When Jesus speaks of the perfect life, He is very clear: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” -Luke 10:27. In perfect love, God desires our wellbeing, our fellowship and obedience.
Obedience is a hard word for me to hear, let alone to say or do! But obedience to God’s precepts ultimately make us better, stronger, healthier and happier. God’s law is no longer imposed, but encouraged in love. It’s not offered in oppression, but in freedom from sin through a life of tangible fellowship with the Creator of the Universe. Obedience to a perfect God is to seek the love Jesus speaks of.
Love gets more complicated when we are concerned for our well being, when others threaten our way of life, our freedom or interests. This is when we must chose between our own understanding or trusting God.
I am fascinated by the intensity of the discourse after this very unusual and surprising election. I have had to remind myself that God is eternally sovereign and we are not.
Living out our faith is about love in action, showing love without favoritism, loving the unlovable, practicing grace and gratitude. It is helpful to recognize our hypocrisy and self-righteousness, avoiding demagoguery, so easily embraced.
Personal spiritual transformation is the true source of social change. It is born in Love. God’s Spirit guides us. There is no other way.
God is sovereign and everything, even political power, comes from Him or is allowed by Him.
We have a lifetime of opportunity to live out values like kindness, humility, forgiveness, bravery, sacrifice, integrity, generosity, and compassion. We might easily claim these as our own, and overlook them in others, but love is the champion of justice and truth.
More than anything Jesus is saying to me, “trust God, surrender all to Him and love each other like there is no tomorrow.”
Perhaps John Lennon had it right; “all you need is love!”
You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.-Psalm 18:28
After wrestling with the idea of righteousness, it turns out it wasn’t exactly what I thought. Mostly I believed righteousness was what God required from us to be worthy of His fellowship and our salvation. But how righteous did we need to be? Holiness was impossible and if the standard was anything less, how would anyone determine where that line was drawn?
I believed we were all called to pursue righteousness, but there was a different kind of righteousness, the one that Jennifer clearly described in yesterday’s Bible Journal. It wasn’t the kind that came from discipline or hard work, though they both offered rewards. It was the kind that came from faith, something that comes easy for a child; from the kind of faith that we discover in moments of helplessness, when we surrender to One far greater. This was the righteousness that came from our belief in the existence of a God who loved us so much he took on flesh and allowed himself to be murdered for our un-righteousness. This was the righteousness that came by the grace.
In today’s text (Romans 4:6-8) Paul talks about grace, quoting scripture: “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). He also shares David’s proclamation from Psalm 32:1-2 about the blessing from receiving undeserved righteousness. Abraham received this blessing and was credited righteousness by faith, not only Abraham but his descendants, and not only his biological descendants, but his spiritual descendants, for “….He is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16).
I find it fascinating that the message of the gospel, this “new covenant,” was anticipated from the beginning of time. It is mentioned throughout scripture, and offered to all humanity. Jesus’s disciples shared this message of grace and hope to both the Jews and Gentiles of their day, and to us. They offered compelling evidence found in the teachings of the Old Testament and from their personal experience with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And thier message is still alive today: Jesus lives, God is real and through Jesus, God’s Holy Spirit manifests in millions of lives that are remarkably transformed each day throughout the world.
If an old man with a barren wife, to whom God appears and blesses with children is credited righteousness for his faith, What does that mean for us? A little faith goes a long way with God, faith that He is even willing to provide to us if we ask!
Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart. They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways. Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments. I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments. I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. – Psalm 119: 1-11
To me the law is a beautiful thing. It is full of judgement, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23-24). The law is love written on our hearts (Romans 13:10, Hebrews 8:10). In my estimation, so that we are hardwired with the ability to love others with the love of Jesus Christ. Like an operating system for our soul, when we divert from the law and choose not to love another, the system gets confused and pushes back; “processing, processing, processing…” God reboot my soul, reset my system anew with love. My soul longs for it. God’s law leads me, directs me, governs me and to the extent that I accept this truth, seek after it and hold to it moment-by-moment, my soul is at rest in the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Still from time to time I encounter a sort of push back amongst Christians when the phase God’s law is used. For some the word law carries with it evil connotations of the very worst sort. To the extent the word ‘law’ or phrase ‘God’s law’ is perceived as an enemy of love. A fear arises in some that God’s law will push non-believers away. The phase “old testament god” is used, as if there were such a thing. God is God and has always been, no shadow of turning (James 1:17, Hebrews 13:8). Oh how this saddens me. I hate this perversion of my Master’s holiness. My anger is with the evil that has managed to redefine the meaning of the word law through hypocrisy.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. – Matthew 23:23–24
Gnats and camels alike where considered unclean. Camels were likely the largest unclean thing while gnats were likely among the smallest. Religious leaders would strain out gnats before drinking wine to be sure to uphold the law and not unknowingly consume something unclean. Jesus here describes a rather comical situation. Imagine watching someone meticulously straining wine through a linen to “be sure” to uphold the law in every way, the whole time a camels is somehow sitting in their cup, which they then gulp down proudly.
In my estimation, Jesus here criticizes the religious leaders for their blinding attention to detail that caused them to lead others astray from the truth of the law. My prayer is that the Pharisees’ and hypocrites’ perversions of the law will be untwisted and made straight. That we may dismiss the worldly definition of God’s law, wave God’s banner and return to the truth, proclaiming a biblical definition of His law. That we would all fall in love with God’s beautiful law. That we would never be deceived into a judgemental nor self righteous nature. That we would not be fear-driven conditional lovers and so pervert God’s law. That any inner Pharisees within us would be vanquished by God’s truth (Psalm 139:23-24).
Judgement is not about one person assessing another’s keeping of the law but rather the law helping one keep their own affairs in order (Isaiah 1:17, Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:9–10; Micah 6:8; Habakkuk 2:4). Praise God for writing His law on our hearts that we may live abundantly (Jeremiah 31:31-34)!
Keeping the law is beautiful
Straining out the gnat is not evil in any way. Jesus makes it clear that we should do it (Matthew 23:23). His criticism is that the Pharisees had done it to the dismissal of things that were more important and where lost thinking they had not only kept the law but kept the finer points that others had missed.
Loving the LORD thy God with all one’s heart and soul and mind and desiring to do His will in all things; Beautiful. Thinking one’s self capable of judging another’s love for God; Ugly. Deep concern for one’s own stewardship; Wise. Being overly concerned for someone else’s; Foolish.
Judgement is a gift from God to help us with our stewardship. Let us not pervert this gift by trying to unwrap it for another. Instead let us rejoice in it, praising God for His gift to us in humility as we are judged in grace and mercy to the glory of God as we are made whole and mature in Christ (1 John 4:17).
Let us also consider the inverse. If we pass by and see another straining out a gnat and think, “that hypocrite” are we not in judgement of another? By straining a gnat have they judged another? If so how is one to obey Jesus command to let their light shine? (Matthew 5:16)
Shine Your light oh LORD and vanquish darkness. Here is truth about the law:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. – Ecclesiastes 12:13
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. – John 13:34–35
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:10
Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. – Matthew 22:36–40
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. – Matthew 7:12
Golden Rule thought experiment on the power of God’s law in love
Scripture: Matthew 7:12, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ephesians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 13:5
God gives us a simple and basic, at the most fundamental level, instruction on how to keep the law well. Many call it the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). I say it is most fundamental because it is by way of that which we are most intimate with than any other; ourselves. We know exactly how we should like to be treated and regarded and so forth. Even if not consciously, subconsciously we are hardwired to love ourselves well. Follow along for one simple illustration of this truth. We know that love thinketh no evil or, put another way, keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).
What if we were to apply how we feel about ourselves in this matter on to others? In order to explore this question I encourage you to join me in a thought experiment on your being wrong. Popular exercise, I know.
Name a time when you were wrong; no excuses, no circumstances at work that were out of your control, no anything but you and your wrongness hanging out being wrong.
Let’s say you came up with something. Then let us go to how long it took to recall. Checking all those excuse boxes may have taken a bit of time. Well that one wasn’t really all my fault, etc. So how long did it take you to recall?
Now think back to the first time you had admitted you were wrong in this instance. Think on how quickly and completely you forgave yourself. Did it even take a second? Did it really even register?
Is not love a beautiful thing?!?! Praise God that His law is written on our hearts! (Jeremiah 31:31-34) His forgiveness, His grace and His mercy are written on our hearts!!! The questions then become, does it take you as long to come up with something someone close to you has done wrong? Has it taken you more than a second to dismiss it from your mind?
The point here is that our love of ourselves is much nearer perfection in fulfilling the law than our love for our fellows. God has written it on our hearts to help us, to enable us for the good work He has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). How can we not fall in love with His law? Is it not beautiful? Does it not equip us to save souls and rescue others from bondage as it all the time rescues us from a hopeless existence with ourselves? God Your beauty is unimaginable! Your goodness unsearchable! Your ways are beyond me my God and my redeemer! Praise Your Name!
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” A second angel followed and said, “’Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.” -Revelation 14:6-8
The Book of Revelation is mystical and strange, but there is no mystery that it proclaims the glory of God over all. And like the entire Bible, it draws constant attention to God’s holiness and the importance of seeking restoration with God before the final day of judgement.
Lately I have wrestled with bad behavior of others which has both surprised and disappointed me. Fortunately, now, when I observe this “bad behavior,” I am learning to see myself, like in a mirror, one that I am not afraid to look at anymore.
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.-Matthew 7:5
In the interest of time, due to a crazy week of home improvement colliding with travel plans on both ends and lots of work related opportunity and challenge (as usual); I have selected a page from the epilogue of a book I hope to be releasing next year.
I am able to speak with authority about selfishness and self righteousness, because I have struggled with this disease my entire life, and still do. What I am certain of is this: anytime my focus is more on me than on God or others, I am heading for trouble. This happens time and time again. Fortunately I have been rescued by God, and in His power I have hope of restoration, through the blood of Jesus Christ.
God please grant me the faith and power to surrender my will to yours. Amen.
Here is a page from “Wisdom of The Hidden Places; A Search For God”
American writer John W. Gardner once wrote: “Self pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it gives pleasure and separates the victim from reality.” Eventually I came to see that any focus on self, unchecked, was profoundly destructive, the basis for all that was evil; the very foundation of sin! Slowly, over time, I began to emerge from the poisonous fog of self obsession, trying to escape the prison of my narcissism — my alternative reality.
I was a cultural Christian drowning in the spiritual hydraulic of my narcissism only to be rescued by a collaboration of principled atheists and agnostics, true believers and the Holy Spirit. God was everywhere, even in the places he was not invited or rejected. His Spirit didn’t have to be embraced or even acknowledged, but it couldn’t be denied.
My story is not the proclamation of personal holiness, or a testimony of some great spiritual achievement, it is rather a story about a lost boy who struggled to find the love of an earthly father, who wrestled with grief, personal power and other powers while learning how to love.
I found my Heavenly Father in the end, but in no way do I consider myself better than anyone I have met along the way — I remain a sinner. The difference is this — I have been set free from my slavery to sin and have chosen to follow the righteous path; and only in God’s power, not my own, did this journey became possible.(Romans 6:6)
Through my father’s struggles and mine; and in the struggles of my children to find their place with God, I learned who I was, and who I was meant to be. As I began to rest more and more in God’s perfect will, I was less inclined to over-reach for the things of this world. That’s when everything finally started to fall into place. The more I learned to trust God, the greater my peace and joy. Situations that had once caused anxiety were now turning into anticipated opportunities to see God’s hand in my life.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin… -1John 1: 5-7
Eighteen years ago I met a person who changed my life. She’s different from me in ways that I continue to discover. Last April she went on a mission trip to Haiti, the same week I went to a convention in Las Vegas for my niche in commercial real estate — my mission trip.
My wife isn’t perfect, no one but God can claim that; but if there was anyone more perfect for me, I couldn’t imagine. I often recall a Seinfeld episode that contrasts the bodies of women to men; as sleek sports cars compared to battered old jeeps. That’s not all, she is absolutely stunning, and what is truly remarkable is that her beauty emanates from the inside. It is there that her spirit of grace and gratitude is found, forged in her tireless efforts to bring peace and stability to my tumultuous life, and blessing to others in greater need. Her examples of discipline, self control, patience and tolerance have been a light in my life, one that has helped illuminate the path to the cross, through her gentle spirit and long suffering encouragement.
When I think of how God encourages us through His word, to walk in the light, I think of her. She embodies the fruit of the spirit in ways I’m still just trying to understand. She loves the light — not the spotlight. At this point I’m not even certain that she will allow me to share whatever it is I end up writing about this sweet, quiet, person of character, who serves others with dignity and respect. Her humility and hesitance to speak too loud, too long, or poorly about another person has been the perfect compliment to my rambling, “old school” stories, mostly about me or the great people I claim to have known.
Her trip to Haiti, along with friends from two different (Eastview Church) small groups (ones that we have been privileged to grow with over thirteen years) helped point me to Jesus, just like her many other demonstrations of faith. Despite physical challenges, fairly rugged conditions, and taking time away from our son whom she loves so so well, she served others in need. Being part of a wave of missionaries who have slowly and faithfully helped establish a church, a school, and adequate housing for numerous families, was in her words, “an honor and a privilege.” Upon her return she shared this; “These people who have so little, were so grateful, just for our presence, let alone the gifts of homes and goats and more. These were people filled with abundant joy in the simplicity of lives that would be considered marginal by American standards. They found sustenance in their fellowship with God and with others. It was so humbling how they offered us prayers and love, for the challenges we faced seeking God amidst the abundant, worldly pleasures, of our affluent western culture.”
In Haiti, she experienced the needs of young children who just wanted to be held; and was shocked how “the Americans” who came to serve were treated with such honor. She received their gift of faith; as I did hers. Never have I had a better friend! When I grow up, I want to be more like Heather.
Throughout the Bible we are told, warned and even rebuked not to judge others. Here in Romans chapter 14 we are again commanded not to judge our fellows. This time Apostle Paul takes a logical approach as to explaining our deficiency in ability to judge others. It is almost as if he hopes to stop us from even going there. Telling us “you will fail at it, let me explain.”
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. -Romans:14:4
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. -Romans:14:13-14
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. -Romans:14:17
For whatsoever is not of faith is sin. -Romans:14:23b
C.S Lewis puts it this way:
That is why Christians are told not to judge others. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it.
The truth here is, in my estimation, that we were not built to weigh how the Spirit’s call applies to another and therefore are not capable of judging another. The Spirit moves in one direction but calls out to those in many places. These places are not physical but spiritual and so we, only perceiving the physical of another, can not judge. God may we realize this truth and may it serve as a deterrent to save us, so that we might be forgiven.
From our past reading of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant Jesus tells us the dynamics surrounding not forgiving our fellows having received forgiveness from God. When the King forgave the servant his debt it was obviously not about the money. If it were simply the money, what the servant owed the King, what the servant did after it had been forgiven would have no bearing on the matter. But what happened after the servant was forgiven did matter and so we know it was not about the money, the tangible, it was the principle of the matter, the intangible.
The King was giving the servant an intangible gift that unfortunately the servant did not really receive. The gift was meant to renew the servant’s mind. To change what he believed. But when the King found out the servant was collecting debts harshly, He knew the renewal of the servant’s mind had not taken place and so the tangible was gift was revoked and the penalty attached to it reinstated.
This link between the intangible and the tangible is the point today. Take Jesus’s sermon on the mount. It was all about the intangibles. You have heard [tangible], but I say [intangible]. You have heard “Thou shalt not kill” but I say “whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment”. Blessed are the meek (intangible) for they shall inherit the earth (tangible). Jesus makes it clear that it is now about the heart and He made it clear that He knows our hearts. And the people were amazed because the word had become flesh and the word is sharper than any two-edged sword able to separate the soul from the spirit and able to judge the intentions of the heart. Jesus shows up and it becomes a matter of the heart.
From today’s reading Apostle Paul warns and even rebukes the religious who are looking down on and judging others; if the intangible is not present, the tangible will neither be.
Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? -Romans 2:1-4
This word repentance here μετάνοια, means the changing of one’s mind. In my estimation Apostle Paul is basically saying; “If you truly understood and accepted God’s gift, your mind would be renewed and you would not judge others.”
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. -Romans 2:5
God may we receive Your good gifts in truth and may they renew our minds in Christ Jesus. Would you bless us in this way God? Thank You God! You are good! Amen.
In Matthew 18 Jesus tells a story of a King who calls to account his people, finding among them a debtor. The debtor unable to pay. His sum too great to bear; he begs for mercy promising to pay all. The King moved, forgives all and sets him free. What a beautiful story.
Until one day some of the King’s servants bring report of a great atrocity. The debtor had been found giving no mercy to those who owed him little. Upon receiving this report the King seized the debtor and handed him over to the tormentors. What a shame.
Had the debtor not received mercy to extend on? Had his debts not been forgiven? Should not margin abound so that he could extend mercy too? It does not make sense to me why he would act this way. Perhaps, could he have had trouble receiving the freedom? Could it have been because he didn’t really believe he’d been forgiven that he turned so ruthlessly in the shadow of his great grace to collect? How could this be? What a tragedy. He had it all!
I recall the first time I read the Parable of the Prodigal Son and realized who I was in the story. It hit me quite hard. So hard I had a defensive response to laugh at my grand oversight. I suppose it was one of those ‘laugh or cry moments’ and I took the weaker way, not wanting to face straight on to wretchedness deep in my heart.
The Bible is full of lessons for us that come through stories. When we read of a protagonist, let us not be too quick to say, ‘that’s me alright’, but instead might we say “how can I become more like them”? When we read through the proverbs let us not be too quick to give ourselves a pat on the back that could end up deep in our hearts. Let us be careful what we believe for out of our hearts’ come the issues of life. More still, when we read of an antagonist let us not be too quick to dismiss; asking from the outside looking in saying ‘how could they?’ Instead, let us look from the inside out and say ‘how could I have?’ Then we go deeper. What is God teaching us? Who are you in the today’s story?
Oh God please forgive me of my wickedness, would You? LORD that I would even notice offenses towards me from others, which are so little and insignificant, within the shadow of Your beautiful and perfect and steadfast forgiveness of my great wickedness, pains my soul. God if you leave me to myself I will continue in my wickedness. Oh God, would You please rescue me from myself? God would you please help me extend a measure of the Grace You afford me for Your Namesake? God would You please be gentle with me for I am weak? I ask this in Jesus Name. Thank You God! You are good and worthy of all praise! Amen.
From today’s reading, after the king receives the tragic report:
Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. – Matthew 18: 32-34
From Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount:
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. – Matthew 6:12
The first thing Jesus Says after the Sermon on the Mount:
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. -Matthew 6:14–15
On the benefit of believing and understanding the gravity of the truth; that we are who God says we are: sinners deserving of all tournament; and that God is who He says He is: our Redeemer; and that Jesus can do what He says he can do: save us.
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; -Ephesians 3:8