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.

Grace Does Not Discriminate

John 4: 9, 27, 40, 41

The Samaritan woman therefore said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He had been speaking with a woman.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His word.

Everyone needs a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus. It will change a life forever. This is the story of one Samaritan woman’s encounter with the Lord. Not only did it change her life but many came to believe because of her testimony. This story is recorded in verses 4 – 42. I have selected a few key verses which show the unusual nature of this encounter.

Jesus was sitting at Jacob’s well while his disciples went into town to buy food. A woman of Samaria approached in order to draw water so Jesus requested a drink of water from her. She was astonished. First of all, Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans. Second she was a woman. Strike two. Given the social structure of their times this woman should have been overlooked and she should never have had a personal encounter with the Messiah. Fortunately for all of us, Jesus is not constrained by social mores. He lives in the light and in truth.

The Samaritans and the Jews had a vicious debate over where to worship. That sounds ridiculous today but they were virulent in their disagreement, so much in fact that Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans. But this is not so different from today. There are cultures today that view others to be as low as dogs and wouldn’t even stoop to help them if they were in mortal peril. Even in our own country, the land of the free, we have a history of treating a group of people differently than others. Every ethnic group that has migrated here over the short history of our country has had to fight against racial prejudice. The Irish were treated horribly, the Poles, Japanese, Chinese and so on. And of course, there was the importation of Africans who did not migrate here willingly but were captured and brought here against their will. Each time the disfavored group was eventually accepted but they were replaced by another. Unfortunately, the church is sometimes the slowest group to accept integration of others. Women are still considered as subordinate actors in some congregations today, even in the face of this story and many others in the telling of Jesus’ earthly experience.

What Jesus did at the well that day was unheard of. It was against all church doctrine and wisdom. Had the Pharisees witnessed it they would have come apart at the seams. To engage with a lowly woman was bad enough but a Samaritan as well. That was heretical. Of course some people say we are all going to hell because we allow women to preach in our churches and some of us allow every type of person in our doors.

This Samaritan woman was responsible for the salvation of the men of her town because she ran back to town and preached Jesus. The men came out to him at the well and many believed. The first thing that happens when a person accepts Jesus into their hearts is a softening of the heart and outflowing generosity, so these men invited Jesus to come stay in their town. Incredibly Jesus accepted and he stayed two days. I don’t know if you can appreciate how outlandish this was but it was earth-shattering.

Throughout history there has been layer upon layer of prejudice for one reason or another. No sooner do we rise above one prejudice than we adopt another. It seems that we have a need for a disfavored group upon which we can cast our vitriol, but this is not Jesus’ way. He loved the Samaritans and he loved women. He treated everyone as a child of the Most High. He treated everyone with grace and respect, well, with one obvious exception. He didn’t care for pharisaical church leaders, but then that was only because of their actions. My guess is that he still doesn’t like Pharisees. When we withhold the love of God from any person because of some discriminatory prejudice then we have retreated from grace and when we put others under the judgment of the law we have just judged ourselves. We have condemned ourselves. Jesus gave us one commandment, to love one another as he himself loved us, and he demonstrated his own adherence to the commandment of love in his time on earth.

Grace is meant to be given freely, never to be withheld. The entrance of grace into the earth came at a high cost. To withhold it is to blemish the sacrifice of our dear Lord. Our course is simple; love everyone and let God sort out the sinners from the saints.

Great Love

Psalm 89: 1 – 2              NIV

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself.

In today’s devotional I am doing exactly what David wrote in these two verses, declaring with my
mouth the great love of God, shouting about his faithfulness and proclaiming that the love of God stands firm always and against every fiery missile of the evil one.

Love is the most powerful force in the universe. God is love. There is no challenge which is greater than our God; therefore there is no obstacle that love cannot overcome. I love in verse one that David sings of God’s great love. Is that a measure of quantity or quality? Perhaps it is both. God does not just love a little but His love is as big and as glorious as the entire universe. If you know that you are loved by a love that great how does that knowledge reflect in your life? What changes in your world when you come to know the fullness of love that God is and that He has towards you?

And god is faithful. That is no surprise. Love is faithful. You can count on the people that love you. You can count on God’s faithfulness every day. Faithfulness means that He is steady and reliable. He is not wishy-washy. Whatever He tells you, or has ever told you, He will do. He stands beside you and with you even on your bad days. Even when you do not deserve His lovingkindness He is right there with you confessing His great love for you.  

There is no one who loves you more than God. There is no one more faithful. David’s life sure proved that. God is constant. Even when David messed up really badly, God was there to pick him up. God loved him with an unfailing love even through the rough times and even when David did not deserve it. No wonder David testifies so loudly to God’s uncompromising love and faithfulness.

Do you have a need today? Is there something that has you down or perplexed? Look up. God has an answer for you and loving arms to soothe you. You are His delight and the joy of His heart. Wrap yourself in the assurance of His devotion and faithfulness towards you. Let His love penetrate those hardened layers and rest in His peace.

God is Love

1 John 4: 8

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

God is love, not thought. That means that He is not in our brains. This is a heart thing. I don’t like it any more than you do. I wish I could be very academic about this whole “God” thing but it is fruitless and Jesus told us to go and bear fruit. We need to have an experiential knowledge of God’s love. What does that mean? We must know this love in our hearts. We must experience it. You can study love with your vast intellect until you turn blue but you will never understand it until you allow it to penetrate your heart and you finally experience the fullness of love. God is love so the only way you can ever experience Him is to let love reign supreme in your life. In order to do that, you have to let your heart play the leading role. It does not matter how smart we are. You may have a Mensa IQ but when it comes down to the bottom line that great intellect just won’t cut it. You don’t comprehend love with your mind. You can only have a true understanding of love when you let your heart take the lead. So if we are going to know God, if we are ever going to understand His unfathomable riches we are going to have to learn to hear Him with our hearts. We must learn to seek Him with our hearts rather than our minds and we must allow His Word to penetrate, not our thinking, but rather our feelings and our believing. Honestly, in order to be a true Christian we must engage our hearts.

I want you to know that I cannot think of any more uncomfortable news to have to receive personally but I have heard so much about the heart lately that if Balaam’s donkey came up to me and brayed, “Heart,” I don’t think I would even be surprised. There is a reason that God has filled the environment with heart language. He is trying to reach us on the level where He can change our lives. 

Since God is love the only way we will ever come to know Him is to engage our hearts. Love is not of the mind and cannot be comprehended by the gray matter. It takes a beating heart pumping warm, red blood to receive love. Everything God says is love. Every answer you need is love. Therefore, in order for us to receive God, the love of God, blessings and answers we must allow our hearts to become places of openness and conversation. How do you do that? I don’t know yet. I am still working it out myself but I know that the more I allow my heart to live and to be free from the shackles of my mind, the more life and love God is able to pump into me. God is love. Love is a condition of the heart. If we want to know God then we are going to have to let Him speak to our hearts. It may be uncomfortable for some of us but we really are going to be so glad we opened up and let Him in. Be blessed!

The lemonade scripture

Romans 8: 28

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

I call this the lemonade scripture because what it means to you is that God will take the lemons that life hands you and he will add a little sugar to them and make for you lemonade. I had a rough journey coming to this understanding and I would like to tell you that story today. First, though, I want you to know that this scripture is talking about you. Do not disqualify yourself. God Himself has called you to His purpose. He is constantly calling you to Himself. You are His beloved.

Years ago, in my High School days and my freshman year of college, I went through a rough patch. Although all of my young life I had believed in God and His son Jesus there came a point in my confusion that I concluded that there could not exist a benevolent God given the pain and turmoil I was experiencing. Then I had an even greater epiphany. I decided that there was, in fact, a God because, I reasoned, it was He who was causing these problems in my life.

I ran across some really bad teaching in those years. People were actually teaching from the pulpit that God was putting hurt and anguish on people in order to make them strong. Of course that is exactly what I did not need to hear because it only solidified my belief that God was the author of my pain. There was a part of me that could not completely accept this position though so there raged within me a battle. Who is this God of ours? Is he a loving God or is He a God who strengthens us through pain?

Over the years I began to come to know this God and discovered that He is in fact Love itself. What I didn’t realize though is that in my heart of hearts there was still lodged a fear of what God would do to me if I ever drew really close to Him. I had a pretty good relationship with Jesus but to my horror I discovered that there was a definite mistrust in my heart towards God the Father. Insane! That realization was one of the most humbling and core shaking moments of my life but it opened the blinds on the window of my heart so that God’s light could shine and reveal truth to my heart.

I still hear people accuse God of putting bad stuff on them for various purposes and I even still hear ministers preach that message which grieves my spirit immensely.

Our God is love. If there is only one message that we share it must be that. He doesn’t have to put bad things on people, Satan does plenty of that. No, God can use love. There is nothing that trouble can teach you that love cannot much better reveal to you. Jesus came to show us the way and that way was not the way of trouble. God is not in the lemon business; He is in the lemonade business. He will take all of the junk the devil slings at you and He will turn it for your good. He is the one that will take the thunder cloud and turn it inside out so that the silver lining is all you see. He will take every missile of the devil which is meant to hurt you and turn it into a blessing. That is His way. Our Father causes everything to work out for our good because He loves us.

As for me, I so despised this scripture for many years and now it is a favorite. Jesus set me free from the lie. I wonder if that is why I love lemonade so much.