Divine Love

Romans 13: 10

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law.

1 John 4: 8

God is love.

A friend of mine brought up a very good point recently; one that deserves more than a mention. The substance is, how does love behave. I draw on the teachings of Bill Johnson in answering this.

There is much hurt and anguish in the world. Yet, purportedly, God loves us. Why, then, is there so much hurt? Why do bad things happen to those whom the Lord loves? My friend, Lynn, brought to my attention that some churches teach that God does not do these “bad” things to us, but that He does allow them. Not only does that sound schizophrenic but also just sick at a nauseating level. Is this Divine Love, to sit and silently watch as evil doers lavish all modes of hurt upon us? If this is the measure of Divine Love, then what shall we expect of human love?

This is where I draw upon an analogy given by Bill Johnson. What do you think of a parent who abuses their child? It is abhorrent, is it not? It is below human norms, below human decency. It is bestial at best. Now, what about a father who sits idly by and watches someone else defile his own child. Is he not a repugnant, sub-human specimen? Can you say that Father loves his child? Is he even sane? Bill Johnson pointed out that not only is this parent socially aberrant, but he is also legally and criminally negligent. In other words, human institutions would punish the father who “allows” harm to come to his child. We would want to eject him from our congregation, yet we believe, somehow, that our Heavenly Father, the one who created us, and whom we praise could be so apathetic as to stand by while someone harms His child. Is He no better a father than a human we would reject and scorn?

To say that our Beloved allows evil to befall us is to attach all those same negative adjectives to Him that we would for a negligent human parent. Our Father is not mentally deranged, nor in any measure insensitive. He is the epitome of a loving parent. When I shared with you recently about how stressed people are and gave the example of someone who verbally attacked me, my Mom called asking who she needed to beat up. That is a parent! They go to the mat for you. They risk life and limb for their children. Are we to say that our Heavenly Father is less loving and protective than our earthly parents?

Anyone who believes that cannot know Love. Love will never allow harm to another. Love is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, if you will allow me that small paraphrase. In other words, Love is the culmination of everything Yahweh Father has ever said and done. This ball of dirt we live on is here because of Love. The air in our lungs was sourced by Love. It is irrational and bordering on insane to believe, much less teach, that our beloved Father allows bad things to happen to us intentionally. But then, if we blame Him, we have no need to search for an explanation closer to home.

Believe me! Your Father loves you with a love that is beyond anything you have ever experienced in the earthly realm. He grieves at every bruise and empathizes with every tear. Take my word on this, but not for long. Take the time to come to this conclusion on your own. Follow me in faith until you can explain to your own heart the madness of mistrusting the one who loves you most. Search for the truth and you will come to know, beyond any argument, that God is Love. He is the lover of your soul. He is the strong tower you can run into, not the ignorant spectator. Be informed in the depths of your spirit that God is good.

Worthy

Luke 7: 7

For that reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You.

I promised you last week I would write on worthiness. It is often difficult to accept all Jesus and the Father have for us because in the deepest part of our spirits/hearts, we don’t believe we are worthy of their gifts. Let me cut through all the theology for you and make this easy. The way to deal with this feeling of unworthiness is to accept a simple truth. You are unworthy. Whew! Now that is over, and we can move on.

This is the way I was able to get free of my feelings of unworthiness. Once I accepted that I was unworthy, I looked to Jesus to be worthy for me. I never again have to worry about being worthy because he already did it for me. I can never earn even the smallest of the gifts they give me. I can’t earn the right to salvation, the right to talk with God or anything else. I am unworthy of their kind attentions. They love me anyway and that is where we must bask.

In a way, it is arrogance that keeps me thinking I need to be worthy. Once I understood that I wasn’t, I was able to take my eyes off myself entirely and put them on Jesus. Looking at who he is and what he has done is an absolute cure for feelings of insecurity, unrighteousness and unworthiness. If I have any worth at all, it is because of who I am in him. Wow! That is a lot of pressure off our shoulders. Love never required us to be worthy. Look at the world. We do not deserve God’s goodness. He loves us anyway and, brother, that is some good news.

Love Me, Love You

Matthew 22: 37 – 40

And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.”

There is no more important topic than love. This is the topic which is foremost on the Lord’s mind. Actually, He never tires of talking about love. There are, however, three aspects of love. First and foremost is, love of the Father. That is exactly what Jesus points to in this passage. When asked what the greatest commandment is, he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” That is number one. Second, according to Jesus, is loving your neighbor as you love yourself. So, there is another kind of love presumed here. That is self-love. Jesus expects us to have a healthy self-love. This is not narcissism. Narcissism is “selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.”

Healthy self-love means doing those things which promote a healthy life physically, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. Jesus says that we should love others in our community as a healthy person loves and treats himself. Our community includes everyone we come in contact with. It is important that we recognize that “our neighbors” are not only our Christian brethren. Second, we are to love our neighbors equally with how we love ourselves. With this presumption of loving ourselves in a healthy way, we are supposed to love others in a healthy substantive way too.

Love God, love your neighbor, those are the two loves Jesus refers to in this passage and he insinuates a healthy self-love. There is, however, another love, and this one is the key. That which we have discussed is our expression of love towards ourselves and others. The most important love of all is God’s love for us. His love is what drives the universe. There is no savior, no salvation, no life even without the love of God. There is no love at all without the love of God. When I say that this love is the driver, I mean to convey that there is no ability for us to love ourselves, love others, or even love God Himself without first having the love of God expressed to our hearts. Only when we receive God’s love can we even reasonably dream of being lovely ourselves. It is His love with which we love others. The work of loving God and loving our neighbors takes place in letting God love us.

I want you to understand that receiving God’s love is not necessarily a passive process. When we slow down and commune our hearts with His then we are able to open ourselves to actually receiving His love. In other words, if you wish to make it your determined purpose to obey Jesus guidance from this passage, then the means, the only means for accomplishing same is to allow God to love you. It is not only the beginning point but also the ending point and everything in between. Loving yourself begins with allowing God to love you. Loving others is powered by the love God gives you.

The primary work of the gospel is to receive the love of God and subsequently convey it to others. That’s it – that’s the gospel. Easy, right? You know, for some of us this is the hardest thing we will do, letting God love us. Too loud in our psyche is our unworthiness, which I will write about next week and let you know how I overcome that issue.

Jesus said What?

Matthew 5: 43 – 44

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

There are a couple of passages in the New Testament that I just don’t like. This is one of them. Jesus came along and raised the standard. We can’t even hate our enemies. Moreover, I’ve got to pray for those who persecute me. Does that even sound reasonable?

As I wrote last week, the love standard Jesus has raised for us requires a life lived integrated with him. I can’t love my enemies in my own strength and there has been more than one time I have argued with Jesus about having to pray for the people who have persecuted me. It just seems wrong at a very basic level. But that is just the thing, isn’t it? Jesus doesn’t want us to live a base existence. He wants me to follow in his footsteps. He wants us living the high life and that is more than just receiving the good things of life. There is a giving component as well, another side of the coin, if you will.

God, Son and Spirit want all good things for us, true, but they want us to live according to their lifestyle of love. Let me ask you this, though? Why do they call us to live according to the love standard? Why did Jesus instruct us to love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us? Is that requirement fair to us? If God wants only good things for us, could it be that this mandate is meant to increase goodness in our lives as well?

When we have been hurt, it is natural to want to either strike back or throw up shields. We aren’t natural beings though. We have been given the supernatural life. That is life beyond the natural and that is a critically important aspect of the Christian life. To live “naturally” is to live a worldly existence, and that is not our calling.

It cannot be said enough. You may able but, I cannot live the life to which we are all called without the imminent presence of the Lord walking hand in hand with me. In fact, it is a much closer integration than hand in hand. That is a far to external an analogy. He has got to intertwine his spirit with mine such that our spiritual DNA (and perhaps even physical DNA) are woven in and around each other. I need him to respond rather than me react so his spirit has to be present and alert.

Through the trinity, we can live this love walk. We can pray for those who use and abuse us because God’s grace supplants our self-oriented perspective. We can pray for people from His vantage point rather than ours. Jesus calls us to a certain kind of existence, one above and beyond the natural ways of humans. While it may be impossible to live the life he requires of us by the use of our own strength, he has empowered us with his own strength and gentleness of spirit. Of course, this intermeshing of our spirit with his comes by spending time with him in meditative contemplation, conversation and study of his word.

May the blessing of the Lord be yours today and may pondering this passage bring you peace rather than angst.

Super Love

1 Corinthians 13: 6-7

(Love) does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Speaking of love . . .. Last week I wrote on verses four and five. They set a very high standard for what love is and what love does. These two verses are no less challenging. This is precisely why we must live intertwined with God. I cannot walk this standard of a love walk in my own strength. I am too weak, too petty and too self-interested. I don’t know how I can live this passage but by the grace, and the power of our Lord. He has to be alive and vibrant within me. I have to live such that his life and mine are stitched together. It is his life within me that allows me to endure anything, much less all things. How can hope prevail in any of our lives but by the glorious grace and benevolent affection of our Lord.

Those without his life within are without hope and without the strength to endure. We must show them the love of God which includes patient tolerance. Those of us with God know these past 12 months have proved a challenge but those who don’t have His love intermeshed through every tendril of their lives didn’t stand a chance. Their hearts and spirits have been stretched beyond their limits and they don’t know what to do. We all try to adapt but let’s be honest, this has not been an adaptive situation. It has been a time of wrenching change and we shall never again fit back into the same form from which we came. People have thought they were rolling with the punches only to find out they were more like a rubber band which has finally been stretched beyond its capacity and has snapped.

It is incumbent upon us to be the ambassadors of love in a very troubled world. I know that sounds like a hokey oversimplification or trite maxim, but I believe it not to be. And, as I have tried to encourage before, we are the people who must be the leaders. You there, sitting at home, still in your pajamas, you really are the leader the world is starving for. No one else is going to see your grocery store clerk or hair stylist. No one else is going to talk to your friends and neighbors. No one else can reach them with the love of God.

We must follow after righteousness and truth. That is an absolute. We are not given the liberty to favor a position which suits our needs unless it comports with absolute truth and righteousness. We must be beacons of truth because our Lord is the truth. This beginning point must be the standard which we, not only carry proudly, but which we resolutely hammer into the ground marking our terrain. It is the flag standard under which we stand. From this position we forge on, loving the unlovely. Not only do we provide an example to hurting people, but we give them that which is God’s very essence, love. It is love which we and they need. We can do without food for a bit, water for a little but the lack of those can only kill the flesh. The spirit needs love and what we are seeing is people dying for lack of sustenance for their inner man.

Each one of us, yes us, must keep enduring and hoping. We must keep standing for truth and waving our banner. We cannot be spreaders of anything less than the love of God. Dissention, negativity, gossip must be arrested as we are called to spread the Good News which is that God loves each and every one of us. Love is a high requirement of the life of Christ. It is our duty, though, to let that love wash over us and through us. Christ is what love gave the world so that love could live in this earth through His beloved. That is you, the beloved of God, His prized ones, His chosen. Let His love transform your life and buoy you during these turbulent times and may that love that He shines on you be a sign to all who see you that, God is love!

Love Letter

1 Corinthians 13: 4-5

Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered.

How great is my God, how beautiful and loving? I will tell you how amazing and fabulous my Father is.

This morning I called a friend to check on him. Yesterday he received his second vaccination shot and he recently pulled his hamstring and pinched a nerve in his back. I know some folks do not feel great the day after their second shot, so I just called to check on him.

We must recognize that people have been under enormous stress, accumulating stress, over the last 12 months. Sometimes that stress bubbles over. It did today and I was the unfortunate recipient of that pent up worry and stress. No one wants to be in my position but better me than someone else. Why? Because you and I have something within us that is up to the challenge. It is the love of God. Jesus showed up in this conversation and loved the speaker. Love didn’t hang up on him, it was patient and kind. It did not consider its own benefit, or mine for that matter. Love cared about the hurting soul who was lashing out.

I was planning on writing on comfort today, but I realized that what is needed is love. Love is the comfort we need as well as that gracious balm that the whole world needs today. I say my Father is great because He showed up and spoke love even as my heart was hurting. I want to share another thing though. Here is an immediate response by God to love on me too.

I had just finished emailing my good friend, Rene, saying that I better write on love for today’s Word of the Day. I wasn’t sure what verse to use and was rolling a few through my mind. I went to Biblegateway.com to look for a verse. The landing page for Bible Gateway opened with a Verse of the Day. Guess what that verse was. You see it at the beginning of today’s Word of the Day. Look at how the Father provided for me. He knew all this was going to happen and that I was going to need a love verse, so, He provided one. It was a message from heaven, and it met my need as well as communicated the Father’s love and care for me. Take this back one more step. He had to nudge someone at Bible Gateway to select that verse for today’s verse. Thank God that person listened to the Father. They probably do not even know that God was doing something in the selection of that verse. God truly is great.

So, the rest of the story – I have to let God be the master of this situation going forward because when things like this happen there are seeds planted. Are they seeds of offense or forgiveness? Are they seeds of humility or embarrassment? For my part, God says, love “is not provoked,” and “does not keep an account of a wrong suffered.” That means I cannot carry negative seeds forward. During these very challenging times, we are going to have to give people space. We need to be understanding and forgiving. We must let love speak in our place. Is it easy? Not if you do it in your might but if you let Jesus show up and show his love, it’s okay. Jesus understands how stressed people are. He wants to help heal bruised and injured hearts. Bless the Lord for His kind mercies. Bless the Lord.

The Excellency of Brotherly Unity

Psalm 133

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, as on Aaron’s beard, the oil which ran down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for the Lord commanded the blessing there – life forever.

I took today’s title directly from the caption of today’s psalm of King David. This is the theme of our present and ordained by God to be so. How amazing is it that we should fall upon this psalm at this time? Well, if you have worked with God for a while, you know He is prone to such “coincidences” though, I have to say, it still never ceases to surprise me a bit. This one is especially loud.

With apologies to our readers from outside the United States, this message may be uniquely American. As I sit here writing this, it has only been two days since President Biden lauded this same value as the theme for our country. Of course, Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love springs to mind. Just imagine, a city named itself for the Greek word which means love between and among human beings.

God is love (1 John 4: 8) so everything which is of God begins with love. If it does not, then it is not of God. If we cannot differ in ideas but agree on ideals, we are not operating in the love of God. Regardless of what you think of our current president, without regard for whom you voted, I want to be on record saying, President Biden is in the will of God as he speaks of unity. Those are not the President’s words; they are God’s, and we should praise the God of our hearts that our president is hearing the voice of God. And we, if we have any Christian love left to us, we should pray FOR him every day. The capitalization is to remind you not to pray “about” people or pray your will but rather to pray “for” them as God would have you pray.

What I wish to create in you is a heart and spirit of celebration. We can unite, if we choose, as “One nation, under God, indivisible.” We once thought those values so essential that they form the backbone of our Pledge of Allegiance. It is time we all, again, as children, pledge our allegiance to serving as a national brotherhood, led by and dedicated to God, indivisible. That we might be that bright shining city on the hill so that all nations shall see the glory of God in this place. My heart of heart cries out that this will be the legacy we leave and the image we show to others. United under God. Shining in and by His grace. Amen.