What’s Love Got to Do With it?

Isaiah 9: 4

For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.

There was a popular song by this title. I admit, it always rankled a bit because it is a song right from the heart of pain and brokenness and that is where we all were before love entered and repaired the injury of our past.

Yesterday we favored a popular verse from this chapter. Verse 6 is the good news – a child is born; a son is given. Yahoo! But, what does love have to do with it? Look at the verse which precedes the giving of the divine child for the answer. The premier Father of all saw the slavery, the heavy burden upon the shoulders of us all. He saw the oppressor’s rod beating us down. The weight of our lives was too much for our shoulders; the oppressor too strong. The burden of simply surviving weighed upon humanity, and indeed, each of us so oppressively that drawing air was all we could manage. Under the might of the oppressor’s rod we had no strength to mount a defense much less an offensive attack. Therefore, Love, sent a child.

Does that even make sense? Love sent a child to break the yoke of slavery and oppression from our backs. Thank you, beloved, for this first of all Christmas gifts. And, it is this gift which we celebrate at Christmas. As we thank God, our Father, for removing the yoke of bondage from our shoulders, we may also pause and remember that there are still many people who do not know the freeing gift of Christ. They still live in the pain and the turmoil of a bitter, hard life.

Jesus came to grant liberty to the captives, freedom to all who are enslaved by any type of burden. Truly, those who are without Christ suffer and are as bound as the Israelites in Egypt. Perhaps, they suffer even more because their spirit and soul suffer torment while they have the illusion of being free because they are not physically chained. Anyone who can call love a secondhand emotion has never experienced it.

What does love have to do with it? What does love have to do with anything? Absolutely everything. Love is the answer to the question and to every question. If we stop and ask what love has to do with each situation of life, the true answer will present itself because God will show us the way. Love sent a baby to earth to free you, and me, from pain and from all those things which attempted to enslave us.

Love sent the first Christmas present, a child. Now, I send you love as this year’s present. Merry Christmas!

Not Taken, Given

John 7: 30

They were seeking therefore to seize Him; and no man laid his hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.

John 10:14-15

I lay down My life for the sheep.

Some people debate and rage over who killed Jesus. These become very passionate debates. Some say the Romans killed Him. Some say the Jews. When we really understand the passion of Christ, then we can finally let go of this debate. The only one who had power over Jesus’ life was Jesus.

In the seventh chapter of John, those who hated Him tried to seize Him so that they could put Him to death. But Jesus’ hour had not yet come so they were unable to take Him. Jesus just slipped away as He did at other times. In the tenth chapter of John the crowd was going to stone him. The scripture says in verse 39, “Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp.” Notice that the verse says they were seeking to seize Him again. This wasn’t the first time and it was not to be the last, but Jesus had a say in what was going to happen to him. The temptation in the garden of Gethsemane wouldn’t have been so difficult for Jesus if the end was a forgone conclusion and he did not have any power to affect the outcome. No, it was because He had to willingly go into captivity and to the cross that the temptation was so great. He had the power to walk away but made the choice to stay.

Only when Jesus’ time had come was it possible to capture him. Even then Jesus had to practically help the soldiers arrest him. When they came with Judas to arrest him, they all ended up falling to the ground under the power of God. Read John 18: 3 – 11. Jesus waited for them to recover and then, again, identified himself for them. Peter drew his sword to defend Jesus but Jesus told him to put it away. Jesus said, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” Jesus had chosen to follow God. He had chosen to lay down his life for the sheep. That is the only way they could have ever put him on the cross, through his choice. In John 10, verses 17 and 18 Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves Me because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” Jesus was saying that no one had the authority to take his life from him. Only he had the ability to sacrifice his life. And that he willingly did for us.

If you ever hear people debating this question again you can answer, “It wasn’t the Romans that put Jesus on the cross; it wasn’t the Jews. It was love that put him there. Love for you and me. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,” John 14: 13. And that he did; laid down his life for us. It was his to give and freely he gave it to us.

Know Love

1 John 4:16

We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

So, here is my question, have we come to know and do we believe the love God has for us? When I hear some of the things that come out of Christians’ mouths, I think we have not come to know the love God has for us. Have you ever heard a Christian say that God gave them, or a loved one, cancer in order to make them stronger? I have and it makes my head feel like it is going to explode. Remember this verse, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7: 11)? Would you give your child cancer? Of course not! There are much better ways to teach and strengthen than cancer. Cancer is a destroyer! Would you agree? Then consider this verse, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” (John 10: 10). Only the thief comes to destroy; not Jesus, not the Spirit and certainly not our Father. Jesus said he came to give life more abundantly. Intuitively I think we know these two truths but somehow the wires in our brains get crossed and we begin to think, or mimic, some crazy thoughts.

Today’s verse should be one of great comfort. It is the promise of love and the constant companionship of God. Beyond that, is a statement of faith; faith that God cares for us and will always be our advocate. We have only to come to believe in the love. Love acts in a predictable way and we should have confidence in that love. Love is saving grace and it defines every action and word of our Father. Come to know and believe in that love in a way that leaves no room for doubt. Call upon God knowing that He will always answer you.

In Conclusion

Ephesians 4: 15

But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ.

Here is the conclusion of Paul’s soliloquy. This verse of Ephesians 4 could well be called the topical sentence of all that comes after it. The verses which we have examined hang on this verse. This represents the theme of the chapter.

We are all supposed to be growing up into Jesus Christ himself. We are not only to grow into an image of him, but we are actually supposed to be growing up as part of him just like the branch is vitally integrated into the vine. This is our work as accomplishing Christians. We are supposed to be growing up. Christianity is more than a salvation prayer uttered once. It is life and it is a total way of life. It is Christ.

There are two essential elements that we need in order to grow into him as we should. They are not a mystery. They are in the verse above: love and truth. Only through love and truth can you grow into the integration with Christ that God has called you to. God is love (1 John 4: 8) and Jesus is the truth (John 14: 6), so of course we cannot do without them. You are going nowhere without love and truth.

Jesus said in John 15: 1-2I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine-dresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes (cleanses) it, that it may bear more fruit.” That means you either bear good fruit or God prunes you away. And when you do bear good fruit he nurtures you so that you can bear even more good fruit. See please that truth is the true vine. Makes sense right? Love is the vine dresser. You must abide in truth, thereby abiding in Jesus (John 15:4) and you must allow love to guide your growth.

It all makes sense when you see it this way. The rest of the verses in Ephesian 4 follow from verse 15. Of course, we must keep our mouths from all unwholesome language. Of course, you are kind and gentle because love is kind and gentle. And finally, it all makes sense and becomes easy. If we will allow truth and love to guide us all day every day, we will become well-watered branches lovingly cared for by the Holy Gardener. Every other verse of the Bible folds in here. In this concept is your every need met, your healing, your protection and of course your salvation and redemption. It does not have to be difficult to understand any longer. Where there is love and truth, there is the real first family, the family of God.

Brotherly Love

Psalm 55: 16 – 18

As for me, I shall call upon God, And the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, And He will hear my voice. He will redeem my soul in peace from the battle which is against me.

This is a psalm of David and at once tragic, sad and victorious. David’s lament was not solely that his life was pursued relentlessly but rather that his life was sought by one he loved. The enemy was not a Philistine, as it were, but rather Saul whom he loved as a Father and revered wholly as his king. His devotion to Saul was absolute but, as is so often the case, the demon in Saul’s soul, the jealousy and emotional scars, set upon the innocent David.

Being pursued across the land, your very life in mortal peril night and day, was tortuous for David, as it would be for any of us. The greater tragedy though, is when your enemy is your brother. How, do you fight an enemy whom you love? How do you even defend yourself against your attacker when that attacker is a “friend”? Jesus actually had an answer for this dilemma. He said to pray for them. Since Jesus came, we have a clear mandate that we are supposed to love everyone. That means every enemy is one we are to love. Then how do we fight? We are not supposed to cause harm. So, Dad has us pray for them and in that simple act is our release and our victory.

David’s landing spot is very reminiscent of the 23rd Psalm. In Psalm 23, verse 4, David wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.” Do you see the similarity with “He will redeem my soul in peace from the battle which is against me?” In the midst of battle, even when surrounded by foes, your soul can rest in peace because of God is the keeper of your soul.

I would point out one other thing about this passage. There is, perhaps, a better way to think of communicating our need to our Father than complaining and mourning though we will give those words their space. The Passion Translation translates that language as, “Every evening I will explain my need to him. Every morning I will move my soul toward him.” I quite like that, and I believe it almost visually depicts the reality that David lived. We emotionally, spiritually and mentally move ourselves towards God and in that, we receive the peace our souls long for.

The truth of life is that those who attack you are most often friends or loved ones. This reality makes the challenge harder and the pain more intense. None the less, our Father says to us that even in the midst of battle, or more to the point, when attacked, stand and be delivered. Your Father is knowledgeable and attentive. He knows your pain, you situation and the limitations you are under. Let Him be your refuge. Let Him rescue you. It really is the only viable plan. Move your heart closer to Him and let Him comfort and keep you.  Call upon God.

You Owe me!

Romans 13:8

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.

Or do I owe you? Perhaps you have heard this verse taught before. If so, great! Most of the teaching I have heard on it focuses on being debt free, i.e. owing no one. Except we do owe and the debt we owe is love. Paul really wrote a blockbuster statement at the end, but I think it may have slipped by us. He said that all the obligation of the law is met if we love our neighbor. Does that even make sense? Can we really fulfill the law by loving one another? Seems crazy to me.

Let’s look at the Passion Translation, “Don’t owe anything to anyone, except your outstanding debt to continually love one another, for the one who learns to love has fulfilled every requirement of the law.” Wow! We have a continuing debt to one another. Ooops, that means I owe you, doesn’t it? Watch out though, you owe me too. This translation points out that love can be learned. It must be a skill then because you cannot learn emotions or characteristic traits. That is encouraging. Even if you are not a person naturally given to loving others, you can learn to be like God in this respect.

I want you to see the amplified version of this verse too, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love and seek the best for one another; for he who [unselfishly] loves his neighbor has fulfilled the [essence of the] law [relating to one’s fellowman].” Embedded within this expanded view of the Greek words, we see a definition of love arising. It is the significant piece which has run through these several days of “love” focus. Here is where we learn, specifically, what God has in mind when He tells us to love others. God only deals in agape love (see yesterday’s Word of the Day). Jesus’ actions gave practical meaning to the word love and he told us, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you,” (John 15: 12). In other words, we are supposed to emulate Jesus and his love the same way he copied the Father. The question arises, however, “How did Jesus love us?” The answer is in the Amplified version where it reads, “seek the best for one another.” That means putting the other person’s needs in first place, ahead of your own. Love is not selfish. Jesus loves us sacrificially. He gave what we needed rather than what he needed. Most of us love as is convenient to us. We love enough to get what we want or need. As long as the other person is supplying our needs, we love them. Jesus showed us a different way. Even when no one stood with him, when his closest friends denied him and betrayed him, when the people he came to save stood in the marketplace and cried out for his crucifixion, even then, Jesus put himself on a cross. Jesus prayed for the people who strung him up, prayed for their eternal souls. That is what love is. Love is not selfish or self-seeking.

We have an eternal debt to each other. It is never filled, never satisfied. I owe you a debt of love and I want what you owe me. The Father is the source of love, so we only need to take from Him and spread it around. It sounds easy enough, but it is a challenge. I believe, though, if we will take our minds off of ourselves and put them on Father, Jesus and the sacrifice they made for us, the love they have poured out to us, then we too will be able to spread His love. It sounds gooey. It sounds a bit weird, but we need to get used to this idea that you are supposed to love me. I am supposed to love you. God said that is the only debt we are to have between us. It is an ongoing one, though. If we will learn to love one another we will not need to fear the condemnation of the law.  Love will also give us the power to evangelize the world.

Trifecta Love

John 15: 9

Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.

We all know that Jesus is our model, but do we ever consciously consider that he modeled love? Yahweh God is love; His composition is love. So, Jesus emulated His father and showed humanity what real love is.

There is a key in this verse to which I alluded in yesterday’s Word of the Day. Notice that Jesus received love from the Father. What he received, he gave, and in the same measure. He says, essentially, “What I received from the Father I gave to you in like manner.” So, where does that leave us? We must receive the Yahweh Father kind of love and then love others as He has loved us. The potency of God’s love is tripled towards us, though, because we have the love of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. They have poured out Agape love into our very being. “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us,” (Romans 5: 5).

Wikipedia defines Agape love as “unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance. It goes beyond just the emotions to the extent of seeking the best for others.” This love does not depend on any external factor. It isn’t an emotion. It is a choice, a determination of spirit, though not by works or by strength. Giving Agape love comes from receiving it. God has an infinite capacity for loving us and His love is never predicated on what we have done right. As the definition reads, it is beyond circumstances. As He pours out His love on us, if we will receive it with appreciation and mindfulness, our capacity to love will be enlarged. As we revel in God’s amazing gift to us, we overflow with gratitude resulting in a thankful heart which is better able to give love, even where it is not deserved.

Jesus tells us here that even as God loved him, so he loves us. He doesn’t stop there though. He adds the phrase, “abide in my love.” What do you suppose he meant by that? In a practical sense, how does one abide in his love? When I think of the word abide I think “hang out there.” It is stronger than that though. He means to set up your residence. Pitch your tent in Jesus’ love which is easily said but more difficult in practice. It is not as if we can literally make our physical home in his love, so what does this mean. I believe Jesus is telling us that emotionally, spiritually and even mentally we should stay right here in the midst of his love. The world is too much with us, as Wordsworth warned us. We get so swept up in the things of the world that we stop abiding in his love. We mentally, spiritually and emotionally vacate that space. Jesus wants us to allow his love to be pervasive in our lives and throughout our day. Abiding in his love means that it is constantly with us. We are continually reminded of his great love for us, a love deeper than the deepest ocean, higher than the highest mountain more expansive than space. Keep that in the center of your thoughts, and in the center of your heart. Let your life be absorbed in the love of Jesus, the love of the Father and the loving passion of the Spirit. Then, give some away. Sending you some of His love today.