Heroic Quest

We think of love as a feeling.

God says that love is more than a feeling. It’s a feeling followed up by action. When we love God, our actions will align with his will. It becomes not a burden, but a joy to follow God’s commands.

Being obedient to God is no longer a “have to.” It’s a “get to” for the one who loves God.

This is all because spiritually, we’ve been reborn. This rebirth gives us a changed heart, a new state of mind, and a will to no longer be a victim of the world.

We have victory over the world through faith in Christ. Instead of victims, we are overcomers.

As people of our culture, we relate well to putting an end to the victim mentality, taking responsibility and being on a heroic quest to overcome. This is a cultural narrative that we live with, and most of us simply assume it to be the truest and best way to live.

Be aware, however, there’s a huge twist. In our culture, victory over the world is achieved when we vigorously go after and subsequently accomplish our own individual hopes and desires. In this narrative, we are heroes on a quest to actualize our dreams. We are only overcomers if we make an outstanding effort, find our true selves, and in this way fulfill our heroic quest.

John the apostle teaches a completely different way to overcome. It begins with understanding that Jesus is the true hero. And the quest is actually his. He made the outstanding effort to overcome the world by first allowing the world to seemingly overcome him. His quest was to seek us, and save us: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV).

It’s really quite beautiful. We don’t have to be victims anymore. We can be overcomers from now on!

And it’s really quite simple. We overcome the world when we are attached, by faith, to the One Who Overcame the World.

“In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:3-5, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for overcoming the world on my behalf. Grant me your Spirit so that I can trust you, stop being a victim and overcome with you. I know you love me, and with your help, I want to obey your commands so that I can thank you for all you’ve done for me.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 5, is Daniel 11:36 – 12:13, 1 John 5:1-21 and Psalm 139:1-10.

Header image based on "Me rappeling." by Mike Petrucci, CC By-SA 2.0

It’s the Power of Love!

Love is powerful. And God’s love is really, really powerful. In fact, we can truthfully say it’s the most powerful force in the universe!

The Corinthians were extremely gifted people. God had given the members of this church an amazing array of talents. But Paul tells the Corinthians, love is so core that when it’s missing, it completely guts the character of things that most of us would consider awesome and amazing.

Paul gives us concrete examples. You might be an amazing public speaker, or a skillful coach that can motivate others, but if you don’t have love, your gift is worthless. You might be able to powerfully share the gospel with others, and teach God’s word in a way that makes it very clear to others, and your faith might be able to move mountains — without love, it really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. You might be the most caring and giving person on planet earth, but if you don’t love, it just doesn’t matter — at least, not to God.

Life without love is like an explorer without a compass, like a Ferrari without an engine, like a sky without sun, moon or stars. But with love — the way God defines and describes it — life is filled with beauty, meaning, power and purpose. With love life is filled with… well… love! And who doesn’t want that?!

Love-God’s-way is the most excellent way!

“And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me to receive into my cold, dark, sinful heart all the love you have for me. Shine your warmth, your light, your love for sinners into my soul. And teach me to display to others the same love that I have received from you. You laid down your life for me. I want to lay down my life for others.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, August 19, is Song of Songs 5:1 – 8:14, 1 Corinthians 12:27 – 13:13 and Psalm 100:1-5.

Header image based on "Love is a Fruit" by Leland Francisco, CC By 2.0

Where Does Kindness Start?

Sometimes a caricature of the Old Testament is drawn, in which people paint a picture of God (or God’s people) only being interested in judgment and punishment.

Yesterday I wrote about kindness being a hallmark of the very first New Testament church in Jerusalem.

So today, it really stood out for me that David, the “man after God’s own heart,” also is portrayed as having a strong predisposition toward acts of kindness.

First of all, he wants to take care of Saul’s descendants. A son of Jonathan named Mephibosheth is identified and David takes him into the palace and cares for him.

“David asked, ‘Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?'” (2 Samuel 9:1, NIV).

Then a little later, David seeks another opportunity to show kindness when one of his allies dies, and he wants to show kindness to his son, the new king. This story does not end well, and shows that kindness is not always rewarded with kindness in return. I’ll let that hang right there. Read 2 Samuel 10 and you’ll see what I mean.

“David thought, ‘I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me.’ So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father” (2 Samuel 10:2, NIV).

Sandwiched between these two stories is this statement, which shows David’s true motivation for kindness. He wanted to show others the kindness that had first been shown to him by God!

“The king asked, ‘Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?'” (2 Samuel 9:3, NIV).

So, if you study these three passages carefully, you’ll see that kindness can start with another person first being kind to you. But the true place kindness starts is with God. His kindness is the best, most powerful kindness, because it encompasses the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ.

And Jesus is the greatest kindness that any of us will ever experience!

Our Bible reading for June 6, 2015 is 2 Samuel 9:1 – 10:19, Acts 3:1-26 and Psalm 70:1-5.

Lord, thank you for your kindness, displayed in the gift of your Son, Jesus. But your kindnesses are truly many! I experience them every day. I am so grateful. In gratitude, help me not just receive your kindnesses, but also, as David did, look for others to whom I can show your kindness.

Header image based on "Mark Twain Kindness is a language..." by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

Opportunity Knocks

I love the old saying by comedian Milton Berle: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

In today’s world, there are many doors for us as Christians. Opportunity knocks all over the place. It’s gotten easier and easier for us to stand out for all the right reasons.

While fraud, cheating and selfish coldness grow everywhere around us, the spiritual darkness of sin just causes our heart’s generosity and transparency to shine that much brighter. Watch this video, and you’ll see how dark our sinful hearts can sometimes be.

These are opportunities that are way too good to be missed. So…

  • Don’t let the world’s darkness infect you and dim the beautiful, bright light the gospel has lit inside your heart
  • Don’t get tired of or disenchanted with spreading God’s goodness around in the world all about you
  • Don’t overlook the many opportunities to help your neighbor — and by “neighbor,” I mean anyone to whom Jesus has given you an opening to be helpful

Because this is what Jesus’ love does for us. And it’s what we do when our heart is filled with his love. We build doors. And we answer the call when opportunity knocks.

“No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light…

Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.'” (Luke 11:33, 39-42, NIV).

Lord, help me shine your gospel light in this dark world. I want to make a difference for others as you have made a huge difference for me.

Our Bible reading Tuesday, April 7, is Deuteronomy 6:1 – 8:20, Luke 11:33-54 and Psalm 42:1-6a.

Header image based on "Milton Berle If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door" by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

Impossible Righteousness

Do you ever feel like saying, “Really, Lord? Really?! How is that even possible?”

If you get to know the real Jesus (not the “Jesus” our culture sometimes makes up in its head), you’re going to have moments like that. Because Jesus says things that are difficult — if not impossible — to do. And really, many of them are hard to even imagine.

It just so happens that there’s a whole bunch of these sayings in a section of Luke affectionately known as “The Sermon on the Plain” (which bears a striking resemblance to the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount).

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 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.” (Luke 6:27-31, NIV).

Could we review that quickly?

  • Love my enemies?
  • When someone hates me, treat them well?
  • When someone curses me, bless them?
  • When someone pounds on me, let them do it again?
  • If someone steals from me, offer them more of my property — as a gift?
  • If someone asks for help, always give it to them? Every last time?
  • And then, if they take advantage of my kindness, just let it go?

Well, that’s exactly what I hear Jesus saying. How about you?

I think if we actually acted like this, we would stand out. Big time. And Jesus says that we will too.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32, NIV).

Impossible to do all these things? Yes, it absolutely is impossible to pull them off in our own power. That’s why we need Jesus. He did them all for us. He did the impossible perfectly so that he could present his impossible righteousness to us as a gift.

And he will send his Holy Spirit so that each day — living in Jesus’ grace and forgiveness — we get a little better at doing the impossible ourselves! Then, because we stand out, we can point people to a Savior named Jesus who stood up for a world of sinners.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, March 26, is Numbers 21:4 – 22:20, Luke 6:12-36 and Psalm 37:21-31.

Jesus, thank you for standing up for me, and offering yourself as the perfect sacrifice for my sins. Thank you for being my Champion. Now, by your Spirit’s power, allow me to stand out by making choices that the world finds distasteful and completely uncomfortable.

Header image based on "Agape" by Marcelino Rapayla Jr., CC By 2.0

The Language of Love

It’s Valentine’s Day. And I want to share another love language with you.

Possibly you’ve heard of the “Five Love Languages” popularized by Dr. Gary Chapman in his book of the same name.

The five love languages Chapman identifies are: 1) gifts, 2) quality time, 3) words of affirmation, 4) acts of service and 5) physical touch.

But I believe there’s another love language, one that Chapman overlooks. And that love language is Jesus.

Sometimes when we think of sharing Jesus with others, we think of people we don’t know very well. Often, when we think of doing “mission work” our minds drift immediately to the other side of the world.

But what about the person who is right next to you, the one you love with all your heart, your “Valentine”?

“But they’re already a Christian,” you say? That’s OK. They still need a daily “valentine’s card” with the message of grace, mercy, love and the peace of Jesus. They still need to taste forgiveness and hope more than chocolate.

“They’ll never become a Christian and I’ve given up trying,” is your thought? Have you tried combining the love language of Jesus with one of the other five love languages? There’s more than one way to share the love of Jesus!

Yes, we absolutely want to share the “John 3:16 gospel.” We must! Otherwise there’s no way for our Valentine to know Jesus. We fully trust the power of the Holy Spirit to work through the gospel to change hearts.

AND, Jesus conveyed his love in many ways. So can we.

Jesus gave gifts. Jesus invested time in people. Jesus affirmed our status as children of God in words. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. Jesus used the power of touch to heal. And as we see from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (and many others), he had a way of working the conversation gently toward the gospel message from there.

Sometimes when we obey the Great Commission and go, we don’t have to go that far in terms of geography. We just have to go farther in terms of love.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me to love the way you love, with all-out passion in every love language. Your love is self-sacrificial. Your love is caring and giving. Forgive me for the times when my “love” has been selfish and self-serving. Create in me a clean, new heart. Strengthen my by your Spirit’s power. I want to love the way you love.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, February 14, is Exodus 15:1 – 16:36, Matthew 28:1-20 and Psalm 21:8-13.

Header image based on "Happy Valentine's Day" by Jackie, CC By 2.0