Greater Love

April 14, 2017 – Good Friday
greater love
Read:  John 15:9 – 17, NIV
Focus:  v. 13, NIV

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 

In the midst of preparing these devotionals for this Lenten season, I remarked to our pastor that these devotionals are getting deeper and deeper theologically. He agreed with me. The one I was thinking of was this particular portion of Scripture where Jesus is directly speaking to the soon to be enacted events that took place during the Passover. This is so pointed and poignant; filled with meaning and pathos. I love Christmas and the stories from the Bible about it because that is sort of where it all started but Easter and the event leading up to it are at the top of my list because this is the culmination of why Jesus came as that tiny infant.

Love, real love, is at the center of this. This is love that is totally based on the Source of love – even more than that, it is based on LOVE, Itself! I did not use the word “Itself” lightly. Love is a person, a being. This is the Being – God – who created us and who has interacted with us down through the ages to show His love, His being, to us. Love, and the proof of that love, is preeminent throughout this portion. In here Jesus speaks of His relationship with His Father – God and His Father’s relationship with Him as being that of love. He brings it home to each of His disciples, including us, just how much that love is really at the center of everything we are and do and of who he is and what He does.

Twice in this short passage Jesus emphasizes what our relationship with each other is to be (see vv. 12 and 17). He even puts it as a command to emphasize its tremendous importance. I wonder sometimes how well we fulfill that command. I suspect you wonder also. This is of such importance that the beloved disciple, John, also reiterates it in his short letters. Is it any wonder that John’s writings are so beloved by most believers? I am struggling not to write a complete series of sermons right here and right now! Isn’t love at the center of God’s Word to us? John 3:16 puts it quite succinctly for all of us. So much so, that I don’t even have the need to quote it here. You are already remembering that verse in your own heart and mind.

It is time now to focus on our focus verse, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13, NIV). Jesus is making a statement here that he reiterates in succeeding verses about friendship rather than servanthood. Friends are privy to much more of the personal life of another friend. Things are shared back and forth between friends that would not be shared with a co-worker or servant or employee. They have their function or place in our life but do not have the same privileges with us that a friend has. Jesus appears to be inviting them into His inner circle, a place previously reserved only for His relationship with His Father, God. The statement made is indicating the importance of His relationship with them. He is willing, and will, die for them. They really do not understand this yet but later on they will grasp the depth of this whole conversation. John is writing this after nearly 60 years of pondering under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit. The depth here is amazing.

Even more for us is the fact that this is not meant just for the initial group of disciples but is applicable to all who believe and thus become not servants but Friends of Jesus. My landlord, while attending Roberts Wesleyan College, was a Free Methodist evangelist who ministered for many years in Kansas and throughout the Midwest. His name was Rev. Warren Chase, and he had tremendous impact on my life during the almost 3 years I had the privilege of being around him. His favorite hymn was, “Friendship with Jesus.” It is an old one that is not often found in hymnals of today. Some lines from the chorus are: “Friendship with Jesus, Fellowship divine; O what wondrous sweet communion, Jesus is a Friend of Mine!” Aren’t you glad that Jesus is a Friend to you? If you do not yet know Him as your friend then it is my prayer that you would have that relationship with Him.

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In the Midst of Sin

March 18, 2017 – Saturday
perfect
Read:  Romans 5:6 – 8
Focus:  v. 8

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Someday, when I am a better person, I will start going to church. Someday, when I get rid of all my bad habits, I will feel I can accept Christ as my Savior. Have you ever heard someone say similar things when you brought up the idea of them attending church with you or accepting Christ as their Savior? The idea is that when they get to be a better person then they will turn to God. The problem is that it is impossible to become a better person so you can then be on the same level, spiritually, as God Himself. You can’t, I can’t, and neither can anyone else. It is only God who can place us in that relationship with Him by removing all that prevents us from standing before Him.

Each of my children has expressed to me how they felt they could never measure up and be perfect so they could not become Christians or serve God. Somehow they got the idea that perfection was up to them to achieve BEFORE they could be in God’s presence. They tried but it didn’t work so they gave up. Later on they came to understand that this kind of perfection is not what God is asking of them. He initially just wants us to turn to Him to be our perfection by faith in Jesus Christ His Son.

The Apostle Paul makes it very clear in our scriptures for today that Christ died for the ungodly. We don’t have to wait until WE become perfect to stand in God’s presence. The truth is that’s what Jesus came to do for us. He died for our sins while we were still sinners. The truth is that all the efforts of all who have tried to live perfectly righteous lives by perfectly keeping all of God’s Law have failed and that is part of the purpose of the Law. It is to show us that we can’t do it on our own. Jesus Christ died to make it possible for each of us to come into God’s presence “just as if” (i.e., justified) we were perfectly righteous. We are covered over with Jesus’ “Robe of Righteousness” and that is all God sees. Jesus died to make it so. Our perfection before God is not a perfection of action but rather it is found in the intent of our heart to love and serve God in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit who enters in when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior. We can live life the way God intends when we allow His Spirit to be in charge.

While we were still sinners God made this possible. He did not wait until we were somehow “good enough” to stand before Him. Are you still striving to be “good enough” or are you faithfully depending on the finished work of Jesus Christ who died on the Cross for your sins and in reality for the sins of the whole world? Have you recognized that His death is working for you?

What Love Is

March 8, 2017 – Wednesday
Give
Read: 1 John 3:11-24
Focus: vs. 16

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

One of the reasons we honor our military men and women to such a high degree is because we know we are the recipients of their sacrifice. Thankfully, not all men and women who serve end up giving their life in that service but their courage and willingness to protect us, and our freedoms, should make us truly thankful. This is why the uniform often makes me think about Jesus and how he gave up his life for me.

The greatest sacrifice, the sacrifice of one’s life, is the kind of sacrifice John talks about in our passage. Jesus laid down his life for us. Go ahead and read the gospel accounts of the death of Jesus and you’ll see it was a sacrifice. Jesus went willingly to that cross to save us from our sins. That brings us to this discussion of what love is. John wants us to know that the sacrifice of Jesus was God’s act of love towards his creation. He did it to save us. The next question that comes to mind is how does John say we should show this same kind of love to those around us?

A sacrificial love towards one another is a sign of what God has done within us. John is teaching us about how we know God resides within us. Verses 11-15 talk about the absence of hate. Verses 16-18 talk about the kind of love that results in actions and truth. Verses 19-24 talk about how our hearts do not condemn us. Then he summarizes the lesson to be learned in verse 23: we follow his commands to believe in the name of Jesus and to love one another.

What is love? It’s sacrificial in nature. Verse 17 brings up an example of what we do when we see a brother or sister in need of material possessions that we have. Do we have pity on them or do we ignore them and think of our own needs first and as greater needs than theirs? There are a lot of soft-hearted people in the world who don’t know Jesus. There are those who have all sorts of good and sacrificial characteristics who have no relationship with God. But if you are a Christian, sacrificial love is a characteristic that God is fixing within you, even if you didn’t have it before asking Jesus into your heart. What is love? John wants you to know that loving like Jesus means sacrificing our own wants and desires to see that others have what they need.

Maybe you won’t be called upon to sacrifice your life for another but John wants you to know that giving to others and meeting their needs out of what God has given you is a way to love others sacrificially like Jesus loves you. This is love.

Day 28 – Love One Another

Tuesday – March 8, 2016

Day 28 – John 13:31-38 love

Focus: vss. 34-35

 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

One of my favorite things is to see the Church being the Church. What a joy to almost feel prideful when the church you serve really acts like the Church of Jesus Christ! I know it is not us but the Holy Spirit residing within us that makes that possible. It is so easy to get caught up in the sheer busy-ness of life so that we set everything else aside to accomplish what we think needs to be accomplished. Sadly, it is often our own desires that we feel need to be accomplished; our pet projects, our concerns with sometimes no regard for what concerns our Lord.

Recently I read on the internet how a church I once served has reached out to the hurting and even in the midst of their hurt have ministered to broken and hurting families. This is the kind of compassion our Lord wants His people to show. How did Jesus love? Whatever the answer to that might be it is the way we are to love others, especially others of like precious faith. How did Jesus love? He loved unreservedly with His whole being even unto death on a cross. He loved so completely that He gave up His glory with the Father to spend time on this earth and die such a cruel death just to show us the way, and to be the Way that we might have eternal life.

Do you think that if we loved each other like Jesus others would see that and want to be part of it? The latter part of Acts 2 would appear to indicate that. How do you love one another? Or, are you too caught up in trying to see if others love you, just like you love them, to actually see them as ones to really love with the love only Christ can give.

Prayer Focus: Lord Jesus, my heart is afflicted with sorrow for my lack of love not only for my brothers and sisters in Christ but sadly often there is a lack of real love for You. Forgive me and help me by Your Spirit to begin to grow more and more into being the loving brother or sister you want me to be. You are my Brother, Lord, and I so want to be faithful to your “new commandment” to love one another.  AMEN.

Day 5 – God’s Love Leads to Salvation

Sunday – February 14, 2016

Day 5 – John 3:1-21 Valentines.png

Focus: vss. 16-17

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Once a year we push everything else aside and celebrate Love – we call that day Valentine’s Day. It’s not so much fun when you’re single but when you are in a relationship it offers you the opportunity to be silly and romantic. We give cards and flowers and candy and we do special things for one another to show our love. Would you believe the number of marriage proposals that happen on Valentine’s Day? My wife and I got engaged on Christmas day but most proposals take place on Valentine’s Day. The number of proposals in 2013 was around 14 million with around 6 million of them happening on the Day of Love!

Let’s face it, there is enough hatred in this world that we need to think about Love as often as we can. I don’t think one day of romanticism and silliness is bad but it’s definitely not enough to overcome the bad we see in our world every day. It’s a moment of hope in a sea of despair. There is a deeper love that everyone can find this Valentine’s Day, whether you are single or in a relationship – it’s the love of God.

Our scripture passage for this day tells the story of Nicodemus, a Pharisee and Jewish Ruler, who comes to speak to Jesus under the cover of night. Jesus tells him that, in order to see the kingdom of God, he must be born again. Nicodemus was confused by but Jesus was talking about a spiritual rebirth. In response to Nicodemus’ line of questioning Jesus offers this response: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Jesus is God’s valentine to you – His gift of love. This valentine is offered not as a momentary romantic gesture or a card but as an eternal gift of salvation. It’s a marriage proposal, of sorts. God is saying, “Accept my gift and come live with me forever.”

The next verse after John 3:16 is an important one. It states the purpose of Jesus’ coming and it wasn’t to condemn the world but to save it. For some, Valentine’s Day is a day of rejection. It’s a day when they feel the loneliest – condemned to go through life alone. But, while John 3:16 is a reminder of God’s love, John 3:17 is a reminder of salvation rather than condemnation. This is the relationship that should matter the most.

Everyone deserves to be loved. If you’re feeling lonely this Valentine’s Day, look up John 3:16 and realize that God loves you so much that he thinks you’re worth saving. You are not alone – for the greatest love of your life is with you even now.

Prayer Focus: Dear Jesus, thank you for loving me. Thank you for your gift of salvation and your presence within my heart. Embrace my heart and love me as only God can. Amen.

Filled with His Living Love

12-23

13 “We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit, 14 and we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God, 16 and so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love, whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”

“Living in Love”!  Love!   This word is so overused in our society today that it has lost its true meaning.  We say we “love our car,” “our house,” “our clothes,” “our new ______,”  you fill in the blank.  Do we truly “love” these things, or is it really just a strong feeling of liking them?  To truly love there must be a reciprocating love, something inanimate objects cannot give.  A one sided love always creates problems, for when love is given but not returned an empty void is created in that relationship and feelings get hurt.

Myrna and I pledged our love for each other over 59 years ago, and that pledge with a reciprocating love has helped hold us together over these years.  You ask “has it been easy and a bed of roses?”  Easy, not always. Marriage always takes work and work is not easy.  A bed of roses, YES!  For roses have thorns and thorns bring hurts and I must confess that over these years I have undoubtedly caused some hurts in Myrna’s life, not purposely nor intentionally and when I realized what had happened I always tried to correct that hurt, but our love has held us together and brought us through to a place of greater strength and affection.  We have a greater love for each other today than we did those 59+ years ago.  Love is a wonderful thing that can soften even the hardest places.

The Love of God for mankind is even a greater love than that of two humans for each other.  God, in His love for us, sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to come to earth, to take on the form of man, to live and die a horrible death by crucifixion, to be buried and then rise again so we might have eternal life.  This is the love we live in as we walk with Christ today.  This is the living love of God.  John tells us that “whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him.” (vs. 16b).

In this season of celebrating Christ’s birth, be sure to thank God for the love that comes from God so that you might truly know what living in love is all about.  Ask Him to fill you with His living love today.

All About Love

12-13

34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

Gary Smalley, a Christian counselor, stated that, “Love is a decision.”  When you think about it you realize that for love to be always constant it cannot be simply an emotion.  Emotions, as we all know, are changeable.  I have often restated Smalley’s statement as “Love is a commitment.”  We choose to love.  It is as simple and as hard as that.  A relationship that is for the “long haul” is more than an ephemeral emotion.  Have you ever heard someone say that they could not understand what someone saw in their husband or wife?  Love is not about looks or emotions but rather a decision made based mostly on things unseen or even felt.

It is interesting to see that this scripture portion takes place just before Jesus predicts that Peter will deny Him.  I know Jesus was referring to his coming betrayal and death and that all Peter seemed to be able to focus on was that Jesus was going somewhere he could not follow.  Because of that he also seemed miss the command Jesus gave about loving one another.  Actually he didn’t, but he did seem to misunderstand the real focus of the command and thus focused on where Jesus was going.

In the context of this scripture portion I would also urge you to read 1 John 4:7 – 12.  Especially note verses 10 and 11, “10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

The season of advent is really about love.  It is about God’s great love for his creation and the plans He set in motion from the beginning of time to show His love.  We are not asked to do something that is impossible.  We are asked to love as He loved us.  If each of us is loveable in His sight how then can we shy away from showing love to one another?  In fact, Jesus made it a command, not an option.  Our feelings are not involved here but our decisions/choices are definitely involved.  Choose to love one another as that is the premier way of showing our love for Jesus.

In your prayers today, ask God to give you his abundant and overflowing love to give to others. Also remember that loving others is a commitment on your part – one made to God more than any human. You’ll need God’s help to keep it.

The Power of Love

FutureWe are leaving behind another year as we move on to 2013.  When we start a new year, naturally our thoughts focus on the future.  We’re sure to see plenty about Nostradamus again and it’s not hard to make dire predictions about our economy, the results of our elections and even the end of the world.  Some people think they know what’s going to happen tomorrow but you and I know better than to predict the future.

In January of 1989 former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, was quoted as saying, “More than at any time in history, mankind faces a crossroads, one path leading to despair and utter hopelessness, the other leading to total destruction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

anxietyHe could be speaking the same thing today, I think.  When you look toward the future, do you look with anxiety and worry? Frustration? There’s war, it seems, everywhere.  The Arab nations are boiling right now, Israel and Palestine are always at it and North Korea continues to do things that make the world go crazy.  How much snow will we get this winter?  Will we see enough moisture to help make a good growing season in 2013?  What’s going to happen with the economy?  How much are my taxes going to go up and where is our country headed?

At times like this it does our hearts well to read Romans 8:38-39:

The Power of Love - Scripture Logo

As Christians we can and should have a different perspective on the future when we
realize the power of God’s Love.

C. S. Lewis once said,On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him.”

Is there anything that can separate us from His love? Paul’s reply is this: no one, no where, no how.  It’s the power of God’s love.

We need to recognize that the most important thing in a Christian’s life is the love of God – love that gave and still gives life, love that sent His Son to give salvation and love that will never let you go!  Nothing can separate you from this love.

Horsepower is a popular way of talking about power and strength. 1 horsepower is equal to about 746 watts of electrical power.  To put this into perspective, our furnace probably uses around 750 watts to blow hot air into our sanctuary.  Your refrigerator, when it is cooling things down, could run up to 700 watts.  Your average light bulb uses 40 to 75 watts of power.    An electric oven, heating to 350 degrees, will need around 2000 watts.   In fact, it takes around 900 watts just to brew your morning coffee.

fallsNow consider that cars and trucks may produce 150 hp to 500hp or even more.  Do you suppose that’s enough power to separate us from the love of God? Modern trains typically operate with between 4000 and 7000 horsepower – maybe that’s enough? Niagara Falls currently produces about 5 million kilowatts of power in both America and Canada.  That’s about 6,702,413 horsepower and does not fully harness the power available from the Falls.  Surely the power of Niagara Falls is enough to separate us from the love of God, right?

Paul can answer that question for us: Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  This is a comforting thought.  You can approach the new year knowing that, no matter what happens, God loves you.  God is on your side.  God is watching over you.  Go into the New Year knowing that God loves you, and that is a truly awesome and powerful thing.

The Mystery of Love – Reaching Out Blog #9

Image19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

I John 4:19-21

“The mystery of love is that it protects and respects the aloneness of the other and creates the free space where he can convert his loneliness into a solitude that can be shared.  In this solitude we can strengthen each other by mutual respect, by careful consideration of each other’s individuality, by an obedient distance from each other’s privacy and by a reverent understanding of the sacredness of the human heart.  In this solitude we encourage each other to enter into the silence of our innermost being and discover there the voice that calls us beyond the limits of human togetherness to a new communion.  In this solitude we can slowly become aware of a presence of him who embraces friends and lovers and offers us the freedom to love each other, because he loved us first.”

We often bring out quotes from the Bible when talking about marriage.  We choose things like “The two shall become one.”  The truth of that statement may never be fully understood, even by those who have experienced a long and healthy marriage.  At the same time we realize that, much like the Trinity, we are still more than one person.  In the Trinity there are three.  Presently in my marriage there are two, though there may be more someday.  Marriage has always been a picture of God.

Never forget that there are three persons in the Trinity and we do well not to forget there is more than one person in our marriage.  The “oneness” is the will with which we shall act.  What the world outside of my marriage should always see is one.  Inside the marriage, however, I would do well to see that my wife is an individual, just as I am, and there are times when we need our distance from the world and from each other.  This is the mystery of love.  Our solitude must be protected and even though my wife is allowed deeper into my soul than any other human on this earth, God is deeper still.

Nouwen is actually talking about more than marriage here, though.  Just before this statement he says, “Without the solitude of heart, our relationships with others easily become needy and greedy, sticky and clinging, dependent and sentimental, exploitative and parasitic, because without the solitude of heart we cannot experience the others as different from ourselves but only as people who can be used for the fulfillment of our own, often hidden, needs.”

Wow.  That’s deep – and true.  Nouwen is explaining a problem we see all around us in our world: people use and abuse each other.  Why do we do this?  Because our deepest needs are not being met and we are attempting to fill them with relationships with those around us.  Perhaps marriage is one of the most oft-abused relationships of all.  At the deepest level, our emotional, relational, and spiritual needs are meant to be met by God.  This happens in deep heart solitude.  So when we avoid the most intimate level of our relationship with God, how can these needs be met? These same needs, when not submitted to the grace of God, can become twisted and imperfect.  They are compromised by greed, dependency, exploitation, and perverted emotion.  All these needs are natural but how we seek to fulfill them often is not.

What strikes me about all this is that I cannot deny it.  I want to . . . but I cannot.  I see it in myself.  How often do I find my relationships going awry because the sinful forces of this world have perverted and changed something that was initially pure in motive?  Sin crashes in and relationships are shattered and each party goes off in sorrow because neither one of them ever intended the results that came.  We clumsily reached out to another and, in the darkness of this world, we inflicted pain.

My needs must first be met in the solitude of my heart so that I can act with pure intentions towards those around me.  It is there in that solitude where God can purify me and prepare me to love the world around me with the perfect love of He who loved us first.