Tag Archives: love

Today’s Scripture – January 16, 2018

Luke 14:1-6 (NIV) One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away.
Then he asked them, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” And they had nothing to say.

Jesus had several run-ins of this kind with the Pharisees over His healing on the Sabbath. Jesus saw nothing wrong with it, but the Pharisees listed healing as an activity that they always considered work, hence one that was not allowed on the Sabbath.

The situation that day was a total setup, and Jesus knew it. It would be extremely rare for someone with dropsy, extensive fluid retention, to be on the Sabbath dinner guest list. And the fact that the dinner guests were watching Jesus carefully showed that this was an orchestrated meeting – a trap.

Far from shying away from the conflict, Jesus actively entered into it as a teachable moment. And He did that by cutting right to the chase, asking the key question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” Everyone in the room remained silent. They couldn’t say yes and be consistent with their own theology. But if they said no, they could end up deterring Jesus from healing the man, and spring their own trap on empty air. So they sat there silently.

Jesus allowed just a few seconds before He touched the man, instantly healing him, then sending him on his way home. The man had just received a great blessing, but it was not necessary that he be part of the conversation that would follow.

Jesu’s point was made again with a single question that attacked the heart of the Sabbath controversy. If a child or an ox falls into a well on the Sabbath, nobody, even the staunchest Pharisee, would refuse to pull it out. The life of a child was precious; an ox was valuable – one’s whole livelihood could depend on it. So they all would definitely pull either one out of the well immediately, Sabbath or no Sabbath. The point was immediately clear: there was scant difference between saving the life of a precious being who had fallen into a well, and saving the life of a precious being who had fallen into a desperate illness or demon possession. If the one was okay, logically the other had to be okay as well.

The dinner guests realized that they had lost the argument without even entering into it. They silence now was not out of rebellion, but out of frustration. There really was nothing left for them to say.

Father, Your priority is always quite clear: loving people. Not a doting love that refuses to acknowledge or punish sin (that would violate Your justice), but a love that most naturally results in good being done to the bodies and souls of people seven days a week, with You acting directly in some cases, and through the hands of Your people in others. Help us to never limit what You are wanting to do, to never put You into a box of our own prejudices or rules, but simply to love others with Your love every day. Amen.


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Today’s Scripture – November 28, 2017

Luke 11:9-13 (NIV) “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

This paragraph is the explanation of the parable of the persistent neighbor. (Note the word “So” at the start of the section.) the key to this section is the progressive tense of the verbs. A good translation would be “keep asking…keep seeking…keep knocking.” The emphasis is on persistence in these activities, like the neighbor in the parable, as opposed to a single prayer request.

The verbs also progress in intensity, from simple asking, to active seeking, and finally to aggressive knocking at the doors of heaven until the request is granted. The focus is on the definiteness of the need in the mind of the one who asks, seeks, and knocks, and the strength of their desire to have that need met. If the need is small and indefinite and the desire small, so that a single prayer is rattled off and then forgotten, the odds of receiving a response from God is correspondingly low. But if the need is desperate, driving the petitioner to his or her knees in progressively deeper desperation, the odds of God taking up their need is high.

And we, as God’s people, can pray without fear that He will give us something nasty in response to our prayers instead of what we need. Like the popular adage among Christians that a person should never pray for patience, because God is likely to send more trials in order to help that person to build patience. But Jesus’ teaching show the inaccuracy of that theology, as well as how insulting it is to God. No halfway decent father would give his child something nasty (a snake or a scorpion) instead of a requested need (a fish or an egg needed for food). Love compels them to give what is asked for that is genuinely needed. And God is much more loving than any earthly father.

The bottom line is simply this: when God’s children cry out to Him persistently for what they genuinely need, they can count on Him to provide it for them. If they need sustenance, He will provide sustenance, as He did for His people in the wilderness.  If they need power, He will provide power, just as He did for the people in the first century Church. If they need wisdom, He will provide wisdom. And if they need patience, the power to continue in trying circumstances and not give up, He will provide that, too.

Father, I have tested You in this and have never found You wanting. Thank You for Your faithfulness, Your love, and Your consistent demonstration of care for me. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 10, 2017

Luke 6:32-36 (NIV) “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

The key to all of these kingdom expectations is that the character of those who belong to the kingdom will no longer be the character of the world, but that it will be transformed into the character of God Himself.

The people of the world show love to others when there is an expectation that they will be loved in return. And if their love is not returned, they are quick to turn away, to cut their losses and move on. But God shows love all day long to people who not only don’t return it, but who often throw it back in His face. And He keeps on showing that love for years, sometimes generations. God’s people, the people of His kingdom, are expected to show that same kind of self-sacrificial, other-focused, long-lasting love to others.

The people of the world do good to others as long as there is an adequate return. That return may be material, or just feeling good about trying to make a difference. But God does good to others who never acknowledge it, and when there is no “payback.” He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45), even though the evil and the unrighteous never thank Him for this provision that makes food grow and makes life pleasant. God’s people, the people of the kingdom, are expected to continue to pour blessings into the lives of the people around them, even if that good is never acknowledged.

The people of the world lend to others expecting to make a profit on their investment. But God never “lends” to people at all. Everything that we receive from God is a gift of love. Some people do multiply what God gives them out of love and devotion to Him, but that is not a condition of His giving, and He freely gives a multitude of blessings to those who will not even acknowledge that those blessings come from Him, preferring to believe that they are the result of hard work, or “luck.” God’s people, the people of the kingdom, are not to lend to others with the expectation of gain, but are to lend freely, and even to give to those in need with no expectation of return.

Of course it takes more than a mere profession of faith to change the mindset and character of a person from the mindset of the world to a kingdom mindset. It takes transformation, a complete remaking of the mind that only comes to those who are willing to give themselves wholly to God, to make themselves a living sacrifice, holding nothing back (Romans 12:1-2). But to those willing to give themselves fully to God, He will give a new heart of flesh to take the place of their stony, worldly heart, and will move them with His Holy Spirit to be just like Him, and to do what He would do (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Father, to have such a kingdom mind and heart seems so far a stretch for many of us that it is hard for us to believe that we could ever think and behave in those ways. A big part of that is that we try to figure out how we can change our own minds and behaviors to be more like You, instead of simply devoting ourselves entirely to You and allowing You to do the more significant work of true inner transformation, remaking us into Your own image. Help me, Lord, to give up the “self-help” paradigm so common among Your people, and simply give myself to You to be completely transformed. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 9, 2017

Luke 6:27-31 (NIV) “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

This section of Jesus’ teaching about how to deal in the way of the kingdom with those who use their power, authority, or strength to cause harm to us. And, before their lives were over, Jesus’ followers would have ample opportunity to put these principles into practice.

In most areas of the world resistance, even escalating to armed resistance, is the normal response to oppression. But when the people of the kingdom are oppressed or persecuted, the twin agendas of love and kingdom growth and expansion are to take priority over self-defense. Love is to be shown when hatred is evident; blessing is to be given for ever curse received; and passionate prayers are to be prayed for the forgiveness of those who mistreat us. (These were clearly demonstrated by Jesus on the cross – Luke 23:34.)

In addition, non-resistance is commanded toward those actively exercising authority against the cause of Christ, because resistance and fighting can never turn an enemy into a follower of Jesus. So if someone strikes us, the command is to keep showing love, and to turn the other cheek. If someone takes our clothes, we are not to resist, just love and pray for them. And if someone takes what belongs to us, we must remember that it actually belonged to God anyway, and not set up an adversarial relationship to get it back.

The cap to all of this is the so-called Golden Rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you. In other words, even when wronged, we are to put ourselves into the other person’s shoes and ask ourselves, “If I was them, how would I want to be treated?” and then treat them that way. This applies whether the person is just someone we meet, or, as the context clearly indicates, someone who is actively persecuting us.

Many push back against this, figuring that it will only lead to our ruin and being continually being taken advantage of. But it is the same rule that Jesus Himself actively lived by, and his life was continually blessed! Admittedly, the way of the kingdom is radically different from the ways of the world. But, at the same time, the goals of the kingdom are radically different form the goals of the world.

Father, obviously Your ways are higher and better than the ways of this world. But they are so different that they do not come naturally to us. They seem too strange, almost too dangerous. Lord, if I am going to live effectively in Your ways, I need to be transformed in my mind and in my heart. Please work that complete transformation in me so that I can live every moment of my life in the ways of Your kingdom. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 10, 2017

Matthew 24:9-14 (NIV) “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Here Jesus expands the vista of His presentation far beyond the mere destruction of Jerusalem, but there is much in His words that pertained to the group of disciples that was standing with Him on the mountain.

First, He warns them that they will be hated and persecuted by people all around them.  This didn’t take long to begin.  It was just weeks after Jesus’ ascension that Peter and John were hauled before the Sanhedrin and commanded to stop teaching in the name of Jesus (Acts 4).  It was within just a few years that James, the brother of John, was beheaded by King Herod (Acts 12:1-2).  And before they were finished, each of the original 11 apostles that remained after Judas killed himself would undergo extreme persecution.  Nearly all of them ended up being executed.

As for the false prophets that Jesus foretold, Paul warned the Ephesian elders that they were on their way (Acts 20:29-30), and Jesus’ letter to the Church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:2-3 shows that many had indeed arisen.  The rise and influence of false prophets was a problem that the early Church had to deal with, but also one that has persisted through the ages, and still exists today.  Unfortunately, too many people, even among those who name Jesus as their Lord, are too quick to listen to and believe people who claim to speak for God, and too slow and reluctant to test the words of those people by the truth of Scripture.  So this will continue to be a problem for the Church until the end.

Because of all of these distractions, because of the tendency for organization to take precedence over organism, the love of many in the Church has a tendency to cool, as traditions and ritual take the place of relationship with God.  Because of the felt need to focus on survival during times of persecution, as well as the draw to protect one’s family and resources, many Christians end up forsaking their first love (cf. Revelation 2:4-6).  Each new generation of believers must come to Jesus, forging their own relationship with Him instead of merely inheriting the forms and structures of the religion of their parents.  And each generation must respond actively to the call for renewal, revival, and the call back to their first love for God and Jesus, or their love will cool completely, and their light will go out entirely.

Jesus’ statement that the end would not come until the gospel has been preached in the whole world should have been both a strong clue that the end would not come soon, and a strong motivation to push the good new continually out to the edges of the world until everybody has heard.  The sad fact is, this goal could have been accomplished already, but the evangelistic zeal of God’s people has waxed and waned over the centuries, and far too many are willing for others to do all the work of taking the gospel to the people of the world.

God’s plan hasn’t changed, but to draw all things to a close, He wants everyone to be saved that can possibly be saved; for all who are willing to turn to be given the opportunity.  That still requires, as Jesus implied, people whose love for God and for their fellow man burns so white-hot that they are willing to face trials, hardships, persecution, and even death to push the gospel out to the farthest reaches of the world.  People who will speak God’s words clearly and truly, and who will stand firm to the end.  Then the end will come, and the harvest at the end of the age will be great.

Father, I’m afraid far too few of us realize that we actually have a vital role to play in Your plan for the salvation of the world.  We are content to go to church, and to do good things in our own small circle.  But very few of us burn with passion for the lost souls around us, and those in the other parts of the world.  Forgive us, Lord.  Inspire us and set us aflame with Your love and with the power of Your Holy Spirit, so that we can be powerful and strongly motivated witnesses of Your gospel, so that all the world can know You.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 6, 2016

Matthew 7:12 (NIV) “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

The “so” at the beginning of this sentence is a signpost pointing to Jesus’ completion of the section of this message that began clear back in Matthew 5:20 (NIV) with Him saying, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  After this point, Jesus will be turning the message toward His conclusion.

He completes this section by giving what is usually called The Golden Rule.  And it is an entirely appropriate completion of His current theme.  Jesus has been contrasting the current external standards of holiness practiced by the Pharisees and teachers of the law with the actual internal standards of the kingdom of God.  And the final contrast that Jesus draws is about the key virtue of love.

The Old Testament law included the mandate to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18), but in most people’s minds this had gradually degraded to more of an idea of ”be nice to people,” or “just do your best to get along;” something that, as Jesus points out (Matthew 5:46-48), even the pagans were doing.

Jesus was recapturing God’s original intent for this command.  From the beginning it was designed to be more than the pagan societies observed, which was typically the negative expression of the command, “Don’t do to somebody else what you don’t want them to do to you.”  Instead Jesus’ command, and even the original command is much more positive and active in its tone:  Love your neighbor as Yourself; do to others what you would have them do for you.

As Jesus points out here, love is not only an action verb, it is a verb that takes the initiative.  In addition to doing no harm, real love looks for opportunities to actively do good – to do on purpose for someone else what you would want someone to do for you – and to do it out of love itself, with no thought or expectation that the recipient of your love returning the favor.  Just as God causes His sun to rise and set on the evil and the good, just as He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, God’s people, the followers of Jesus, are to show love to everyone around them, even to those who don’t deserve it, and to those who can’t or won’t return the loving actions.

This “Golden Rule” is much more than a rule or an expectation.  It is a worldview, a mindset, an orientation of one’s life that actively looks for the opportunity to do the same loving actions for another that you would want someone to do for you.  That is a key way to show a true inner righteousness that far surpassed anything that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law had.

Father, there is no way that I can consistently keep this standard of living in my own strength.  I need Your love working in and through me – Your agape love that will naturally show that kind of selfless love to others.  Without Your love, I will always fall short in this area.  Thank You for the promise of Your love working in my heart, and for its fulfillment that I get to experience every day.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 12, 2016

Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The first part of the old commandment, to love your enemies as yourself, is in the Scriptures (Leviticus 19:18), preceded by several illustrations.  But the second half, to hate your enemies, is not only NOT in God’s word, but is completely contrary to His character.

Jesus did not hate His enemies.  He often chastised them, upbraided them, and pointed out to them clearly where their behavior fell short of God’s standards.  Today, as then, those actions are often labeled as hate.  But Jesus was trying to get these people to see themselves as God sees them, so that they would repent and be saved – which is not the act of someone who hates another person.  The real hatred would be to NOT confront sin, and to simply let the person go on in their evil ways so that they are ultimately lost.

In this, Jesus reflected the character of God perfectly.  God does not hate those who oppose Him, but provides blessings to them (sun and rain, which stand here for His provision, given not just to the righteous, but to sinful people as well), even when He knows that they will never acknowledge those provisions or thank Him for them.  Even when God brings disaster and judgment on people because of their sins, it is not an act of hatred, but one of control and regulation.  He cannot allow evil to simply continue unchecked.  And even in this, it is His hope that some will see their guilt in the midst of their suffering, and turn to Him for relief and salvation.

It is easy to love those who love us, and to be nice to those that we see as being on our side.  Even the vilest sinners are capable of that.  But in God’s kingdom, the overarching goal is to draw those far away from God back to Him, so that they may be saved.  And we can’t do that from a position of animosity or hatred toward them.  Only genuine love cares enough to pray for people and their salvation.  Only genuine love is willing to step out of the cage of personal feeling to pray for those who oppose us, and to do good to those who are intent on destroying us.  And only that genuine love can be effective at turning enemies into friends, and opponents into allies.

The standard for the love of God’s people, is that we will be perfect in our love of others as God is perfect in showing love to all people, and that we continually strive to help them into a relationship with God in which they can be saved.  Of course, that kind of love cannot come from the hearts of us ourselves, no matter how deeply we dig.  Instead, it is only God’s love working in and through us that will enable us to love as God loves.

Father, just as the righteousness we work up on our own is like filthy rags in Your sight (Isaiah 64:6), so the love that we can find within ourselves is only a sad, pitiful caricature of the love that is required of us as the people of Your kingdom.  Help us to let You love in us and through us, so that our love, even for our enemies, will be perfect, even as You are perfect.  Amen.

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