What is Love

Today’s reading:  1 John 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:7-11).

When I was in junior high, I had Steve Camp’s Fire and Ice cassette tape. I bet I listened to that thing a hundred times.  The five songs on the front side of the tape that is.  I never turned the tape over because the songs on the back weren’t nearly as good (I’m laughing as I write this.  Do you remember waiting forever for a tape to rewind?  What about fastforwarding and trying to guess how long was long enough to get past the song you didn’t like?  Oh how thing have changed.)  As I read today’s scripture, it took me back to Steve Camp’s 1984 duet with Michelle Pillar – Love’s Not a Feeling (the 3rd song on side 1).  The chorus went like this:

Love’s not a feeling, oh, we’ve got to learn
To get past our emotions to the meaning of the Word
Love’s not a feeling we can lose or throw away
Lord, give us the courage to live it every day, oh…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ak7xi3OnjpY

If love isn’t a feeling, what is it? What is the meaning of the word?  What does it mean to “live it every day”?  1 Corinthians chapter 13, often referred to as the love chapter of the Bible, describes love as a choice.  As you read this passage, notice love involves taking an action or abstaining from a self-centered action every time.  It is definitely not passive.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Our scripture in 1 John identifies actions God takes to demonstrate his love.

  • God creates – because he loves, God creates people in his image to love others. (Genesis 1:26-27)
  • God cares – because he loves, God sent his son to pay the price for our sins; the sins we’ve committed in the past, those we commit today, and those we will commit in the future. (1 John 4:9)
  • God offers himself – because he loves, God makes a way for us to spend eternity in his presence. (Romans 10:9)

Notice these actions aren’t a once and done kind of thing. They are written in present tense, as God is living and active in our lives today. Now the call to action – because God loves, we ought to love one another. What are ways you can be patient with others, kind to others, rejoice in truth, bear others burdens, believe in others, hope with others and endure with others today? This is love.

What Really Matters

Today’s reading:  Colossians 2:16-23

I’ve been on vacation with my family this week in the north woods of Minnesota, a place we’ve gone to my entire life. As you would expect, being there together conjures up many memories of years past.  I’m sure for my parents, these memories bring a mix of emotions.  Some good and some bad.  For my sister and me however, the memories primarily bring laughter.  Either because enough years have passed that we don’t remember the heartaches, more likely because my parents successfully shielded us from a lot of the drama that came with church leadership.

My Dad was the senior pastor of our church since I was 3 years old. Things were a lot different back in the 1970s and 1980s.  For example, Mom’s rule about what we could wear to church – we had to wear skirts or dresses to church every Sunday morning.  The only exception was IF the temperature was below zero.  Then, and only then, were we allowed to wear slacks.  My Mom didn’t really believe that God cared about what we were wearing, but she thought the rule helped teach us to bring our best to God.  Throughout my childhood, I can only remember one such occasion.  The weather was brutal.  Funny thing is – I don’t remember lobbying my Mom to stay home out of the frigid central Illinois wind, or being grateful slacks would keep me warm on my way to worship Jesus, rather I simply relished the opportunity to show off my stylish green plaid slacks!  While her rule was rooted in good intention, it didn’t really bring us closer to Jesus.

Other than the fun I’ve had reflecting on old times, why do I tell you this story? There are several of similarities to our text today in Colossians 2.  Paul instructed the Colossian Christians not to let anyone judge them by what they ate or drank because Christ had set them free.  While Old Testament law, religious festivals and ceremonies may have brought them closer to Christ, they were simply a means to an end.  In verse 17 Paul called them a shadow of what was to come.  After Jesus came and gave his life to atone for sin, faith in him became the only thing that really mattered.

Today, nothing has changed. Faith in Jesus Christ is still the only thing that matters.  The Bible talks about a variety of activities and practices that are aimed at assisting us in our walk with Jesus.  Please do not mistake them as a substitute for a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Attending Church, praying and serving others, for example, are all good practices that can help bring us closer to Jesus and other Christfollowers.  In the end, they are meaningless if Jesus is not in our heart.

Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matthew 7:22-23).

Humble Yourself

Today’s reading:  James 4:6-12

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (James 4:6-10).

Have you ever read the book Humble Inquiry – The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, by Edgar H. Schein (2013)?  I read it a couple of years ago when I took on a new leadership role.  The teams I had taken over included a good number of the most well-tenured subject matter experts on our product lines and supporting processes.  Essentially my very first job in the department was to lead four teams who knew way more than I did.  It was a daunting task.

Schein defines Humble Inquiry as – the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person. He outlined a simplistic three-step process to implement this method:

  1. Do less telling.
  2. Learn to do more asking in the particular form of Humble Inquiry.
  3. Do a better job of listening and acknowledging.

Almost two years in, I’m happy to report I am a believer in the art of humble inquiry. The secret to the method is to be vulnerable enough to let others see your heart.  Getting them to understand the motive behind your actions – to build a trust relationship to help achieve common objectives – is not a fast process.  I’ve found, however, it is worth the investment.

Similarly, in our text for today, James guides his readers on how to build a trust relationship with God to achieve common objectives.

  1. Humble yourself before God – yield to his authority, let him help you make wise choices and avoid many pitfalls. Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).
  2. Resist the devil – unlike God, remember Satan doesn’t have your best interest in mind. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
  3. Purify your heart – replace your desire to sin with a desire to be pure before God. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:22-23).
  4. Be truly sorry for your sins – express remorse for what you have done. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Corinthians 7:10).
  5. Bow down before the Lord – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

Building a trust relationship with God isn’t fast either, but it is definitely worth the investment.  The good news is God already has it figured out. He will be by our side and help us every step of the way.  We just need to trust and obey.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act
(Psalm 37:3-5).

Unity

 

Today’s reading:  Mathew 24:32-35, Mark 13:28-29, Luke 21:29-31, Psalm 133

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity (Psalm 133:1).

Did you and your spouse light a unity candle at your wedding? I’m not sure if this is still a wedding tradition or not (it might not have made it past the 1900’s).  Nevertheless, it is still a good illustration – at the beginning of the wedding ceremony, a representative from each family (usually the mothers of the bride and groom) light the two taper candles. Later in the ceremony (usually after the formal vows), the bride and groom use the two taper candles to light the large pillar (unity) candle together.  Lighting the unity candle, and blowing out the separate taper candles, represents two lives being joined together as one.

As I was writing this post, I was thinking about the day B.J. and I got married. I think we lit a unity candle in our wedding, but I honestly can’t remember.  This morning I went downstairs to my storage room to see if I could find a picture.  After nearly breaking my neck trying to navigate the mess that is our storage room, I quickly gave up.  After twenty-four years of marriage B.J. and I are pretty unified whether or not we lit a dumb candle or not.  We both still love Jesus and share a common purpose – to glorify him with our lives.  But you know what?  We still disagree and bicker over a lot of relatively unimportant issues (like a messy rooms).  If not kept in check, our disagreement can take over, and will eventually lead to division.  Even the strongest of relationships are not immune from this risk.

In Psalm 133, as well as many other places throughout the scriptures, the church is called to Unity. It sounds good, but have you ever thought about why it is so important?  As I was reading and preparing for this post, a few key thoughts hit home for me.  These points are relevant to unity in the church as well as unity in our relationships.

Unity is theologically critical

Jesus Christ is the center of our faith. He is the way.  If we are not united on this foundational truth, everything else we stand for becomes meaningless.

Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live (1 Corinthians 8:6).

It is a powerful witness

A church unified around the mission of spreading the gospel is powerful. Satan knows the best way to keep a church from fulfilling its mission is to get people arguing over non-essentials, turning their focus inward, and losing their evangelistic passion.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21).

Unity sounds easy, but is incredibly hard to achieve and maintain. How do we do it?  While easier said than done, a few key suggestions from God’s word:

Keep Jesus Christ at the center

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Be humble, gentle and patient, bear with one another in love

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Lost

Today’s reading:  Luke 15:4-7, Psalm 121

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.  Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:4-7).

Our text for today begins in verse 4 of Luke 15. In order to understand Jesus’ message in context of what was going on, however, we really need to go back to the first 3 verses of Luke 15.  The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling at Jesus because he was interacting with sinners.  Jesus’ message to the religious leaders through the parable of the lost sheep was not just that it was permissible to interact with sinners, but that rescuing sinners was his core mission.  It was his entire purpose.

Would you take time to reflect with me on three primary truths from this parable?

Sin separates us from God – Like sheep separated from their shepherd, separation from God is a dangerous place for us to be. We need a good shepherd, a savior.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

Jesus chose to make a way for us, even though we don’t deserve it – The shepherd didn’t despise his straying sheep, neither does Jesus despise sinners. He willingly sacrificed his own life to make a way for us to be reconciled to God.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:14-18).

God celebrates when sinners repent – The shepherd didn’t punish the sheep who had gone astray, rather he called his friends and neighbors to celebrate the sheep’s homecoming. Similarly, God isn’t up there waiting to drop the hammer on us for all the wrongs we’ve committed.  His greatest desire is for us to be in fellowship with him.  He sent Jesus as the sacrifice to make that happen.  All of Heaven rejoices every time a sinner declares faith in Jesus Christ.

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found.  Was blind, but now I see.  – John Newton, 1779

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl

 

Today’s reading:  Matthew 13:45-46, Psalm 109

When he was younger, my son Freddy loved to collect things. Whether it was Thomas the Tank Engine trains, Cars Movie cars, Baukugan cards or Pokemon cards, he was crazy about them.  I bought hundreds of these things over the years!  I’m happy to tell you that today, for Freddy Armstrong’s 14th birthday, none of these dumb toys are included in his birthday gifts.  I’m glad that I’m no longer wasting my money on junk that I’ll eventually pitch after I’ve stepped on it for the 100th time.  Even so, I will miss seeing the pure joy in Freddy’s eyes as we sit around the dinner table watching him open his gifts tonight.  As a teenager, Freddy no longer passionately rips the packaging off his gifts and frantically searches to find the “rare and valuable” treasures hidden within.

Our passage in Matthew 13 – The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl, reminds me a little of Freddy Armstrong and his birthday toys. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45-46). The merchant was desperately searching to find what he considered the most rare and valuable treasure.  When he found it, he gave everything he had to make it his own.

Jesus didn’t tell this story to remind us children would be delighted with toys. Rather, like every other passage in the Bible, this story points us to the character of Jesus.  We are so valuable to him, Jesus gave up everything he had to make us his own.  He left his rightful place in heaven to come to earth, lived alongside dirty, sinful humans, and eventually gave his life as a sacrifice to pay the price for our sins.

[Christ Jesus] who, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).

Thank you Jesus for searching until you found us.  Thank you for your sacrifice.  The joy we find in watching broken, sinful people be reconciled to God through faith in you will never grow old!

Parable of the Moneylender

Today’s reading:  Luke 7:41-43, Psalm 97

In Luke 7, Jesus is having dinner at the house of Simon the Pharisee.  A sinful woman from the town comes to Jesus, washes his feet with her tears, pours perfume on them, kisses them, and wipes them with her hair.  Simon is disgusted.  He uses the situation to challenge Jesus’ authority, saying if he was really a prophet he would know who the woman was and would distance himself from her.  Jesus, in turn, uses the parable of the moneylender to teach Simon a lesson.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said (Luke 7:41-43).

The sinful woman knew she desperately needed Jesus, showing her great love for him by washing his feet.  Simon, on the other hand, saw himself as a righteous man who dutifully followed the law of Moses.  Simon didn’t feel like he really needed Jesus, or any other Savior for that matter.

The main point of Jesus’ parable about the moneylender is this – your love for your Savior is directly proportional to your understanding of how badly you need Him.  See verse 47 – Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little (Luke 7:47).”  My question for you today is – how bad do you think you need Jesus? Have you ever looked at your neighbor, compared your sins to his, and walked away thinking you are a pretty good person or at least not as bad as other guy?  I have.  This parable is a good reminder –

All sins separate us from God, not just the really big stuff.  Accordingly, Romans 6:23 applies to all sins when it tells us “the wages of sin is death”.  In God’s economy, none of us measure up to his perfect standards on our own.  We all need Jesus.  It is only through his sacrifice on the cross for our sins that we can be acceptable to God.

And this is the testimony that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:11-12).

https://vimeo.com/20021457

Copycat

Today’s reading:  Matthew 7:7-8, Psalm 85

In 1988 my sister, Amanda Beasley, went away to college in eastern Tennessee. When she came home for fall break just a couple months into her freshman year, I could already detect a southern drawl in her speech.  The longer she stayed in Tennessee, the more pronounced it became.

A year and a half later, when I was a senior in high school, my parents let me go on spring break with my sister and her two friends.  As I look back on it now, I’m not sure what they were thinking.  They let me (their 17 year-old daughter at the time) take a week off of school, drive to Tennessee to pick up my sister and two friends, go to Florida for their spring break, then stay in Tennessee for another week on my high school spring break.  I was just a few months away from college myself, so maybe this was one way to prepare me for being on my own?  Or, I am a boring rule-follower, but my sister is not.  While she was having a blast as a college sophomore, maybe they sent me down to put a damper on some of her fun?  Most likely it was because I was a super snotty 17 year old girl and this was their chance to get a two week break from me.  Whatever the case, it was crazy fun.  But do you know what happened to me over those two weeks?  I picked up the southern drawl.  After two solid weeks with these girls, I naturally started to sound like them!

In our scripture today, Jesus directs us to make requests of God though prayer. Why?  Why would a God who is completely omniscient ask us to pray?  Does he need us to let him know what is going on down here on Earth?  Do you think he wants our input on what action to take?  Do you think he is just lonely?  None of these reasons make sense, as every one of them goes against who we know God to be.  He is all powerful and all knowing, perfect in every way.  He does not need our time or our money to accomplish his purposes.

The purpose of communication with God through prayer is not to change circumstances, it is to change us.  As a teenager, I started sounding like my sister and friends after spending just two weeks with them.  It is the same with God.  The more time we spend with him, the more we will start to sound like him.  The more time we spend with him, the more natural it will be to seek his ways instead of our own.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).

 

As You Wish

Today’s reading:  Matthew 6:10, Psalm 73

As you wish – a formal expression of agreement to something, especially with the connotation that one does not really agree (Wiktionary).

Do you remember the movie The Princess Bride (1987)?  If you do, I suspect you thought of it when you read the title of my post today.  This fairy tale adventure is about a beautiful young woman (Buttercup) and a farm boy (Westley).  Throughout the story, Westley responds to Buttercup’s every command with the words “as you wish”.  Over and over again, his completely submissive approach led him to endure many ridiculous challenges until he was finally able to save Buttercup, his one true love, from an evil kingdom.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbX1U1tx9aw

This is really a pretty dumb movie, but I love it nonetheless.  (I know some of you do too!)  Does today’s passage in Matthew 6:10 feel a little bit like the phrase “as you wish”?  Like we are resigning ourselves to fate, or perhaps just formally agreeing to something that isn’t really what we want?  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

In this verse, Jesus suggested that we pray for God’s perfect purpose to be accomplished.  As our creator, God knows what is best for us and has a plan for our lives.  He designed everything to work together for good and to bring glory to him.  Is there ever a situation where you wouldn’t agree with that?  God’s plans do not promise happiness, but they do promise hope and purpose.  When left to my own devices, I could never come up with a plan that is better than the omniscient, perfect creator of the universe.  I pray his will be done.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

Substance over Form

Today’s reading:  Matthew 5:21-26, Psalm 61

Substance over form is an accounting principle used to help ensure that financial statements give a complete, relevant, and accurate picture of an organization’s transactions and events. The root of this principle is in accounting theory, but it applies to so much more than financial statements.  In fact, I challenge my team with this quite often – are we more interested in looking like we “follow the rules”, or are we truly committed making informed decisions that are in the best interest of our customer?  Almost every time, the answer is the latter.  We are responsible for looking below the surface, making sure the substance of our decision is rooted in our company mission and shared values.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he often taught through the use of parables. If his audience didn’t pay attention to the substance over simply the form of his teaching in this method, or had hardened hearts, they couldn’t understand his message.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5, was different. It was much more straightforward, as Jesus categorically outlined key principles for leading a Godly life.  Jesus began our passage for today in Matthew 5:21 by quoting the law of Moses – Do not commit murder.  If we stopped right here, most of us would walk away feeling okay about ourselves.  I have never even come close to taking the life of another person, so I’m good on this principle, right?  Not so fast.  We must stop and reflect – like the Pharisees, are we more interested looking like we “follow the rules”, or are we committed to Jesus and are we passionate about changing our hearts to look like his?  If the latter, we must go beyond the first sentence of this passage to get to the substance of this message.

In the very next verse, Jesus dug deeper and shared context on the true purpose behind God’s law against murder. “But I say to you, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council.  And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).  The substance of Jesus’ message isn’t simply on the physical act of murder, it is about anger.  Hmm…that hits a little closer to home.

Jesus did not say that anger itself is sin. In fact, we can be angry without sinning, as Jesus himself demonstrated (see the story of Jesus and the money changers in John 2).  It is what we choose to do with anger and what we choose to do because of anger that makes it sinful.  Unresolved anger and bitterness eventually lead us to intentionally harm the people who made us angry, which is sin.  Even if we never get to the point of actually taking action, however, harboring anger in our heart is still sin because it draws a wedge in our relationship with others and our relationship with God.  We cannot claim to love God while we hate other people.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen (1 John 4:20).

Do you struggle with unresolved anger? Don’t gloss over the substance of these verses thinking they don’t apply to you.  Will you consider the counsel in verses 23 and 24, and make it a priority to reconcile with the person(s) that caused your anger?  It isn’t easy, but God promises to make a way (Isaiah 43:16).