “random acts of kindness” done out of pity for those less fortunate or to empower the powerless. The miraculous and loving actions of Jesus were powerfully symbolic images of the work Jesus would accomplish on the cross.

The gospel writers reveal in dramatic fashion the spiritual significance of what Jesus would accomplish as they record the miracles wrought by Jesus. During His life He…

*healed a leper (Mark 1:40-45)

*restored a paralytic (Mark 2:1-11)

*freed the demoniac from his bondage (Mark 5:1-13)

*healed the woman with continuous flow of blood (Mark 5:25-34)

*brought a dead girl back to life (Mark 5:35-42)

*gave sight to a blind man (Mark 10:46-52)

In each instance, Jesus was addressing the foundational spiritual issues of fallen humanity, that is, our separation from our Creator. He cleansed the unclean, He gave life to the dead, He gave sight to the blind, He freed the captive, and gave strength to the impotent. All of these maladies and conditions are graphic pictures of what sin brought to mankind. The miracles of Jesus highlight our utterly depraved condition as well as our inability to do anything about it.

It is also imperative for us to observe that Jesus didn’t heal everyone, restore everyone, or touch everyone who would benefit from His miracles and power. In fact, on a global scale, He touched very few. His miracles were to reveal who He was, His intimate love for sinners, and the purpose of His mission to address the separation sin has caused between the Creator and His creation.

Beyond the miraculous, the mission of Jesus is poignantly pictured in His interactions with the myriad of people He mingled with. During His life He lovingly and mercifully engaged a…

*Jewish Tax Collector (Mark 2:14)

*Synagogue official (Mark 5:21-43)

*Gentile woman (Mark 7:24-30)

*Children (Mark 10:13-16)

*Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13)

Jesus gave significance to the socially insignificant. He crossed the social lines of gender and race. He touched the socially untouchable and loved the socially unlovable. While a Jew by birth, heritage, and covenant faithfulness, Jesus was not constrained nor compelled by nationalism. He called the Jewish traitor to be a disciple and humbly served the needs of a Roman Centurion. The hatred the Jews had for the Romans cannot be overestimated. Racism, nationalism, and imperialistic arrogance were alive and thriving well before North America was settled by immigrants from Europe.

Historically, the fall broke the relationship with our Creator and broke our relationship with ourselves (Genesis 3). Jesus came to restore that which was broken (Romans 8 and 12) between both God and His creation as well as what separates and divides us as people. It is here that we begin to see the full spectrum of what makes Good Friday, “good”.

The future hope we have from the work of Jesus on the cross is this: God is creating a new people and a new kingdom comprised of all tribes, nations, and people (Revelation 1, 5, and 22) created through the work of Jesus, the Savior (Revelation 1:4-8); free from all forms of oppression and racism, free from everything and everyone which enslaves and holds us in bondage. It is to be a kingdom in which righteousness dwells (2nd Peter 3:13). While we will never fully experience this in the here and now, this is the secure hope of the future. The full realization of all we hope for, all we crave in this life is found exclusively in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is this hope and this hope alone which enables us to endure difficult and seemingly overwhelming times and events. It is the knowledge and conviction of this certainty that compels us to be diligent in regard to these very things in this life. Following Jesus calls us and empowers us to pursue His purposes now in the faith and hope of what Good Friday brings.

Come to Jesus and hold fast to Him. His promise is sure.

Valentine’s Day…What’s Love Got to do with It?

Valentine’s Day is upon us and whether you cherish the day, despise any such holidays, or are simply apathetic to the whole thing, February 14th is the date when we as a nation are told to celebrate love. It is the day to celebrate by telling the special people in our lives of our fond and enduring affection for them. On this day, many will get engaged to be married and with odds any gambler would be ecstatic to take in Las Vegas, many more will most likely not, inevitably leading to disappointment and heart-ache. Untold dollars will be spent on candy of questionable quality, cheesy cards, and stuffed animals. School children will stress over which current set of characters will grace the valentines they will take to school to distribute to all in their respective classes. Husbands will stress over what to do for their wives; especially those who have waited until early the morning of February 14th! Many will spend the day in sadness over seemingly being forgotten or disregarded.

 More than celebrating love (which SHOULD be celebrated, of course), we need to live it. Our lives need to be defined by it. The lack of genuine, intentional love drives the darkness we all face. There is nothing more basic than love. Yet, there is nothing so complicated, misunderstood, misappropriated, and, well, messy than love. In the Bible, it is the simplest command, yet the most challenging to heed. Even still, with all that as the context during this time of year, let’s look at love, the essential elements. It is there, in the foundational essence of love where we will find our way forward.

Love God

It is here we must begin. The Bible teaches us that “…love is from God…for God is love” (1st John 4:7-8). Two verses later the writer, the Apostle John, gives us the defining image of love, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [the satisfaction of God’s holy justice] for our sins” (1st John 4:10).

Approximately 60 years prior to John so eloquently penning the inspired words on love, Jesus was publicly questioned on what the foremost command of God was. The response of Jesus, while making complete sense in the context of the history of Israel, becomes even clearer upon reading the words of John. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND” (Matthew 22:36).

The greatest commandment in the Bible, given centuries earlier, immediately proceeding the Jews exodus from Egypt, was to love the One who loves us to the full. The call to love God is the call to an adoring, trusting, and faithful devotion to Him who is our Creator and would one day be our Savior.

Jesus didn’t leave it there, though. To love God, is to love what He loves and to love WHO He loves. Thus, we are also to…

Love our neighbor

“The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’” (Matthew 22:39).

Jesus’ simple response of “love God” is quickly joined together with “love your neighbor”. In giving His answer Jesus wants all to understand that loving God is inseparable from loving your neighbor. It is to this truth to which John continued to write on the topic of love.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1st John 4:11).

Two principles here shine forth like the proverbial lighthouse on a dark night. The first is that the love God has for us individually must compel us to unquestionably love all others. God loved us in all our ugly awfulness which leaves us not only without excuse for not loving others but also should motivate us to be loving towards all others. Secondly, it gives us two salient qualifiers for HOW to love others. John states with crystal clarity that we are to love the way God loved us; that is, with grace, humility, mercy, kindness, and self-sacrifice without any foundational worthiness of deserving such love. Jesus in His answer to the question of the greatest commandment, instructs us to love as we love ourselves. Interesting that God AND us as individuals (in a sense) set the standard for what love is to look like. To understand how we fit into this almost contradictory sounding statement made by Jesus we need to look a little deeper.

Let’s say I love bacon (which I do!). On the surface, “loving my neighbor as myself” could look something like this: I love bacon for breakfast with my eggs, bacon for lunch on my Black Forest ham sandwich, and then bacon cheeseburgers for dinner. For dessert, I might as well finish the day with bacon dipped in a rich dark chocolate. Wow, that does sound good! So, in keeping with loving my neighbor as myself, that is what I make for them to show them how much I love them. Which would be so loving of me.

Unless my neighbors were devout, orthodox Jews, of course. Then my efforts wouldn’t really be all that loving. They would actually be offensive to them. It would be one thing to do that in ignorance, another thing completely if I had full knowledge of their convictions and beliefs. It is in “knowledge” where loving others as we love ourselves comes into play.

We love ourselves by doing, seeking, working, and providing what we believe is best for us, what is most enjoyable to us, and what provides for our needs. To love as we love ourselves is to be fully committed to the needs, desires, and burdens of others. Peter captures the idea well in 1st Peter 3:7 when he instructs husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way, that is, literally, to live according to knowledge; knowledge of who their wife is, what SHE loves, what SHE needs, what HER triggers and stressors are, etc.

The two basic principles of love have nothing to do with loving myself. They are exclusively outward in focus and are inseparably connected; love God and love who He loves.

So, what’s a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year as well as make it a celebration of a lifestyle?

Devote yourself to learning how to love

Not too many years before his death, the Apostle Paul wrote, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1st Timothy 1:4).

The Apostle Paul wrote more volumes in the New Testament than any other writer. His writings entail some of the deepest theology imaginable. The depths he explores regarding the nature and work of God is beyond compare outside of the Psalms. Yet, in spite of that, he reduces the goals of all his weighty thinking and teaching to one thing: Love. The great apostle had one goal to all of his teaching, that those who learned from him would love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

A pure heart relates to the purity resulting from having our sins cleansed by the Savior. A good conscience is mind free from guilt and shame because of a live lived in righteousness. A sincere faith relates to the outworking of a life lived in submission and trusting devotion to God. If our hearts have been purified by Christ, if we live obedient lives, and we live in full conviction of trust in God, we will be the most loving people the world has ever seen. To be a follower of Jesus is to be a learner of Jesus. To be a learner of Jesus is to learn His ways and purposes. Want to obey the most important commandment? Devote yourself to being a learner of Jesus.

By extension, be a learner of others as well. We can’t truly love them as we love ourselves if we don’t know who they are, what their story is, what it means to be “them”. That is how to honor what Valentine’s Day is supposed to stand for. Love God and love your neighbor.

In 1983 Tina Turner asked, “What’s love got to do with it?” The answer is very simple. Everything.

2020: The reality show

More than a few people have made online references saying this election season is the Season Finale of the show “2020”. If that is indeed the case, as Christians, lets end the show with a real plot twist and the ultimate surprise ending. Here’s the script…

[Scene 1] Do not engage in fruitless arguments.

Seriously. Don’t, just don’t. The temptation is going to be incredibly strong to voice discontent, frustration, and anger online about your feelings in regard to this presidential election, especially the voting process. No matter how justified you might feel, such activity will not change anything nor will it positively influence anyone directly involved or even passively watching or listening. The reality is this: no matter what the optics are, we truly don’t KNOW everything that has transpired which means emotions are being generated by speculation. Speculation, while probably containing varying elements of truth, almost always leads to a conclusion which provokes powerful and generally unhealthy emotions which ultimately foster resentment and bitterness.

Am I saying we shouldn’t engage in conversations about these issues? Not in any way, shape, or form! Before we do though, please consider the following scriptural instructions:

2nd Timothy 2:16“…avoid worldly and empty chatter for it will lead to further ungodliness.”

As much as I enjoy good memes like the rest of us, can we please admit that while they can be entertaining and can illustrate principle, they are mostly worthless for anything truly edifying. In my mind there is nothing in our world that defines “empty chatter” like the meme shots we take. But hey, they ARE fantastic at eliciting a defensive and antagonistic response.

2nd Timothy 2:22-24 – flee youthful lust…pursue righteousness…refuse to be quarrelsome

“Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged…”

One of, if not the most, powerful of youthful lusts is the lust to win an argument, prove ourselves to be “right”, and vindicate ourselves. In fact, within the context of 2nd Timothy 2:14-26 that is most likely the “lusts” Paul is referring to. Don’t strive to win an argument. Don’t strive to shut your “opponent” up or beat them down. Paul reminds us in verse 24 that we are the Lord’s bondservant; not the servant of our party affiliation, not the servant of our ideology. As the Lord’s bondservant make it your goal to pursue righteousness, that is, being right with God. If our goal is merely a societal morality that aligns with what we believe the Bible says we are falling far short. We must ask ourselves, how are we in our discussion of politics and political processes pointing people to the Savior by reflecting the Savior?

Instead of venting your frustration online, submit your emotions to the Lord. Cry out to the Lord. He DOES know everything that has transpired, both right and wrong. Read the Psalms. Find the heart of David as he asks God for justice and vindication and rests in the faith that God is above the nations.

Ephesians 4:26-27 and James 1:19-20 – Deal with your anger and don’t let it dominate you

Ephesians 4:26-27 BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.

James 1:19-20 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

Are you angry over what has transpired? Fine. Anger is a God-given emotion. Spend your time seeking ways to be angry without being sinful. The effects of unrestrained anger have been plainly seen in our society. Just because you aren’t smashing windows at the local Best Buy and stealing a flat screen or lighting a police car on fire doesn’t mean your anger is squeaky clean and your indignation is righteous indignation. Your anger may not manifest itself thusly but that does not mean your anger is not equally destructive.

[Scene 2] Remember your calling – 1st Peter 3:8-12

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For,

“THE ONE WHO DESIRES LIFE, TO LOVE AND SEE GOOD DAYS,

MUST KEEP HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING DECEIT.

“HE MUST TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD;

HE MUST SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT.

“FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS,

AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER,

BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.”

If you are a follower of Jesus, a believer, the people of God, remember that you have been called to inherit a blessing; a blessing which will come in God’s time and in God’s way. Notice in this text the fullness of what Peter connects with our inheritance of God’s blessing.

*Be harmonious

*Be sympathetic

*Be kindhearted

*Be humble

*Not returning insult for insult (see also 1st Peter 2:21-24)

*Be a blessing

*Keep your mouth from evil

*Seek and pursue peace

This is where we exhibit the reality of our faith or the genuine lack of it. Do you believe God is sovereign? Do you believe nothing gets past Him? Do you believe He will deal with wickedness? Genuine faith finds rest while the world around us rages.

Lastly…

[Scene 3] Play our trump card – 1st Peter 2:13-17

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

Did you see what I did there? How clever of me. Seriously though, if ever there were a time to play our favorite political card, now is it.

We love this truth when the person we voted for wins and is in office. Now we get to live it. Now is when the world will see what faith looks like. Now is the time for faith to shine. Though the votes aren’t all in, Joe Biden has been declared the President of the United States. He is my president. Did I vote for him? Nope. Do I passionately disagree with much of what he and the Democratic Party stand for? Yep. As a citizen of heaven who finds my earthly citizenship in the United States, he is my president. If Peter can call his readers to honor Nero (who had no honor), we can give honor to the president elect of our nation, who by the way, we would most likely welcome if suddenly we found Nero as our king.

Trust the Lord, He is probably doing something you wouldn’t believe if He told you (Habakkuk 1:5). Our citizenship is in heaven; our King is not elected and will never be de-throned. Live like it and rest in it.

Let’s flip the script.

Pestilence, Disaster, and God’s People

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The uncertainty and question marks of the days in which we live span  the expanse from “How much of society will get shut down?” to “Anyone have any toilet paper?” to “How many will die from this?” It doesn’t take much imagination at all to conjure up endless possibilities of where this virus could take us. One of the most significant consequences of the state of the current state of our world is the panic which has so quickly set in. I’m not going to deny that uncertainty breeds fear and fear does breed panic. It IS fairly normal. While we don’t have many answers on the medical or scientific level, it is critical for us to keep our eyes looking above the seemingly barren landscape of no toilet paper, no sports, and significant health issues. 

As we face the panorama of uncertainty, here are four truths for us to hold onto.  

1) God can and will sustain His people amid great grief and turmoil. 

The Bible is filled with a seemingly endless array of dramatic and sorrowful scenarios involving individuals as well as entire nations; none though would probably be greater than what is found in the first chapter of Lamentations. In graphic terms Jeremiah describes the pain and misery as Judah is led away into captivity by the conquering Babylonians. The life and glory of their nation had been stripped away and all that seemed to remain was sorrow and turmoil. Many were to be led away to live in a foreign land, their homes destroyed, their lives stripped away. Those left behind were to live in the broken down ruins of a once great nation. 

The promise of Jeremiah 27 and 29 though, was anything but hopeless. God was bigger than the Babylonians. God was better than their turmoil. While their eyes could only see uncertainty, there was no uncertainty in the hands and mind of their covenant Lord. In the worst of times, in the seemingly most desperate of situations, God was able to sustain and bless His people. It is in God we must find our stability. 

Now, let’s be clear, God allowed Judah to be conquered, captured, and deported because of her sin and unfaithfulness. I am NOT saying the current state of our world is God’s judgment for sin. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. In one sense, it really doesn’t matter. What DOES matter, above all, is that we keep our eyes and hope fixed on God. He can and will sustain us amid painful days. Our lives may become exceedingly inconvenient and painful, but God is faithful and will bear us up during whatever may come. 

2) The misery and trials of God’s people drives them to seek Him. 

The book of James is without question a hallmark for properly responding to suffering. Chapter 1, following the call to “consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials”, implores those so suffering to do two specific things: Seek the Lord for wisdom and receive the Word.  

Our lives are filled with trials of all sizes and magnitudes. No matter how insignificant or how life-altering they are the answer is still the same. We are called seek the Lord through prayer and reading His word with a heart of expectant faith and humble submission.  

God is never flippant nor whimsical with the trials He allows (or in some cases sends) upon His people. God allowed Job suffering beyond what I can possibly imagine to both vindicate him as well as to reveal Himself at a greater level to him. Jesus fell asleep in a boat knowing a storm was brewing; a storm so powerful it was able to terrify a group of seasoned boatmen. He did so to force them to cry out to Him and for Him to demonstrate His ability to provide for them when situations were bigger than their ability to cope. 

Without speculating what the coming days will look like, let us be faithful to not only trust the Lord, but to seek Him. 

3) Trials, inconveniences, and suffering are opportunities to reflect the Savior. 

One of the greatest lessons Jesus taught His followers was that of being humble servants. In Mark 10:45 He told them, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many.” 

Paul, essentially continued this line of instruction when taught the Philippians what it meant to follow Jesus when he wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:3-5).  

Let us look to mirror the heart of our Savior as we walk whatever this road turns out to be and wherever this road leads. No matter how inconvenienced we may be, no matter how we may have to suffer, may people see Jesus in us and experience His grace and kindness through us. A self-centered life is never of God but especially now.

4) Trials, inconveniences, and suffering are opportunities for the gospel. 

Without question, people will be experiencing hopelessness and despair at any number of levels. Questions about the future can rattle even the strongest and most secure. Let us be ready to point them to a faithful Creator and a merciful Savior. Let us be ready to lift the heads of the weary and frightened by pointing them to what is above and beyond this earth. 

Let us not forget the image of Paul and Silas sitting in prison singing praises to the Lord (Acts 16) and while chained as a prisoner the gospel was never chained (2nd Timothy 2:9). Let us seize this opportunity given by God to arm ourselves with the gospel and bring hope to a needy world. 

What shall we do about Kanye?

1) Check your heart for self righteous arrogance.

It’s a bit of a challenge to believe someone like Kanye could get saved isn’t it? The notion that this could be nothing more than a publicity stunt wouldn’t be too far-fetched. He has been so arrogant and so blasphemous in the past he must be “too far gone” to ever come to faith in Christ.

If that is how we are feeling we need to think about what that says about our own self-righteousness. He is too much of a sinner to be saved but we were not? If you or I think we were “good enough” to be saved but Kanye isn’t, it is imperative that we stop right now, confess our sin, and repent of our self-righteous heart.

What holds true for my salvation holds true for Kanye’s. I need, you need, as much mercy, grace, and love from God in Christ as Kanye does.

Titus 3:4-7 (NASB)

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

2) Check your heart (part 2). Pray for his discipleship.

While it is true that his needs as a believer are the same as the rest of us, the public and private pressure on him is (and will continue to be) enormous because of who he is. Rather than take a sit, wait, and watch approach to his faith we need to pray for him. He needs discipleship by someone older and mature in the faith. He needs to be taught the scriptures. He will need perseverance and steadfastness because of arrogant, self-righteous “Christians” who can’t handle someone “like him” coming to faith in Christ. I imagine the temptation to prove himself to the naysayers must be enormous and that distraction alone could be enough to take his focus off of Jesus.

Acts 9:26-27 (NASB)

When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.

Philippians 1:9-11 (NASB)

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

3) Check your theology. God saves sinners.

This is an extension of #1 above. God saves sinners. Period. He saved the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43). He saved the murderous Saul (Acts 9:1-31). He brought Nebuchadnezzar low to lift him up (Daniel 4:28-37). Kanye’s salvation can’t really be out of the realm of possibility can it?

Maybe one reason our churches are so ineffective at the work of evangelism is that in the deepest recesses of our hearts we ultimately reject the belief that God is able to save sinners. Can it be we don’t believe Jesus is sufficient for any and all sinners who turn to Him?

1 Timothy 1:15 (NASB)

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.

4) Check your theology (part 2). Celebrate a sinner’s salvation not a celebrity’s addition to the lineup.

I’ve heard (maybe you have, too) Kanye’s salvation is a win for the Kingdom because he will reach people we can’t and his celebrity status will give him a hearing we will never have. Ok, I’m not going to lie. That IS pretty exciting and encouraging. He will be (and has been) used to reach people for Jesus. Absolutely.

Again, lets check our theology though. God doesn’t NEED him, just like he doesn’t NEED us. God wasn’t desperate for someone to reach Noah to build the arc. God wasn’t waiting for someone to call Abraham to faith. The reason Paul didn’t come to faith earlier wasn’t because nobody told him the gospel. God reached them ON HIS OWN. It is by God’s grace we are called into His service and are used by Him to accomplish His redemptive purposes. He really is in good shape on His own. He is supremely self-sufficient and self-sustaining.

It is imperative we follow the angels example in celebrating the only truth worth cheering about: A sinner came to faith in Jesus and was redeemed by the grace of God.

Luke 10:20 (NASB)

“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

Luke 15:10 (NASB)

“In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

5) Check your expectations. Don’t expect a child to be an adult.

Yes, Kanye will do and say dumb things. He will act inappropriately at times. He is a new believer. He may be chronologically older, but spiritually he is a baby. We would never demean our two year old for not being able to tie their shoes, properly load the dishwasher (few adults are capable of THIS), or make dinner for the family. In a spiritual sense, don’t demean Kanye for being a spiritual infant. Sure, he did an event at Joel Osteen’s church. Good for him! Joel needs to hear about Jesus and it was probably the first time Jesus has been proclaimed there.

Ephesians 4:14-16 (NASB)

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

6) Check your expectations. Don’t expect him to be a polished theologian.

See #5 above. He doesn’t know the Bible nor will he be fully versed in a year. He will make statements about the faith that will undoubtedly make us cringe. Learning takes a lifetime. Some of us might need to look in the mirror on this one. We all see the “spiritual truths” you post online…that you learned from your pet…in the clouds…from the whisper of the wind in the trees…

Acts 18:24-26 (NASB)

Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

Jesus, I pray Kanye’s faith is genuine. Please sustain him and keep him rooted in you, focused on you. Please surround him with people who know you, love you, and are mature saints in their faith. May he be teachable and moldable. Please compel us to be kind, loving, and gracious toward him. Please convict him of sin and grow him in obedience to you. In your name and in your power alone Jesus, amen.