Tag Archives: love

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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Today’s Scripture – February 20, 2015

Ephesians 3:14-21 (NIV)

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Paul begins with “for this reason,” which points to the previous section in which brings out two truths:

  • Paul is a legitimate apostle, called and empowered.  Therefore he has both a right and a responsibility to approach God’s throne on behalf of not only the Ephesians, but on behalf of Christians everywhere.
  • The Church has a vital job to do:  to make known the manifold wisdom of God through making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).  That job requires divine power, which is always dependent on passionate prayer.

Paul then makes five interlinked petitions:

  • That out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being – God’s goal in us is that His power flowing through our lives will enable us to be witnesses of the gospel with our actions as well as our words.  This is why Jesus, when He talked about the coming of the Holy Spirit, focused on power to be a witness (Acts 1:8).  Many of us want power for victorious living, and the Holy Spirit will provide that as well.  But Jesus identified the key purpose of that power as proclamation of the gospel. These days we have come to rely so strongly on programs and programmed methods of evangelism because we don’t have this power.  We make excuses how that divine empowerment was only for the early Church, only available until the Bible was completed.  But the proclamation of the gospel is no less a divine activity today than it was 2000 years ago.  It is something that cannot be effectively accomplished by human devices and ingenuity.  We need the power of the Holy Spirit working though our lives so that ALL of us can do the work of making disciples.  This power is not an option, something that only certain people in the Church need.  It is essential for all Christians everywhere.  We need to be praying this into our own lives and into the lives of the people in our churches starting now!
  • So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. – I have always interpreted this verse to be talking about salvation.  But in context it means much more, because it is written as a RESULT of the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through our lives.  It is pointing to the idea that Christ is in complete control of us, that He is in the driver’s seat, controlling and directing our every thought, word, and deed.  This ties to illustration in John 15 of the vine and the branches.  After He paints that picture He goes on to say, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV)  Praying that Christ will dwell in our hearts by faith is praying that this “remaining in Christ and He in us” will be a reality, so that we can be empowered to carry out the mission of bearing much fruit – new disciples, saved souls who have been saved and made new creations in Jesus.
  • And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ – We have very little idea how massive and extensive the love of Christ is.  We know that it extended to us, but we have very little idea how passionately Jesus loves ALL people on earth, how passionately He wants them ALL to be saved.  Peter tells us that God is actually holding back the return of Jesus so that more can be saved!  (2 Peter 3:3-10)  God’s love for the lost, for all of the lost is overwhelming, to the point that His plan is to empower and send us all out to tell everyone the good news, so that they can be saved.  It is not Jesus’ love for ME that Paul is praying for me to grasp – that has already been abundantly demonstrated to me through His saving me in the first place.  It is His love for all of the lost, including all of those that are reachable by me. I can see that a key to this is the phrase “rooted and established in love.”  It means to be rooted in love in the same way that a healthy plant is rooted and established in rich, fertile soil.  God’s love for all humanity is to be the soil that we grow in, not just a fertilizer that we apply to our lives occasionally.  If our whole lives are rooted in God’s love, in the self-sacrificing, other-centered agape love of Christ, we won’t be able to stand the thought that ANYONE would die without knowing Jesus.  God’s love for them working though our lives would control our every action every day, just as it did Jesus, and move us to purposefully reach out to them with the gospel at every opportunity.
  • And to know this love that surpasses knowledge – The phrase Paul uses here is fascinating.  How can we know something that surpasses knowledge?  The only way we can do that is to experience it on a much deeper than intellectual level.  It has to move beyond theory or theology to become a reality in my own life.  The love of God for all of the lost must pulse through my own veins as it did though the veins of Jesus Himself.  We will never “understand” it, but we can know it, experience it, as it flows through our lives like a stream.
  • That you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Again, this is pointed to as a RESULT of all that has gone before.  As we are strengthened and empowered to do the work of the kingdom, Christ will dwell in our hearts through faith.  As we are rooted and established in God’s other-centered, self-sacrificing love, we will begin to grasp the magnitude of that love experientially as it works through our lives.  And in the process, as a result of surrendering completely to that love that rushes through us into the lives of others, we will be filled with all of the fullness of God.

Two things amaze me as I read these verses.  First is how often we center these verses on ourselves, figuring that the love that is being talked about here is specifically God’s love for US, for ME.  Instead, in context, Paul is praying that we will be able to grasp the depth of God’s love for all people, for the lost that still must be reached, so that that love will spur us to action. Secondly, I am amazed that  even though praying this kind of love, and power, and fervor into the lives of “ordinary” Christians seems like such a long-shot, Paul is confident that God will not only do all that he is asking, but that He will do immeasurably more than all that we can ask or imagine.  Amazing!

Father, this prayer for the Ephesians is really a prayer for me, and for all of your people today.  Forgive us, Lord, for often being too preoccupied, too busy, too wrongly focused to actively live out Your love for the lost in our day-to-day lives.  Help me to experience and know beyond knowing the reality and immensity of Your love for all humankind, by allowing that saving love to flow through my life.  Help me, Lord, to do that today, and every day in the future, and to join Paul in praying that reality into the lives of all of the other Christians I know as well.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 30, 2015

Mark 14:10-11 (NIV): Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

Many kind-hearted souls try to make excuses for Judas, teaching that he was simply misguided, or even that he was someone whose intentions in betraying Jesus were actually honorable – that he was simply trying to force Jesus’ hand, encouraging Him to take the strong actions needed for Him to become the king.

But Judas was not an honorable man, let alone an altruistic one.  As John pointed out in his gospel, even before the incident at Simon the Leper’s house (Mark 14:3-9), which seemed to be a tipping point for him, Judas had been stealing from the bag of money that had been donated to help with the needs of Jesus and His disciples (John 12:6).  It was no noble desire that moved him to go to the chief priests with the offer of betrayal, but the desire for money.

Theologians have long debated why Jesus would ever recruit someone like Judas to be His disciple, let alone one of His twelve closest followers.  And if Jesus had known that Judas would steal from the money bag, why did He entrust it to Him.

The simple answer to both of those is that God told Him to do it, and He simply obeyed (cf. John 5:19).  God had always known which of Jesus’ followers would ultimately betray Him, so when Judas began to follow Jesus, he was brought all the way into the inner circle.  That seems counterintuitive to many, but there were two key reasons that this was the right thing to do.  First, by bringing Judas into a close and even trusted relationship with Jesus, he had every possible opportunity to change tracks.  If he had opened his heart, he could have grown to love Jesus like the others did, developing a bond and loyalty to Him that would have drawn him toward Jesus and the kingdom that He had come to bring.  But even demonstrations of conspicuous trust, such as entrusting him with the money bag, even giving him power and authority to heal diseases and cast out demons (cf. Matthew 10:1), failed to melt his hard heart, which was strongly attached not only to money, but to the glory and power that he hoped would come to him through being so closely attached to someone like Jesus.  With so much opportunity to change, so many chances to turn away from the pursuit of the world and its riches, Judas’ ultimate refusal to change brings his condemnation on his own head.

Secondly, if Judas had not been in the inner circle, he would not have been in as strong a position to betray Jesus, bringing about everything that was foretold.  He would not have had as strong a credibility with the chief priests, and he would not have been as likely to have known where Jesus would be camping that night.  He might not have even been with Jesus in Jerusalem during that Passover.

The plain truth is that Judas was a man with a bad heart, a heart that even the unconditional love shown to him by Jesus was not able to touch.  His priorities were not those of the kingdom of God, and when he realized that following Jesus was not going to lead to wealth and power, he turned elsewhere, even if it meant betraying the one who had loved him and shown him the light of God’s glory.

Father, this is a sad story.  It is hard to imagine how one who had lived with Jesus for years, who had listened to His teaching, seen His mightiest miracles, and even been empowered by Him to do his own miracles, could ever betray Him.  But there are still people like that in the world today.  Their hearts are hard, their priorities are of this world, and even unconditional love doesn’t seem to make a dent.  But, Lord, help us to always remember that there are also many with bad hearts, even hearts that are desperately bad, and who have terrible priorities, who CAN be changed by Your love, Your grace, Your salvation.  (I was one of them!)  Help us, like Jesus, to not write people off who seem to be so hard, but to draw them in, to show them Your love, Your wonders, Your trust, and allow You every chance to work in their lives.  Amen.

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