Who is it?

Job 9: 24

If it is not he, then who is it?

You know the story of Job and of how great his suffering was. Job was a godly man so when calamity struck his house he was bewildered. The book of Job records conversations he had with his “friends”. In today’s passage Job is answering Bildad. He makes the assertion that so many Christians make which is essentially that God is the source of our trouble and misfortune.  

I was guilty of this myself. In my early years I, like everyone, suffered some hardships. My religious training had not taught me that there was a source of evil in the world. I remember saying to someone who was a Christian, “It must be God who is causing these bad things to happen to me.” It was a horrible thing to say to a believer but do you know what? He didn’t correct me. He didn’t explain to me how wrong I was and about the goodness and love of our God. Surely he believed in John 3: 16, who doesn’t? How, then, do we reconcile this God of love who gave everything to save us with the ideology of a God who inflicts pain and suffering? We cannot because the two are irreconcilable.

The devil has done quite a number on the church. He has reduced his image to that of a cute Halloween costume. He has shifted our understanding of him to fantasy and make believe. However, we have the means to learn and know the truth. James 1: 5 is the pronouncement of a major theme of the Bible, that being that the Lord, our God, gives us wisdom. The wisdom of God reveals all truth, so, the devil cannot hide in his lies when wisdom has come upon the scene. He is always exposed for the liar that he is.

When bad things happen, we need to understand that the devil is our enemy (1 Peter 5: 8). However, we can take comfort in knowing that our Lord has already defeated the enemy which means that we are no longer subject to the devil. We can overcome all of his machinations through the victory of Jesus. The first step, however, is in not being deceived that there is no devil or that our benevolent Father is the source of the bad things that happen in life. Believe me, when I thought that God was the source of trouble in my life I could not receive relief. It is only in our Father that we can triumph. 1 Corinthians 13: 8 says that love never fails. Well, here is an example of that non-failing force. Love always wins so we take the love of God, which is God’s very substance, and we apply it to the problem and love wins every time.

Your Father loves you more than you can imagine and He would never inflict harm on you. He only wants good for you and since He is love and goodness that is all that He has to give you. Give the devil his proper due and put him back under your feet where he belongs.

Whom Do You Love

John 21: 15

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?

That was a loaded question. If you have ever heard a teaching on this passage which delves into the Greek words for “love” you know that Peter was really up against the wall because Jesus was talking about a deeper kind of love than Peter was yet able to fathom. I would like for us to look at this passage today in a similar way to the Greek word study but in a way that I think makes Jesus’ meaning even more clear. (By the way, the easy way to see what was going on in the Greek is to read this passage in the Amplified Bible.)  

Let us take today’s verse and overlay it onto 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8a. When we do so we find Jesus asking Peter a series of questions. First let us read the passage from 1 Corinthians. “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. Love never comes to an end” (God’s Word Translation). In many versions the last sentence reads, Love never fails. Well, you get the point but if you really want a revelation, read this passage in the Amplified translation. Actually, read it in a lot of translations. You will be enlightened. Anyway, when you read 1 Corinthians 13 together with John 21: 15 you find Jesus asking Peter (and each of us), Peter, do you love me – will you be patient with me? Peter, are you kind to me? Are you jealous? Do you brag? Are you arrogant and self-centered? Are you ever rude to me? Peter, are you thinking of yourself or of me? Are you irritable with me? Do you keep a record of past wrongs? Are you happy with unrighteousness; happy in the truth? Will you always be patient with me, believe in me, never give up, never fail and never stop hoping? That is what Jesus was asking when he said, “Peter do you love me?” 

Now think of it this way. Jesus has said to you, “I love you.” When Jesus says he loves you he speaks in the fullness of the concept of love. That means that he is conveying to you all of those things found in 1 Corinthians 13. There is great richness and depth in Jesus’ love for you. This is the way the Father loves you also. They love you with their whole being for love is not a shallow word in Christ.

Think of this also the next time you tell a person that you love them. Do you mean to convey all that is found in 1 Corinthians 13? If not, then you don’t really love that person. It may be a deep form of “like” but it isn’t love if you cannot put their needs in front of your own applying all of the characteristics of love. You see, 1 Corinthians 13 defines love for us. In our society we can sometimes use the word love very casually but now that we see what it truly means we may want to curb our tongues. Don’t misunderstand me though. I am all for telling people that you love them. I just want you to mean what you say and understand what love is. If we are not patient and kind to people then we have to conclude that we really do not love them with what God calls love. We may need them, want them, etc. but we have not reached that place in our hearts where we can love as Jesus commanded. When this is the case we must look within ourselves and ask why we, like Peter, have such difficulty expressing true love.

Peter was at the infancy of his ministry when Jesus asked him this question and it really was a question that was intended to prepare Peter for ministry. As we continue to follow Peter’s life and ministry we see that he did get a revelation of what Jesus began teaching him with that simple question. Peter grew and changed and became a great disciple of Christ and a great bearer of the commission and commandment of Jesus. Jesus only gave us one commandment and that command is to love one another (John 13: 34). Our commission is to spread love. It sounds so 1960’s but it is the truth and the essence of Christian life and evangelism. Go into all the world and tell them the good news (Mark 16: 15). What is the good news? That God loves them and that Jesus has restored them to that non-failing, endless love.

So, I want to ask you this question. Who do you love? Do you love Jesus? Does your love for God stand up to the test? Are we putting our needs and wants before God? It is a tough test, to be sure, but looking inside our hearts for the answers will help us to grow as people and as Christians. Live, love and grow.

Giving God Away

John 13: 34

“A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

John 15: 13

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

Jesus gave us one commandment knowing if we would live by this one commandment we would fulfill all the law and the prophets. Everything that God would prescribe for us is included in this one commandment, that we love one another as Jesus first loved us. 

How did Jesus love us? He loved us sacrificially. He put our needs before his even to the point of death. That is a remarkable act. Can you imagine putting other people’s needs before your desires even if it means your death? That is a tall order. Face it; most of us continuously serve ourselves even at the cost of others. How often do we cease our pursuit of what we want long enough to even consider what others need or want? It is just not our way, is it? We were not trained to serve others but rather to grab all we can get even if it means hurting others. So, what does it take for us to, even for a moment, retire our self-interest long enough to consider the needs and wants of someone else?

Whatever Jesus told us to do he has also empowered us to do. That is good news, yes? But realize too that there is no excuse for disobedience. We do not have the excuse that we cannot do what he has commanded because he always provides the ability with the command. So, if this is Jesus’ command to us, and we know it is, and he has empowered us with the ability to fulfill the love command, then why aren’t more of us living by this commandment? 

God is love. He is the power and authority required to fulfill this commandment. Jesus is showing us that our grand command is to convey the essence of God to others. Did you catch that? Since our command is to love one another and God is love then the command is to “God” one another as Jesus did or to express the nature and heart of God among one another just like Jesus did. It sounds like a difficult task but Jesus provided the way. He told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father which would give them the requisite power (Acts 1: 4 – 8). Then he sent the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit has come to make his abode in us, to actually live in our hearts. He is the power to love and to live. The only way we can do what Jesus has commanded us to do is for us to fill up with God. We can never in our own strength or by an effort of our will love people the way Jesus has directed us. We must first let love fill us to overflowing, then we will be able to let the expression of who God is flow out of us.

So we have an absolute command from our Lord regarding how we are to treat others and he has provided the means by which we can adhere to his command. We must make a decision to obey this commandment of love. We need to understand with our minds that it means putting others needs ahead of ours. We should actually spend some time thinking about what that means and meditating on how that might appear in practice. Then we need to seek the help of the Father through prayer. We must first let Him love us. We will never be able to love others if we do not first receive the love of God deep into our hearts. His love can only flow through us once we have allowed Him to abide fully within us. So there is our starting point and perhaps where many of us fail. Make a decision to obey Jesus’ command to love others as he loved us and then earnestly seek the help of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Open your heart and let God flow into it. Open your heart and let His love flow out.

Our Reflection in our Lord

2 Samuel 22: 26 – 27            NIV

To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.

In our discipleship we desire to reflect the grace of the Lord. When people look at us, we hope they see Jesus. I never considered that when we look at the Lord, we see ourselves. Today’s scriptures teach us a very important lesson. What you see when you look at God is likely a reflection of yourself. Stop and think about that for a moment. Do you see a loving God full of grace and mercy or do you see a vengeful God. Is he punishing the world or loving it. God hasn’t changed. He is love but what we see in Him shows what we have allowed ourselves to receive from God. He gives us power to be loving and forgiving because He is loving and forgiving. If, instead, we see Him as shrewd it is because of something in us, crookedness. If we see Him faithful it is because we have allowed ourselves to receive faithfulness from Him. He shows Himself blameless because we have received our spotless garment by faith in Jesus. We look at God through the veil which we choose, through our filters.

The key point is that the way we perceive God is a measure of who we are rather than a treatise on who He is. We know unequivocally who and what God is, God is love. Therefore, if we do not perceive Him as He truly is, then it is because of an overlay that we have cloaked Him with from our own personalities. He is faithful because love is faithful. Any characteristic which is derived from love is His natural clothing. Any characteristic which is distinct from love is the veil of our eyes. We may have inherited these veils, these painted lenses, from our parents, we may have learned them from religion or they may be of our own doing. Any unregenerate part of our being may be reflected onto our image of God. Our task as disciples of Christ is to see Him as He truly is. The question, then, is not “Who do you think God is?” The task is to strip the veils of convention, habit and our own worldly experience from our eyes and to see God as He truly is. We have a test which will show immediately our perception of truth. If our image of God is anything less than complete love then we know there is yet something within us that needs addressing.

Looking at God is like looking into a mirror which might explain why it is difficult to get people to seek Him or even to spend time in prayer and in the Word. Even if they cannot articulate their hesitancy in their heart of hearts they know they will see something ugly in the mirror and they are afraid. Their hearts are not strong enough to admit the truth about themselves. This is a great sorrow because God is the healer of the heart. There is nothing so ugly in any of us that He cannot turn it into beauty. It is what He does. There also is not one of us that was beautiful in ourselves. Any beauty any of us reflect is the Lord Jesus himself. What is it that gives one person the guts to seek healing and inner beauty and others fall to fear? I wish I knew. Perhaps it is a little hope of something better. Maybe it is just a little faith that God really is love and that he will accept us and help us. Whatever it is, I pray that seed in every one of us so that we may grow into the beautiful creature of grace that we are each meant to be. If we could only see ourselves the way God sees us. I adjure you by all that is holy. Seek the face of the Lord expecting to find love and acceptance. Do not worry about your soiled garments. You are not as dirty as Jesus was when the sin of the world hit him and yet he is seated right now at the right hand of God. You can’t get any dirtier than he was and yet his robes are now as white as snow. He is radiant in his cleanliness. God has provided that same beauty for ashes experience for each of us. Give God your rubbish and he will exchange it for His glory. “Let’s Make a Deal” never had a deal as good as that. If you will with all honesty give your entire heart to God He will show you His wholeness and grace. Then you will look in the mirror of His face and see only love.

Out Blessed

Galatians 6: 7

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.

We have all heard the expression “Give and take”. It is particularly used to describe relationships. Well, I would like to coin a new phrase today. I want you to enjoy “give and give” relationships because this, I believe, is the Christian model.

I recently went on a camping trip where I got to renew old acquaintances and meet some great new people and it is from these folks that this idea has arisen in my consciousness. Let me begin with a little story which I believe will demonstrate why this idea of give-give has become prominent in my thinking. 

The first day there I met this lovely couple, Sally and Chad. There was an instant connection with them as we all paddled on the lake and talked about the Lord. That evening, everyone got together at our campsite. Well, I had just brewed a cup of tea when Sally and Chad arrived. We got to talking about tea and I told them about how I had discovered this brew (Good Earth Original Tea) in La Jolla, CA back when I lived in San Diego. We discovered that we shared a common interest. I offered them to smell or taste my tea and they both thought it smelled good so I made each of them a cup of tea. While we sat under the evening sky enjoying our Good Earth Tea (how appropriate) we discovered another tea connection. It turns out that they drink P.G. Tips which is an English blend. I was amazed to hear that someone else knew about P.G. Tips tea much less drinks it and I told them about my dear friend who is part British and about the Christmas she gave me a box of P.G. Tips. They could really appreciate how special that tea was for me and we really enjoyed talking and sharing.

Well, the evening went on, the weekend went on. It was a delight getting to know them a bit and we certainly enjoyed each other’s company. On Tuesday we all had to pack up and get out of the campsite before 11:00 but before Sally and Chad left Sally came down to say, “Good-bye.” That alone was a very nice gesture but before she left she handed me a Ziploc bag. You guessed it! It was full of P.G. Tips tea bags, thanks to which I am enjoying a beautiful cup of tea right now. I was very blessed by their kind thoughtfulness.  

Now, a bag of tea may not seem like a big deal but, honestly, it was the heart gesture involved. They sought to bless me, and they succeeded. It was the spirit behind the gift that was so loud and so precious. May I say it? It was love. They were moved by that spirit of love within them that seeks to honor and bless others and this couple just knows how to cooperate with the kind intentions of God’s soul. They have merged with the Spirit of love so they know how to be a blessing. Not only that but they actually strive and attempt to bless others. And I know other people who have accepted this mantle from Jesus and I must say they are an inspiration to me.

So now what do we think of this new relationship with Sally and Chad? Upon what is it based? I brewed them one little cup of tea each and the next thing I know they have out given me, out blessed me. It is almost like poker – they saw my two tea bags and raised me a whole bag. But wait, it ain’t over yet because this relationship is based on mutual blessing. It is a give – give relationship. So what does that mean? This weekend I am going to Trader Joe’s hoping to find Good Earth brand tea and when I do I am going to buy a whole box and send it to them. You see, it was completely my pleasure in the first place to share my tea with them. It gave me joy to do that for them. And they certainly did not need to reciprocate in any way nor was their gift to me a payback, because they didn’t owe me anything. They just sought to bless me and they did. Well, now I am hoping to bless them by surprising them with some Good Earth Tea. So, all you folks who know Sally and Chad keep this under your hat.

I want for you to have relationships that are based on mutual blessing. When we give ourselves to the life of Christ within us this sort of generosity and kindness ought to come bubbling up out of us and we ought to connect with others on this level. When you find people who are walking in the love of Christ I hope that you will hang on to them and let your relationships form around that kind, gentle and generous spirit who is Jesus, our Lord and who lives within each of us. When Jesus is the focal point, then abundance, prosperity and kindness will always be the fruits. Develop Give – Give relationships. Let each of you be selfless and honor one another in love. It is a great way to live and part of that abundant life that Jesus intended for you. Demand and expect for all of your Christian relationships to show this kind of grace and maturity which comes from a life surrendered to Christ. And, in the name of Jesus, Be Blessed even as you are a blessing!

Loving the Unlovely

Romans 12: 14

Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.

This is grown-up Christianity. We have gone into the deep water. We know that if we love Christ we will keep his commands. Paul is preaching Christ here. Besides, we know that Jesus is the word, the entire word. But if that is not good enough let us see what Jesus said when he was still in the earth. Matthew 5: 44 reads, “But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” One translation says, “… bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (KJV).

If you do not like these two verses, I don’t blame you. It is just not natural to heap blessing on those who persecute and hate us. But then, we weren’t called to be natural, were we? We are called to be supernatural through the power of Christ at work within us. These circumstances are when we most need the miracle working might of Christ Jesus ministering in us and through us. Jesus said that all things are possible with God (Mark 10: 27) so the key here is that we must be with God. We are not going to succeed in praying for and blessing our persecutors without God’s strength. The Apostle Paul received this revelation as well. In Philippians 4: 13 he wrote, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” With God all things are possible which is a really important thing to know when you believe that He has called you to the impossible like saving a country or forgiving your obnoxious brother-in-law. I wonder which is more difficult. Regardless, you are going to need God’s power and strength in order to do what you are supposed to do. We know that we are to follow all of Jesus’ teachings and obey his commands. If you have made a quality decision to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and be obedient to the calling within you including obeying all of Jesus’ ordinances then you need the power of God at work in your life. But, fear not. Father God has created a foolproof way for each of us to operate in that awesome power that can only be obtained through Him. He just comes and lives inside of us. We take off the grave clothes of our former lives and don the glory of the living God. He, God, becomes again our covering just as in the Garden of Eden when humanity was surrounded by the glory of God.  

There is nothing God cannot due and by extension there is nothing you cannot do when you are joined with the Holy One. You can even pray for your enemies and bless those who persecute you. Your glory is the Lord himself and He will lift you up and He will enable you to do all things. You are half of an unbeatable team. Now, what will you do?

The Character of Love

Romans 12: 9 – 10

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.  

The Apostle Paul cuts us no slack. He was called by God to receive and deliver the revelation of Christ to the world and with a calling that big he just didn’t have time to mince words. We can skate over the first two sentences fairly easily but that last one creates immediate friction. There is a foot note on the last sentence which reads, “outdo one another in showing honor.” To do otherwise is to paint our love with hypocrisy. That is a hard message Paul.

So what are we to do? I have to begin with the most powerful prayer I know, “Help me Lord.” I know I cannot do this in my own strength. My soul wants to defend and promote itself. There is only one way. Of course, he, Jesus is that way. But how do I avail myself of the way? Ivey must die and be buried. In her place must be the life of Christ which is my right and my inheritance and in whom I can do all things. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2: 20). 

I remember when God began teaching me this lesson in a loud way. I was still practicing law. There was a person who had made a mistake but instead of owning up to it he lied and made up a story about my practice. Well, I was incensed when I heard this lie and not one to take things lying down. I had my guns loaded and was headed to town when God stopped me. He told me that I was not allowed to defend myself. What? A lawyer is primed for these moments. I was not only confused but also astounded. My reputation was at stake and I valued my reputation but God was teaching me a new thing and it did not involve my might, and my power but rather His spirit (Zechariah 4: 6). Although I lived by the strength of my arguments and persuasive personality I loved God more, but believe me, this was hard. God used my training against me too. He showed me that when I represented a client, I was the one who spoke for him. He did not speak and defend himself. Jesus is my counselor and advocate. It is His job to defend me and to speak for me. Now, I do not say this is easy but for those who love Christ, it is the command.

We have a clear directive from our Lord, “Give preference to others over your own preferences. Honor them.” We can determine in our hearts to do just that and it works fine when you are associated with other Christians who have decided to make Christ first in their lives. I have a friend that makes this so easy. She is a blessing, and blessing others is what she does. I recently tried to bless her and she out blessed me. You can’t promote her enough because she turns around and honors the one trying to honor her. She is a living example of this verse so we end up just blessing one another. It is great! 

What happens, though, when you encounter that person who is self-absorbed, who makes everything about them and their preferences? Okay, now it gets hard. Your personality and your human character kick in and begin to push back. You may not want “everything” to be about you but you begin to feel like you’ve been run over by a truck.” This is when Christ has to be big in your life because you will need all of his strength. If you have truly died to self and are living to Christ then the things of the world don’t impact you and this is easy for you. If, instead, you are like many of us and have not completely buried that old man or are very good at resurrecting him when you feel a threat then this is going to push a few buttons. My advice is to stop and take a deep breath. Don’t say anything until you can get out of the flesh and back into Jesus. Then bring Jesus up before your eyes. Put your mind on his word. Remind yourself that nothing is more important that your love for him and his commands. It is not much consolation that you are the one acting mature and the other person is just selfishly denying Christ’s commands but it is God’s job to promote and honor you and you will receive from him what the devil steals from you through these selfish people. Give Jesus glory by honoring the command in today’s verse and he will turn around and shine that glory on you. It’s hard, I know, but your love for Jesus is bigger than any challenge. Be blessed.