Category Archives: Love

Not Cut

“Coach wants to see you in his office…”  Those words can strike fear in anyone who has been struggling to make the team.  Getting cut can be devastating.  Getting cut from God’s team is worse.  Jesus describes it metaphorically:

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,…  (John 15:2a)

And:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  (John 15:5-6)

Getting cut from Jesus’ team is what happens if you don’t “bear fruit.”  But, bearing fruit is what happens, Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you…”  So then, as a newby to the faith, not wanting to get cut from the team, I looked to see what I had to do to “remain in Him.”  

And read this:

Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  (John 15:9b-10)

“Aha!” I thought, and set about making a list of Jesus’ commands so I could keep them.  I came up with quite a lengthy list, but completely missed the point of what He said.  Jesus said keeping His commands should be done in the same way He kept His Father’s commands.  Jesus never checked off the boxes from a list of commands.  That’s not how He did it.  Instead, He said these things:

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  (John 14:10)

The way Jesus kept His Father’s commands was by staying so close to Him He naturally kept in step with what the Father was doing.  He was “in the Father” and the Father was “in Him.”   Now, compare that with Jesus’ teaching in John 15:5, quoted above, where He said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”  It is in that close, “you in Me and I in you” relationship we are able to keep His commands and bear “His fruit.”

And not get cut.

The Psalm about Jesus

Have you wandered too far from God to be rescued?  Are your troubles too difficult for Him?  Psalm 107 reflects on the many different times and ways Israel turned away from God, got themselves in deep trouble and how, by His enduring love, He brought them back.  In a curious way, it also foreshadows how the rescue of Jesus meets us in our particular circumstances, no matter how we have wandered away.  The psalm is too long to be quoted here, but read it for yourself to see all the similarities.

For example, Psalm 107 says:

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.  (Psalm 107:4-6)

If you have wandered and found yourself hungry and thirsty for God, craving inner peace and nourishment, Jesus said,

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (John 6:35)

Psalm 107 says:

Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11 because they rebelled against God’s commands
and despised the plans of the Most High.
12 So he subjected them to bitter labor;
they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
and broke away their chains. (Psalm 107:10-14)

Jesus said:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12)

See what I mean?  You’ll see many parallels.  Jesus told a parable about the shepherd who searches far and wide for the lost sheep.  If we are willing, He’ll find us and rescue us, no matter what.  God’s enduring love comes to us through Jesus.  Take some time to ponder how each of the scenarios in Psalm 107 may have been (or may currently be) symbolic of your life circumstances.  Then, note how, in each one, there is repeated something like this:

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.  (Psalm 107:6)

God is not unaware of our troubles.  He does not force help upon us but waits for us to ask.  Jesus refers to those who “come to Me” and those who “follow Me” for the same reason.  If you need His help, cry out for it, turn to Him.

The Psalm also repeats this important reminder:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love  (Psalm 107:8)

 

 

Tough Love

“Keep your eyes open and don’t let down your guard.  Stand tough and strong, like real men.”  Who might say those words?  A military leader?  A football coach?  How about an apostle of Jesus?  Paul encouraged his readers with similar words.  Surprised?  Be more surprised when you consider how he exhorts real men to act.  He wrote:

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love (Corinthians 16:13-14)

Paul was a man’s man.  He knew the meaning of tough.  When he said, “be strong,” he wasn’t fooling around.  Paul routinely waded into situations that left him bruised and bloody.  But he understood that real men are motivated by love for others.  Tough love.  The kind that sometimes costs or hurts.  Real men put their own selfish desires aside to do what is best for the other person.

My son tried to teach me how to play a video game.  He said, “You can’t survive at this level unless you pick up a super power and use it.”  I didn’t understand.  But Paul did.  He knew loving toughness, the kind that is watchful, strong and dares to do the right thing even in the face of danger, is necessarily powered up by God’s Spirit.  

What Smokey Says to Churches

What’s the worst thing about church?  Ask ten people that question and the chances are most of them will say something about hypocrisy.  Too many church people robe themselves in the look and sound of Christian-eze, while on the inside they struggle like all the rest of us.  Sound familiar?  

If so, you may be intrigued to know how Jesus taught his boys to act when they began to attract great adoring crowds of followers.  He did not tell them how to greet people with spiritual sounding phrases.  He did not tell them to raise their hands during the praise choruses, or to look pious during prayer time.  He taught them to watch out for trying to act all holier than thou just because they were His disciples.  

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.  (Luke 12:1-3)

Boys, He said in effect, it’s so easy to put on airs when you see how many people have showed up, to start acting like you are better.  Watch out!  Be real.  Don’t be hypocrites!

Of course, in our day, the same caution applies to the folks who show up at church, not just to the leaders.  There is an awful lot of pretending that goes on in the lobby.  Words and expressions that don’t match what we really think and feel.  True, that stuff frequently goes on in many other places – not just at church.  But Jesus knew hypocrisy is cancer in a church.  Because, if people feel judged, they will never get to know the One Who did not come to judge them but to save them.

And the way to fix it begins with you.  Like what Smokey the Bear says: “Only you can prevent…”

Finished

It’s no fun stepping on a nail.  It was just a small nail, but it hurt like crazy.  The pain of the Crucifixion must have been unimaginably horrible.  No wonder so much has been written and sung about the agony Jesus endured on the cross.  And yet, consider this surprising thing He said as He waited for that terrible day to come:

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!   (Luke 12:50)

Jesus was not looking forward to being crucified.  His prayers in Gethsemane bear witness to how awful He knew His next day would be.  But the distress He felt as He waited was the distress of yearning for His work on the cross to be accomplished.  Because it was not until the price for sin was fully paid that God’s Spirit could be given to people like me, by God’s love, grace and perfect justice.  And without that life-giving Spirit, we all were doomed.  When Jesus looked around, everyone He saw was headed for Hell.  It distressed Him; He could hardly wait until He made eternal life possible for everyone who would receive Him by faith.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.”  (John 8:24)

“…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  (John 10:10b)

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”  (John 6:63a)

Even though He knew how badly it would hurt to make God’s Spirit available, He loved me more.  And you, too.

That’s why, with His last breath, 

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19:30)

Sort of finished.  His part was finished.  But it’s not completely finished until you accept it.

WD-40 for Life

Stubborn.  So set in their ways they can’t listen to reason. Know anybody like that?  Jesus did and they made Him angry.  Angry, but also sad they could not loosen up.  They were like seized pistons in what could have been the powerful engine of life.  Here’s what happened:

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
You can’t get in step with Jesus when your heart is hard or stubborn.  You can’t fold your arms, stick out your chin and insist on your own way.  Responsiveness to His rhythms is the key.  Perhaps that heart adjustment seems risky at first.  Like your first time out on the dance floor.  But life is so much more exhilarating when we are not stuck.

The Starting Point

They had enjoyed an unusually close friendship at work.  It started out as a mentoring relationship as the older woman showed her the ropes.  But soon they became friends – more than friends, really – a special bond developed.  They were both surprised and delighted to discover, one day, they were mother and daughter, separated at birth and now reunited.  No wonder the connection between them had seemed so natural.  The separation had been repaired, the relationship restored.

As you consider that amazing, true story, put these two verses together:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  (Genesis 1:27)
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.   (Matthew 22:36-38)
Can you see why that commandment is first, is of primary importance?  Repairing and restoring that relationship is the starting point for everything else.