Tag Archives: love

Today’s Scripture – June 19, 2018

Luke 23:32-34 (NIV) Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Jesus was not crucified alone; two other men, convicted of robbery (Mark 15:27) were crucified with Him, one on His right, the other on His left. Crucifixion was a nasty business, and none of the gospel writers go into any of the horrible details. Their original readers had seen crucifixion and needed none, and the details were too gory and violent for them to capture for future readers.

Crucifixions were designed to be a deterrent as well as a punishment. For that reason, they were not conducted on some far-off hilltop, but right next to a main road near the city, so that all could see what the penalty was for crimes against the Roman empire. The victims were stripped completely naked – no loincloth to protect modesty for either men or women – and their wrists were nailed to the crossbeam, with their arms stretched as far as they could get them to go. The crossbeam was then lifted up and dropped into place over the upright, the jolt often dislocating the victim’s shoulders and elbows. The crosses were short, and the feet of the condemned were only a few inches off the ground. The victim’s knees were slightly bent, and a spike was driven sideways through their ankles into the upright. Then the soldiers would go about their business, leaving the person suspended to die.

Death usually occurred over several hours, although people could sometimes last for a day or two. When death came, it was usually the result of a combination of shock, congestive heart failure, and suffocation. Hanging with all the person’s weight suspended from the nails in their wrists caused the muscles of the chest to cramp and the diaphragm to spasm. Before long, the person found that they could breathe in, but not out. To relieve the pressure, he or she was forced to push themselves up on the nails driven through their ankles. That allowed them to breathe until exhaustion made their knees give way, and they sagged down again.

The periods between needing to push themselves up got shorter and shorter, and the amount of time that they could hold themselves up became shorter as well. All of the pressure on the chest muscles and the restricted breathing caused fluid to start building up in their lungs and around their hearts, causing increased distress. Finally, after their strength was gone, or after their legs were broken so that they could no longer push themselves up, death came quickly.

One of the most remarkable things in the whole crucifixion narrative is Jesus’ prayer from the cross. After going through all of the excruciating pain of having nails driven through His feet and ankles, after having His shoulders and elbows dislocated from the jolt of the crossbeam being dropped roughly into place, after watching the soldiers walk away to cast lots for His clothing (a normal “perk” for those on crucifixion duty), Jesus still prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” What love! What grace!

Father, it is amazing to think that his prayer from Jesus came, not before He had gone through all of this agony and suffering, or after it was all over, but right in the middle of it, while the nails were still causing Him extraordinary anguish. We can forgive others when all is said and done, after the pain has subsided. But to forgive in the midst of being mistreated, tortured, killed, is on a whole different level. But that supernatural love is the level of love and grace that we are called to imitate. Help us, Lord. There is no way we can love like that on our own. Help us to love like Jesus loves. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 23, 2018

Luke 22:24-27 (NIV) Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

The disciples still didn’t get it. Jesus’ talk of the coming kingdom of God (verse 18) brought to mind their mistaken belief that the kingdom of God was to be a complete restoration of the state of Israel to its former glory, with the Messiah, Jesus, ensconced as king. And, of course, that meant that they, His closest followers, would become His highest-ranking officials.

This prompted a discussion of which of them would have the top spot in Jesus’ cabinet; which would be His second-in-command. Each of the disciples had their strengths, each had things that they could point to that they believed qualified them to be the one. And, before they realized it, the casual discussion had grown first serious, then loud.

Jesus put an end to the argument at once. Rather than trying to point out (again!) that God’s kingdom was not an earthly kingdom in the first place, He simply told them (again!) that the way that things operate in God’s kingdom are completely different than the way they operate in the kingdom of the world. In the world, there are hierarchies based on power structures, wealth, and strength, like the kings and emperors of the gentiles, who held their power by exerting authority and military might, and convincing those below them that it was in their best interests not to challenge that authority.

But the way of God’s kingdom is the mirror image of that. In God’s kingdom, humility and service rule the day, illustrated by none other than Jesus Himself. By their own reckoning, Jesus should have been a person who demanded that those around Him serve Him and cater to His every whim. He was, after all, the Messiah! Instead, Jesus cast Himself as one who serves. Even though Matthew did not include the narrative of Jesus’ washing the disciples feet before the meal began as John did (John 13:3-17), His statement, “I am among you as one who serves,” clearly reflects that very recent event.

Jesus message to His self-focused followers was clear: God’s kingdom is not at all like the kingdom of the world. To be at the top of God’s kingdom does not require ruthlessness, strength, power, or military might. It only requires a servant’s heart and love of the kind that Jesus continually demonstrated.

Father, it is still very easy for us to fall into two errors of the same kind as those the disciples fell into. Instead of seeing the kingdom of God as equivalent to any national kingdom or government, we often see it as equivalent to the organizational church. And then, we aim to exert influence or gain higher positions in the church structure, so that we can move things in the direction that we would have them to go. But although some, maybe even many, in the Church belong to the kingdom of God, neither the past or current iterations of the organizational church are identical to Your kingdom any more than the kingdom of Israel was. And positions of real influence in Your kingdom are still not based on power, strength, or military might, but on love and service – the same kind of love and service that Jesus Himself embodied. Lord, help me to love, to serve, to focus my energies and my priorities on YOUR agenda, and not worry about being great in the kingdom as people understand greatness, but focus on being great in the kingdom as You understand greatness. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 4, 2018

Luke 17:7-10 (NIV) “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Jesus ended this discourse by attacking the common belief, as common now as it was then, that a relationship with God can be earned or merited through strict obedience to His commandments, and by doing works of righteousness. This was staunchly believed and taught by the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who believed that God owed them His blessings because they had obeyed His commands.

But this belief turns the relationship between God and His people upside down, putting people in charge of things, and giving them control over God, and when and how He has to bless them. So Jesus included this brief teaching to correct it. The reality is that God’s people are to serve Him and obey His commands fully, not to win His approval, but purely because God is our King, our Lord, our Master, and He requires it of us. Our full obedience is not something that earns extra points, but is actually the minimum requirement. So when, at the end of the day, on looking back and seeing that we did well in serving God, we should simply say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”

This may seem harsh to some. But everyone must realize that God put salvation into places and invites all people to come into relationship with Him not because of our merits, but on the basis of His love. And, though it may seem strange to many, the door is opened as widely for the repentant alcoholic, the repentant thief, and the repentant murderer as it is for the repentant executive, the repentant farm worker, and the repentant pastor. The key to acceptance is not adequate good works, niceness, or even church attendance. The key is repentance and faith in the finished work of Jesus.

Once a person receives salvation and is grafted into God’s people, obedience to His commands is expected, not to win points or blessings, but out of love and gratefulness for the salvation that we have received. Again, it’s not something extra for the spiritual elite; it is the minimum standard for the people of the kingdom.

Father, most Christians seem to understand that salvation can’t be bought or earned by good works and obedience. But many seem to take it to another, inaccurate level, and believe that that means that obedience and good works are thus unnecessary for the Christian. But I can’t find anywhere that You say that in Your word. Instead, I find constant urging, to obey, to be holy, to not sin. But the point still remains that obedience is required, not to earn blessings, but simply because we are not our own, but have been bought with a price, and You have standards for us as Your people. Help me, Lord, to follow and serve You well, to do the right things at the right time, and most importantly, for the right reason. Amen.

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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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