Overcoming the World

Sunday – March 4, 2018

Scripture: 1 John 5:1-5

Overcoming the World - Logo 1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Who doesn’t love a good comeback story – the kind of story where a person or team is down and almost out before overcoming every obstacle and finding a path to victory. Between 1983 and 2003, so many Christians were killed in the Sudanese Civil War that a whole community of orphaned children arose who have become known as the Lost Boys of Sudan. Lopez Lomong was one of those boys. At six years old, he was kidnapped from his parents at gunpoint while attending church. He was to be trained as a soldier and lived in a prison for three weeks, eating a mixture of sorghum and sand.

He escaped with three teenage boys and trekked three days to the Kenya border. His friends were sent to the Sudanese officials because of their age, but Lopez was taken to Kaluma Refugee Camp where he lived ten years. He learned to write using his finger in the desert sand and daily ran the 30 Kilometer perimeter of the camp.

After writing an essay, he was chosen as one of 3,500 Lost Boys to come to the US, where he was adopted by Robert and Barbara Rogers from Tully, New York. A whole new education began: how to flush a toilet, the difference between the two knobs in the shower, how to turn off the light so he could sleep in the dark. Lopez Rogers struggled against many difficulties but eventually was able to overcome them and run the 1,500 meter race in the Beijing Olympics.

Did you know that you, too, are a great comeback story? You were down, out and spiritually dead. Do you know who else loves a great comeback story? Jesus! The world was scoring victory after victory against you until that day you accepted Jesus and everything changed. You became an overcomer and you still are, today.

Our passage for today has a lot to teach us as a church. John draws a line from accepting Jesus to loving God to loving his children. How do we love God? We keep His commands. But these commands aren’t burdensome – they don’t come as a duty or with the threat of punishment because Christ has already taken that burden from our shoulders. Instead, we are given the burden of His grace to carry. Jesus fought the battle and won. By accepting Him, we gain that victory through Him. He overcame the world so that we may overcome the world.

Let me give you three important lessons from our passage this morning. The first is that we show our love for God by keeping his commands. How do we show our love for God? It’s easy to feel love for God when all is going well we experience blessings in life. It is considerably more difficult to feel love for God when in the depths of tragedy, either personal or considered from afar. Where are our feelings of love when we are experiencing a busy season in our lives or when the children are screaming and it feels like chaos is all around us? No, love for God cannot be based on how we feel at a given moment. We would love God one moment and hate Him the next. Our love for God, as our love for our fellow believers, must be built on something much stronger than feelings. When we learn to pattern our lives after Christ, we are setting our lives up to love God regardless of how we feel. We go to church when we are tired from a difficult week and would rather sleep in. We praise God when we feel like cursing the world. We love each other even when we’re saying or doing hurtful things. It’s not always easy, but that’s why we don’t base our love for one another, and for God, on if our blood sugar is where it needs to be or if something bad has just happened or has been said. We love God by keeping his commands.

The second lesson is that a major mark of the Christian is a love for his fellow believer. If you love the Father, you love those who are born of Him as well. In 1 John 4:7 he says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” Fellowship is very important to John as it is one of, if not THE, primary subject of this letter and this love is a mark of the Christian. Earlier, in 1 John 2:9-11, John says, Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.” John is repeating this theme from earlier as he heads towards the end of his letter. In 1 John 3:14 John says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” Then, in 1 John 4:20, he says, “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.” Jesus said, in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commands.” In John 13:34 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” The relationship between believers is a special one. We are family, bound by our common adopted Heavenly Father and a brother, Jesus, who died for our sins. We follow His commands together. Fellowship with one another is very important to God and damaged relationships with our fellow believers affect our relationship with God. During your prayers, please consider asking God to help you fix any damaged relationships with fellow Christians and to change your attitudes going forward. Ask Him to teach you how to love better.

The third lesson is that when we accept Jesus, we accept His victory over the world and become overcomers. Verse 3 tells us God’s commands are not burdensome. This is important in order to understand the victory Jesus has given us. In Matthew 23:2-4 Jesus says, 2 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” This is a good contrast for our verse in 1 John 5. The Pharisees imposed their religious commands on the people and they suffered for it. They weren’t there to help, only to be harsh taskmasters demanding compliance and meting out punishment for failures. Instead, Jesus says, in Matthew 11:28-30, 28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” These commands John is talking about aren’t like the ones demanded by the Pharisees. These commands are the ones Jesus talked about. Why are they so light? Because Jesus has done the heavy lifting for us. We keep these commands out of love for our Heavenly Father, not out of duty or fear of punishment.

The heavy lifting I’m referring to is Jesus overcoming the world. The “world” refers the sinful nature, this physical existence and anything else counter to the spiritual life found in God. It’s in John 16:33 where Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Overcoming speaks of the victory we gain over all that holds us back in this world from a spiritual standpoint. Those born of God overcome the world because Jesus has already overcome the world. The verb, here, is in the present active tense – referring to a continuous victory or overcoming.

We’re talking about a spiritual victory, one that overcomes even the spiritual death we are rescued from when we accept Christ. This overcoming is done and it refers to the completed nature of the victory we have gained over the world by accepting Jesus, who has already won the victory on our behalf. Earlier, in 1 John 4:9, John said, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” A few verses earlier than that, in 1 John 4:4, He said, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Our faith is in Christ, the one John is referring to in that verse.

The story of Rocky is a great story of the underdog overcoming great obstacles and winning a great victory. In Rocky III we see Rocky losing a fight to Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T. Rocky just wasn’t ready, he had gotten soft. He was down in the dumps and lost after that fight but his old nemesis, Apollo Creed, comes to pick him up and help him to get back to where he needs to be. He trains hard to fight Clubber Lang again. We even get that famous scene of Rocky running up the steps in his home town of Philadelphia to the tune of victorious music. He gets to the top and jumps up and down with his hands in the air. Finally, he gets back into the ring and takes Clubber Lang down. He overcame and won the victory.

Do you have theme music that plays in your head? I know, that would clearly make you question your sanity if you did but I think you should hear the victory music from Rocky because you are an overcomer through the victory of Christ!

Advertisements

SO I …..

Friday – March 2, 2018

Scripture: John 20:21-23

14Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

John 20:21

In the Apostle John’s record of Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples he gives the important words of Jesus to His followers. Jesus did not enter the room and say, “Hi, there! Did you miss me?” No, He was aware that His appearance was going to be traumatic so His first words were, “Peace be with you.” He then allowed those followers of Him to check Him out. They could even touch Him and look closely at Him until they were satisfied that who they were seeing was really Him and not an apparition. Again, He spoke and said the same words, “Peace be with you.” Another word of reassurance likely given in the same manner he would have spoken before the Cross came between them. I’m sure there was a lot of emotion roiling around in that room. Jesus took the time to show them his hands and side where He bore the wounds of the crucifixion. This assured them of the fact He was really the One who had been crucified but was now there in front of them and very alive. Later, when He meets Thomas, who missed this first meeting, He encourages Thomas to touch Him in His side and his hands. Thomas’ response still rings in my soul. We had made a similar request when seeking the Lord’s will about moving to the Midwest to minister in a small church. It was a big deal to move almost 1400 miles away from family to a place we had never been and a people we had never met. Our prayer included, “If it be Your will, O Lord, please let them be willing to fly us to meet with them.” When we finally contacted someone from the general church (Free Methodist, so a Bishop) he informed us that they had been trying to reach us to fly us out to visit Wednesday before we called to check in. After visiting with the bishop, we went back to our cabin and remembered that prayer. We decided the Lord took us at our word as they were willing to fly us to visit with them. That was for us confirmation of the call and we gave our response to the Conference Superintendent in Nebraska that we would come.

After that second reassurance, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Another translation puts it, “So I am sending you.” Two things are made clear in this 21st verse. First, the Father sent Jesus to this earth and to the people of that day and far beyond to even now and on until the end of time. His reason was for the message of love, in word and deed, to be given to this world. Second, Jesus announces the continuation of that in His sending His followers to also share the same message of love, not only in word but in deeds. The words of an old missionary hymn often reverberate in my mind when I see those words from Jesus, “So send I you.”

So send I you to labor unrewarded,
To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown,
To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing,
So send I you to toil for me alone.

Those words were not for me a call to suffer for Jesus, as some have taken them, but rather simply a call to share Jesus with the world. It was His call on our lives and we had no idea where He would call us to go. We originally thought our ministry for Jesus would all happen pretty much in a two-state area with never a thought we would be going further afield. The point is Jesus is giving a call to all believers in these words. He also made it a command for His followers to “Go into all the world and make disciples. This is for all of us as believers and not just for pastors, missionaries, evangelists and others. The responsibility to share wherever we are is ours to bear. It is what Jesus calls us all to do. It is our reason for living.

THE NEW COMMAND

Thursday – March 1, 2018

Scripture: John 13:34 – 35

13“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

John 13:34

In this Lenten Journey to discover some spiritual reasons why we and Jesus are to do the things we do as God’s children, the first thing we want to note about our passage for today is that it is about love – but not just any love. This is agape, or God’s love, the highest form of love. Was Jesus also operating under this kind of love? Most certainly He was, as being very God, whose nature is love, and very man, as an expression of God’s love, in essence – Love itself. That being true, His coming to this world is based on the love of God, He is love. Thus love was the reason for His coming. The love of the Father and His own love are as one on our behalf. It was a “no-brainer,” as we would say, that He would be in total agreement with the Father’s plan. Thus, His love and that of the Father, is the reason for His coming.

He came so that He could express that love, model that love, and give us that love as a reason for our own, and His, expression of God to a fallen world. This is our reason for doing the things of God before our fellow men and sharing the message of God’s love for all on this planet. In the particular instance shared in these two verses, we find Jesus giving a command to His followers that they should love one another. This expression of God’s love to one another was to be the hallmark of the relationship with Jesus as his disciples, or followers.

The latter part of the focus verse gives us the manner of love that we are to have for one another. Remember, in this instance Jesus is speaking about those who believe in Him and the relationship they are to have with each other. How can this be possible? How can we love as Jesus loved? He loved completely, even unto death, which he chose to provide for us the salvation God so lovingly desires for us! And, that is even with the full knowledge that we, before our salvation, certainly did NOT love God in return! 1 John 4:19 tells us, “We love because he first loved us.” The truth is we cannot truly love unless we have first experienced God’s love. It is as Jesus loves that we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. What kind of love was that? It was total love that is given regardless of how we respond. God will not force us to respond to Him in love but that is His greatest desire. We cannot force someone to receive God’s love through us but that is not the criteria. The criterion given is, to love as Jesus loved. His love is total and selfless! That is the height of love we are to have toward one another.

Are our brothers and sisters in Christ always easy to love? Obviously that would not be a given for us. Sometimes we can be prickly and standoffish but those and other negative traits are not in consideration. We are all on a journey to love more completely and we cannot fail to give love as Jesus gave it. We must recognize that just as Jesus is working on us He is working on our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s all grow in love together. Choose love!

FOR MY FLOCK TO KNOW ME

Wednesday – February 28, 2018

Scripture: John 10:14-18

12“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.”

John 10:16

This Lenten series continues with another reason for Jesus’ coming. I’m willing to say that you probably never thought of this passage in this way before. However, it is a good point to make when we consider Jesus, the Good Shepherd. We usually make a lot of the importance of Jesus as the Good Shepherd without paying much attention to the sheep He is shepherd over. That is, other than the importance of being a sheep that belongs to the Shepherd and is known by Him. Don’t get me wrong, this is an important part of the whole picture but it is not the entire picture presented.

Our focus verse reminds us that the people of Israel were not the only sheep who belong to Him. There is a two-part emphasis in here that reminds us not only that Jesus will have sheep from many backgrounds and places but also that there will be only one Shepherd and it is Jesus. It is probably a pretty good reminder that the followers of Jesus are not only Wesleyans, or Baptists, or Lutherans, or any other group of believers. All true believers are His sheep and He is their only Shepherd. I agree that we have under-shepherds (pastors, teachers, mentors, etc.) but there is only one shepherd. This can also be a great reminder to all of us as we teach, preach, and share Jesus with those around us that we are not the shepherd. Jesus alone holds that title. An Israeli sheep, an Indonesian sheep, an African sheep, a Chinese sheep and on-and-on, are all part of one sheep-fold and their one true Shepherd is the Lord Jesus Christ.

We recently had a Sunday school lesson about the presence of the Holy Spirit in each believer and that is what makes us brothers and sisters in Christ. We partake of the same Spirit and thus are related one to the other. It was a bit of an eye opener as we all pictured the Holy Spirit within us and recognized the wonderful presence each of us had that was shared by all present and all believers in all the world.

Jesus came to be one Shepherd to the flock wherever it was located physically as his leadership is of the Spirit. We, as His sheep, need to model for the world just Who our Shepherd is. This means love flows across the various communions of Christendom. We all look to the One Shepherd to lead us, protect us, keep us safe and love us unconditionally. Are you happy with your Shepherd? Let us show that to the whole world. We need to be more loving toward all who name Christ as Savior. Others need to see the bond between us rather than those differences between us. Not all sheep have white wool. Not all sheep have long wool fibers. Not all sheep are well-fed. There are a lot of other differences between sheep as we know them in a physical sense. The same is true of believers from different fellowships and different cultures. What we have in common – Jesus – is far greater and far more important than that which differentiates us. Worship may be different, Hymns and spiritual songs may be different but there is nothing like the same Love which binds us to one another. Our creed:  One Lord – one faith – one baptism. Praise God for His Son!

TRUE WORSHIP

Tuesday – February 27, 2018

Scripture: John 4:23 – 24

11 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

John 4:23

One may ask how this statement by Jesus is a declaration of a reason for His coming until you dig a little deeper. First we must remember Who it is that is speaking here. Yes, it is Jesus, the Son of God, sharing a deep truth about true or real worship and what it involves. True worship of the father is always going to come through Jesus Christ. He spoke of Himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (see John 14:6). Jesus was still walking, talking, healing and teaching while in his physical body at this time in John’s account of Jesus and His ministry. He is referencing that this kind of worship was going to take place in the near future and was in fact already taking place. That was because, even as he lived and worked among men, He was showing by example how to worship God Most High. Truth has at least two meanings in this context. One is “integrity/honesty” and the other could refer to all of Scripture which is God’s Word to humanity. “Spirit” in this context is a future reference as the Holy Spirit had not yet come to indwell all believers, though Jesus already had the Spirit within Himself. A “true worshiper” is one who honestly and openly, with God’s Spirit assisting our spirit, comes before the throne of God in prayer and praise and gives God all glory as he/she makes requests of God for the furtherance of His Kingdom among men. God, of course, answers in many different ways according to His will and in keeping with each situation.

So, Jesus came to show us how to worship and did so by giving the Father preeminence at all times and spending time in prayer and communication with the Father. He also did all the works the Father had for Him to do. Therefore, one of His reasons for coming was to show us true worship. Now it is our turn to show others what it means to truly worship God. How do we come in the Spirit before God’s throne and how do we worship in truth? I remember hearing of those who teach us to “pray the scriptures” when we go to God in prayer. That is certainly one approach to this reference by Jesus as recorded by John. Truth, however, has as much to do with integrity and honesty of spirit in the presence of our Father God as it does in the words we say and the actions we do. Always, the way we live life should be a prayer to our heavenly Father. This is because what we do and what we say is always an expression of our heart’s desire and therefore tells God (and others) just what we believe and to Whom we belong. If a life lived in glory to God does not speak loudly to those around us then the fault likely falls upon their own hardened hearts. We, and God, are then not accountable. They are refusing the witness of truth presented in the power of the Spirit. Consistency, obviously, is the key to effective witness.

That then begs the question: How are you worshiping God? Is your life an open prayer or sanctuary (not book) showing God before others? Do they “get it?” If not, why not? Is it something in them or something in our witness to Truth in the Spirit as we live God’s Truth before others? We must also always remember that “sometimes we even need to speak the words” to them, not just show them by our actions who we belong to.

THE “HOW” OF WORSHIP

Monday – February 26, 2018

Scripture: Luke 4:43 – 44

2But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

Luke 4:43

This is a fascinating portion of scripture! Jesus had experience problems of unbelief in His hometown of Nazareth but went on to preach in many synagogues and was apparently well-received. He went through many towns in the region of Galilee and moved on to preach in the towns of Judea as well. He was a very busy itinerant preacher, wasn’t He? In the process of teaching and preaching in all these towns, He also healed many of their diseases and cast out many demons. Some of those demons came out shouting just who Jesus was. “You are the Son of God!” they shouted. Basically, Jesus told them, “Hush! Not now!” The more that word got out about what Jesus was teaching, preaching and doing, the better known He became and the more likely He was to be on the “radar” of those in authority, both Roman and Jewish leaders. This would have made it more difficult for Him to establish his message and grow His followers in their faith. It was not yet His time, so He silenced the demons. The scriptures are very clear that those demons knew just who Jesus really was – the Messiah!

As near as I can tell, Jesus was in Capernaum of Galilee where He had healed Simon Peter’s mother and then went on to teach and throw out demons there. Events began to come to the point where he could not go about and do ministry easily because of the demands on Him for healing. It was becoming such an issue that the people there attempted to keep Him there by force so He could not go on and reach other towns and villages. (See verse 42.) That is when Jesus gave the words of our focus verse, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (verse 43). He then went on to preach in the synagogues of Judea.

The important point here is found in the phrase, “because that is why I was sent.” Jesus knew what His mission was and was determined to complete it. This is another reason why Jesus came from heaven to this rather sorry earth. He was to proclaim good news. The word “gospel” actually means, “Good news!” it was the “Good News” about a loving God and a loving Son of God who had made it possible for sinful humanity to come boldly before the throne of a righteous God! It was begun by Jesus, continued by the Holy Spirit through His disciples and further continued by that same Holy Spirit through the many, many believers that have been brought by faith into the Kingdom of God. Each one has been enabled by the Holy Spirit to continue to proclaim the “Good News” of God’s wonderful salvation and the abundant Life he gives! Brothers and sisters in Christ, that’s us!!! All praise to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!  Amen.

The Greatest Commandments

SundayFebruary 25, 2018

Scripture: Matthew 22:36-40

The Greatest Commandments - Logo36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Chuck Swindoll once shared a story about focus. It was Flight 401 bound for Miami from New York City with a load of holiday passengers. As the huge aircraft approached the Miami Airport for its landing, a light that indicates proper deployment of the landing gear failed to come on. The plane flew in a large, looping circle over the swamps of the Everglades while the cockpit crew checked out the light failure. Their question was this, had the landing gear actually not deployed or was it just the light bulb that was defective?

To begin with, the flight engineer fiddled with the bulb. He tried to remove it, but it wouldn’t budge. Another member of the crew tried to help out … and then another. By and by, if you can believe it, all eyes were on the little light bulb that refused to be dislodged from its socket. No one noticed that the plane was losing altitude. Finally, it dropped right into a swamp. Many were killed in that plane crash. While an experienced crew of high-priced and seasoned pilots messed around with a seventy-five-cent light bulb, an entire airplane and many of its passengers were lost. The crew momentarily forgot the most basic of all rules of the air-“Don’t forget to fly the airplane!”

Our passage for this morning is meant to help us, as a church and as Christians, to get our focus where it belongs. Matthew 21 begins with the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. At the end of that chapter we find Jesus really giving it to the Pharisees and they are getting pretty steamed at Him. So they respond by laying trap after trap for him in Matthew 22. “Hey, Jesus, should we be paying taxes to Caesar?” “Hey, Jesus, some woman has a zillion husbands during her life, which one will be her husband when she gets to heaven?” “Hey, Jesus, with all these commandments, which one is the greatest?” Trap after trap to try and get Jesus to say something wrong so they could really get him and shut him up. If you keep reading beyond our verses for this morning you will see Jesus go on the offensive again. In Chapter 23 he addresses the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and offers his seven statements of “Woe to you” where he calls them “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “snakes” and a “brood of vipers.”

The Pharisees were attempting to entrap him, find a reason to de-legitimize his ministry and make a case for his death. Jesus made this impossible for them because he saw through their tactics and he always knew how to respond. Eventually the Pharisees were left with only one option: make up their charges and have Jesus unjustly crucified. They succeeded because Jesus let them. In their efforts to entrap Jesus, the Pharisees asked Him “which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus gave them two commandments that summarized the whole law: “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor.”

So the Pharisees send one of their lawyers, an expert in the law of Moses, to go and talk to Jesus. His gambit is to ask Him what his stance was on which commandment was the greatest of them all. The Pharisees had figured out a total of 613 laws that had to be followed. 248 were positive in nature and 365 were negative. They figured 248 was the number of parts in the human body, 365 was the number of days in a year and 613 was the total number of letters in the 10 Commandments. The different sects of Judaism argued amongst themselves about which law was the most important out of those 613. The key here is that this lawyer wasn’t asking about which of the original 10 Commandments was the greatest but, rather, which of the 613 commandments had that position.

Let me stop here for a moment. That’s a lot of commandments. Sometimes, as fine and upstanding church-going Christians, we are good at making up a lot of rules for everyone to follow. It’s not usually on purpose but I want to remind everyone that each of us is in a different place on our journey. The rules belong to Jesus and He likes a word called “grace” an awful lot. So be careful. We’re in this world together and God doesn’t need any help making up new commandments.

So, 613 commandments. And they argued over the littlest of things. Surely it’s that commandment about fringes on a garment that is the most important. Maybe I should be most concerned about that one about not murdering anyone. Coveting – it has to be coveting. Hey, Jesus, what do you say? Which is the greatest of the commandments?

The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind. The account in the book of Mark adds in “all your strength” as well. But here in Matthew, Jesus gives us three elements to how we are to love God. By the way, Jesus isn’t making this up out of the thin air. He’s quoting and important passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. The whole paragraph is referred to as the Shema – it’s the Hebrew word for “hear” – as in: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” It’s so important that the Jews still recite it all the time in their prayers.

Not that long ago we talked about this special word for love that Jesus liked to use – agapao. Here’s what I said a few weeks ago: “A very short summary of a study on agape love would be that it involves an unconditional love that is by choice. It is not a merit-based love, but rather a love based in something far deeper and immutable [“not capable of or susceptible to change” – Merriam-Webster]. It is a love that recognizes a fundamental value that cannot be altered.” Now let’s apply that to our current verse. It is this special love that God is deserving of. It’s the kind of love that does not change, no matter the circumstance. In great tragedy, in good times and in bad times our love for God should never change. No matter how personal the circumstance, our love for God should remain immutable. Go ahead and ask the hard questions of God: “where were you when . . .?” “Why did this happen?” Ask those questions but don’t waver in your love for God. Our love for God should overrule our doubts, our misunderstandings, our emotional reactions, our lack of knowledge and our lack of wisdom. It accepts that God’s will comes before my will. Look out, because this same word is coming back in the second greatest commandment in verse 39.

Let’s take a brief look at the three elements of this love for God that Jesus mentions in Matthew 22. First, we are to love the Lord with all of our hearts. It’s fitting that we start with the heart. It’s the heart that represents the seat of who we are. It’s our motivational center and it’s where morality sits. It’s also a mess ever since that first sin back in the Garden. It’s corrupt and it’s the place where we decided what’s right and wrong. Do you get the problem here? How can we love God with a corrupt heart? No matter what we do, it will never be worthy of the One we are loving. So a corrupt heart leads to corrupt actions and corrupt love. No surprise there. However, Jesus came to fix that. By His blood, through His grace, we love again as God heals that corrupt heart. Albert Barnes says, “To love him with all the heart is to fix the affections supremely on him, more strongly than on anything else, and to be willing to give up all that we hold dear at his command.” I like that. Here’s what Jesus means here: God first, everything else second. Your heart needs to belong to Him. It’s a matter of priorities. It’s a matter of right focus.

The second element of action is to love God with all your soul. What a great thought. This complicated term refers, ultimately, to the life we all have. It’s more than breathing as it involves what we are in the most essential way. What we devote our lives to matters. Jesus reminds you to love the Lord “with all your soul.” The purpose of your life is to serve God with all that you are, with your very life. All of who you are, in your innermost being, must be captive to God’s will and way.

The third element of action is to love God with all your mind. The word here for mind really refers to that which we think about or our understanding of things. Jesus is saying that loving God with all your mind means to meditate on the ways and teaching of God. Devote your intellect to the discovery of His principles and guidance. Is Jesus telling us all to move into monasteries, become monks and devote all our time to the Lord? Of course not. But He is saying our highest goal should be a heavenly one, not an earthly one. This is what the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) is all about. Consider some of the teachings from the fuller passage: this command is to be on your hearts (vs. 6); teach them your children by talking about them while you sit, while you walk and all times in between (vs. 7); tie them as symbols on your hands and foreheads (vs. 8); and write them on your doorframes and gates (vs. 9). The point was to eat, sleep and breathe the teachings of God. A. W. Tozer said, “As we begin to focus upon God, the things of the Spirit will take shape before our inner eyes.” God first; everything else follows after.

Henry Blackaby, in his excellent series on Experiencing God, says “You never find God asking persons to dream up what they want to do for Him.” He adds, “To live a God–centered life, you must focus your life on God’s purposes, not your own plans. You must seek to see from God’s perspective rather than from your own distorted human perspective. When God starts to do something in the world, He takes the initiative to come and talk to somebody. For some divine reason, He has chosen to involve His people in accomplishing His purposes.”

Now here’s where Jesus goes the extra mile. The lawyer asked for the Greatest Commandment and Jesus give him a bonus commandment that he refers to as the Second Greatest Commandment. This also has an Old Testament counterpart back in Leviticus 19:18. Love your neighbor as yourself.”  In Matthew 19:16-30 Jesus is talking to the rich young man who asks him what he must do to get eternal life. Jesus responds by telling him to keep the commandments but the young man asks which commandments he needs to keep. That’s an interesting discussion in itself but Jesus starts naming commandments: do not murder, commit adultery, steal, or give false testimony. Honor your parents and love your neighbor as yourself (verse 19). In Romans 13:9-10 Paul says, The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Jesus is telling that lawyer that real love for God will lead, naturally, to real love for your neighbor as well. Jesus is in a similar situation in Luke 10:25-37 where the expert in the law asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor? (verse 29).” Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. This must have been a challenging story for that man as it pushes forth a person from a hated class of people and holds him up as the hero with the good Jewish men as the bad neighbors. What Jesus really did was push everyone out of their comfort zones into the reality that they had to love all their neighbors, not just the Jewish ones. “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Paul knew what he was talking about. The story of the Good Samaritan shows one man caring for another man who was in need. It didn’t matter what class he belonged to or what his heritage was. The hurt man, who had been beaten, robbed and left for dead, simply needed help. The Samaritan man saw a neighbor and loved him the way he was supposed to.

What Jesus just did was cover 613 commandments with two. In fact, He found a way to sum it all up in one word: Love. Love God and love your fellow man. It’s that simple. Yeah, there are a few more rules that help us understand the nature of sin and what God is doing to fix it, but it really is that simple – Love God and love your fellow man.

Here’s some quick ways for you to apply what we’re talking about today. First, a whole bunch of rules don’t mean anything if you don’t have love. Yeah, Paul said that in 1 Corinthians 13:3 and he got it from Jesus. Second, there are two relationships you need to maintain, in the proper order: Love God and love your fellow man. And third, the Church has two purposes found in this passage. One is an inward purpose: Love God. We come to church help one another to grow in our relationships with God and to give Him all we are. The focus is on Him first. The second purpose is outward: love your fellow man. If you get the first one right, you’ll find it a lot easier to get the second one right as well. We learn to love from God and we also learn to love our fellow man from God. All this stuff we do on Sundays is meant to lead us to what we do on Mondays – go and love our fellow man.

It’s a question of focus, really. Here we are – gathered together on a Sunday morning. Are we wasting all our time on a 75 cent bulb or are we learning to love God and our fellow man? Where’s your focus this morning? Where will it be on Monday?

“ANOINTED TO…”

Saturday – February 24, 2018

Scripture: Luke 4:18 – 19

10“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,…”

Luke 4:18

I imagine you had to read to the end of the sentence, didn’t you? Yes, that short verse 19 finishes the thought taken from Isaiah 61:1, 2 and Isaiah 58:6. This is a passage Jesus chose to share with those attending the synagogue on that Sabbath observance in Nazareth His hometown. He unrolled the scroll and found that particular place in Isaiah’s writing. It was a deliberate act on His part; in no way was it by chance. Here He is, sharing a scripture that declares a reason for His coming though they (his listeners) did not know it. What did He say after reading that passage and giving the scroll back to the attendant? Right! He stated, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” This seems to have caught His listeners by surprise. At first they reacted well to His words but later some began to remark on the fact that he was a hometown boy with no great learning and wondered at His words even more. They knew this guy. His parents had a business their town. He grew up there. How could He teach in this way? If you read further on you will discover those things and more. It’s okay to do that.

Jesus is actually stating a multi-pronged reason for His coming to this earth by using the words of the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit of the Lord is on him and has anointed him for specific tasks. These are (1) to proclaim good news to the poor, (2) to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, (3) recovery of sight to the blind, (4) to set the oppressed free, (5) (Verse 19) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. The poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed can all be seen as word pictures of all of humanity. We are spiritually poor and need to be enriched. We are prisoners of sin and need to be set free. We are blind and need our spiritual eyes opened. We are oppressed by the forces of evil in this world. Jesus came to handle these problems and much more. The last item He mentioned was found in the 19th verse where He says He wants us to know that they are in a period of time when the Lord’s favor is theirs (ours also). In other words, this is a time when God is at work in this world and at work for our benefit. He states his reasons in these verses, but you know what? He intends for those who have responded to His call on their lives to become believers to also follow His example and do these things.

His reasons for coming have become our reasons for going, in His name, to do the very same things. Hearts and souls are touched in the same ways our hearts and souls were touched. This becomes an ongoing circle of outreach that does not end until Jesus comes again. We are to be a part of that. We are the hands and feet of Jesus working in the power of His Holy Spirit to fulfill these tasks in our generation. Someone once said that the church is always one generation from extinction. New generations must be touched by the current generation that the Church of Jesus Christ may continue until He comes again. I believe this is not optional. It is absolutely necessary for us to follow the example of Jesus in a broken world. If we do not do so there is no hope. If we do not do so in the anointing of the Holy Spirit it is not even possible. God uses US to reach OTHERS. How are you doing at proclaiming His intent for the world? Is the anointing of the Spirit on you? It is supposed to be.

FOR THE LEAST…

Friday – February 23, 2018

Scripture: Mark 10:43 – 45

9“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:45

Our scripture portion for today comes at the end of the story of James and John. Yes our John the beloved disciple was part of this story and he is not seen in the best light either. It appears they desired to be in positions of honor in Jesus’ Kingdom. This really raised a storm of protest from the rest of the disciples, as you could imagine. Who were they to think they deserved this honor? What did Jesus do? Well, He didn’t throw up His hands and declare that He was ready to start over with another group. He dealt with this situation lovingly and in great wisdom. Even though James and John both declared they could “drink the cup” and the “baptism” of Jesus, He was aware they would drink of those things as He will BUT that it was not His place to give them this honor. That was already dealt with.

Jesus called them all together and counseled them about their attitude. If the servant is not greater than his master then they were about to receive a great lesson from the Master. His point was that even He came to serve and was therefore the example they should follow. (See Mark 10:45.) Basically He told them, “If I, your master, came to serve; then you also are to serve.” Therefore, we have Jesus presenting both a reason for His coming and a reason for their lives also. They are to serve others. Our task as believers is to be servants of Jesus and also of each other. When we read the Bible we will also discover that we are also to serve those who are needy in this world.

Servanthood is a hallmark of the Christian. Others need to see Jesus in us through our actions and our language. It is not good enough to “talk the talk” unless we also “walk the walk.” Can we really grasp this reason for our lives? Do we fully understand what Jesus is asking of us? The disciples struggled with it and they were right there with Jesus in the flesh. I sort of suspect that we will struggle with this concept from time to time. BEING a servant needs to be seen as an honorable thing to BE and not simply a means to a desired end. In this case, the BEING is all important. We are not to think of ourselves as being in any way better than others. We, of all people, should recognize that we are all sinners saved by grace and not worthy in our own selves to enter into God’s Kingdom. Even our being a servant is not sufficient for us to
get into God’s heaven. It is God’s grace, God’s mercy and God’s love that has provided a way through Christ’s substitutionary death on the Cross that has made that possible. All we need do is accept, believe and confess Jesus as the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world (ours, too) and makes us one with God.

How are we doing at BEING servants? Are we letting others hold us accountable in this area of our walk with Christ? Lent is all about preparing our hearts to really understand and acknowledge Jesus as the RISEN Lord. Then, as servants, we will really BE His disciples and His friends!

“AND THIS GOSPEL…”

Wednesday – February 21, 2018

Scripture: Matthew 24:4 – 14

7“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Matthew 24:14

Couched in these words by Jesus about the end times is an important truth about the reason He came to this sad world in the first place. He came to bring us the “gospel of the kingdom.” I am aware that Jesus is sharing some important information that is essential to our understanding of the end times but it is also important because our reason for being here after receiving Jesus as Savior is involved. Not only did Jesus come to preach the gospel of the kingdom but we also are involved in preaching this gospel until He comes again. It is His coming that ends our preaching of the gospel of the kingdom. If we die before His coming our preaching is done and if we are caught up with Him in the rapture our preaching is also done. If there is any further preaching of the gospel of the kingdom it will be done by others who have not believed until then. The “Left Behind” series of novels about the period after the rapture is interesting conjecture but I am not convinced it is accurate theologically. But it will likely not be my need to know in any case or yours if you are a believer. Our only responsibility until that time is to continue to preach the gospel of the kingdom and stay true to the cause of Christ in His Spirit’s power and spite of all the enemy can do to destroy God’s kingdom.

Jesus also came to inform His followers of all that is to come so we can stand firm until the end. How we will end is unimportant but how we end is very important. Are we faithful BEING His followers? Are we still preaching the gospel of the kingdom? That is our responsibility. That is why we are here on this earth. Are we faithful to His dear cause? It sure seems from my studies of history through the years that every age has involved many of the elements found in end-time pronouncements. This does not mean all that much as the enemy of our souls, the enemy of God’s Kingdom, desires to destroy what God loves and desires for His own. This is something he has done from the beginning and will continue to do right up to the end of time.

The real question dealt with here is not so much about the end of time as it is about how we, as believers, are to BE at that point in time. No punches are pulled as to how difficult those days will be. It is just as true concerning these days we live in. Anything can happen to God’s people but the fact is that it is necessary for us to be spiritually ready for those times and not faint-hearted because of them. Many will fall away but do not be one of them. Stand fast in the power of the Spirit and God will see you through. In other words, keep on BEING a follower of God and part of His kingdom through Jesus Christ His Son.