Tag Archives: love

The Most Valuable Like

How much is a “like” worth online?  That question would not have made any sense 15 years ago, but now you know what it means!  Google it: You’ll see various estimates, ranging from 21 cents per “like” to $214!  But the most valuable “like” is the one in the middle of this quote from Jesus:

“Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is LIKE it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Jesus had been asked for the greatest commandment in Scripture.  He responded with two (See: Keep it Simple).  He said the two commands were LIKE each other.  But He didn’t mean simply that they were similar.  He meant they corresponded to one another, that they were connected at the hip.  You can’t obey one without following the other and vice versa.  The two commands were really one, connected with the word, like.

Here’s how they work together: Jesus said that when we offer a simple kindness to someone in need – even a glass of water –  “… I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40b)   Your love for your neighbor is connected to and is an expression of your love for God, for Jesus.  That is how He receives it.  The first command is LIKE the second.

This connection flows in reverse as well.  Jesus taught us to pray,

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

And then He made the connection clear between our treatment of those who need forgiveness and God’s treatment of us:

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

Our love for The Father is connected to our love for our neighbor.  The two loves correspond to one another, they are like each other.  And, because our love for God is a dynamic relationship; it flows both ways, as we give and receive.  Because we love God, we give love to our neighbor and are able to receive love from God.  This interactive “dance” with God, lived out in relationship with the people in our lives, is how we keep this combined commandment.  It begins with an attitude of deep love and respect, not grudging obedience.

As we fully understand this word, LIKE, and grasp how it connects the two commands into one, it becomes the most powerful and valuable “like.”

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Keep it Simple

What’s the most important rule in the Constitution?  What is the most important amendment?  What’s the most important law in the I.R.S. code?  How about the laws in your state: what one is the most important?  Or your city?  Those questions are almost impossibly tough to answer because there are so many laws and the issue of which is most important may seem like it depends upon who is asking and answering.  Supreme Court justices would probably have a hard time answering quickly or definitively.

And yet, when someone asked Jesus what is the greatest commandment in the whole Old Testament, He was ready with a specific answer, an answer that is profound in its simplicity.  It’s an answer that still “works.”

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Jesus pulled out two separate laws, one from Leviticus and one from Deuteronomy.  The first one is pretty prominent and was commonly memorized.  But the other one, about loving your neighbor, is included in a list of miscellaneous commands.  But by singling out these two commands, Jesus captured the essence of what God wants for us – a deep love for God, a genuine love for the other guy.  One law focuses our attention in a vertical direction.  The other is applied horizontally.  Like the shape of the cross…

Maybe you have been puzzled by all the “thou shalts” and “begats” of the Bible.  Maybe you have wondered if this ancient book can possibly apply in this age of smartphones, 3D printers and drones.  Maybe you have tried to live by the 10 commandments or the Sermon on the Mount and have given up in discouragement.  If that’s you, then try this: live by just those 2 commands, applying them to your life, your thoughts and attitudes, according to your own level of understanding.

You will be surprised. Pleasantly.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Tell and Show

In truth, it’s not what you say that matters; it’s what you do.  That’s the test.  It’s not enough to sound religious, to say a bunch of holy things about God and stuff.  It’s what you do that shows if you are spiritually alive.

“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. “ (James 1:26-27)

At first glance it sounds like James is saying, “Hey, watch your language around here, buddy…” But really, he is warning people not to sound religious to impress others or maybe even God.  People may be fooled by that, but God isn’t impressed with lofty tones of voice and holy vocabulary.  He cares about what He sees us do.  Don’t misunderstand: we can’t earn our way into God’s favor with good works.  But when we have His Spirit alive within us, we will show it as we tend to help others in distress.  Even those like widows and orphans who, in that day, didn’t count for much.  “Being polluted by the world,” in this context, means caring more about my own reputation among the influential people than I do about someone else with real needs.

These two verses drag me across coals of regret. I wince to read about keeping a close rein on my tongue.  But that’s why I need these verses.  And why I need grace.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Jesus and ISIS

How would Jesus tell us to respond to ISIS?  Should we turn the other cheek?  Love our enemies?  Pray and trust God will handle it?  Overcome evil with good?  Certainly Jesus taught all of the above.  However, we must also remember that Jesus:

  • Publicly identified evil and stood against it.

    “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34, NIV)

  • Taught us not to turn away from the needy without helping.

    “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” (Matthew 25:35-36)

  • Commanded us to love one another and that the ultimate act of love is to lay down our own life for another.

    “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13)

Jesus’ teachings are directed to us as individuals; they do not easily adapt to directing national policy.

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39)

However, we, as a nation, cannot pretend that “strategic patience” is Christlike or good.  We have:

  • Failed to clearly identify evil and oppose it.
  • Failed to help innocent people by providing what they need to defend themselves.
  • Failed to sacrifice our resources and lives out of love for the oppressed.

The day may come when we as individuals can reach out with goodness and love to those who have been our enemies.  The day may come when we can set aside our desire for retaliation and actively work for reconciliation.  Perhaps we may adopt these attitudes as a nation.  But it is wrong for us as a people to dither and do nothing as wicked people torture, enslave and murder others.

Quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Thou Shalt Not

Two weeks ago, a toddler shot his mother and her boyfriend.  He found a gun in her purse and was messing around with it.  Ten days before that, a two year-old fatally shot himself with a gun he found in the glove compartment.  I’m not anti-gun; my son-in-law used a gun to protect his family from a rattler.  But anyone in his right mind would insist that his children not touch his guns. (He would also lock them up but this post isn’t about gun safety, it’s about loving rules.)  It isn’t being harsh for a parent to make strict rules about guns and enforce them.  It’s loving.  The kids may think you are spoiling their fun.  They may resent your rules and try everything they can to break them.  But the rules are loving, because you have made them to protect their lives.

The same principle holds true for God, Who is often perceived in a negative, kill-joy sort of way.  People say, “Why should we follow a bunch of rules laid down thousands of years ago by a mean-spirited, ignorant deity?  Let’s make up our own rules about what we can do.”  They resent God and decide to ignore what His rules.

But God says,

 “… ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11b)

God loves you.  He wants you to live.  Remember that the next time you feel like breaking one of His rules.

PS:  CHECK OUT THE NEW DOWNLOAD PAGE AT THE TOP!

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Post Election Prayer

Here’s my fantasy: A skilled mediator meets in private with two government leaders from opposing sides of the aisle, coaching each of them to listen attentively to the other until they each could articulate the others position to his (or her) satisfaction.  Each of them would keep trying until his adversary would smile involuntarily, and say, “Yeah, that’s right; you completely understand.”  Then, and only then, they could look for any area of common understanding, Hopefully, they could proceed from there, working together to govern in a harmonious way.  Wouldn’t that be nice?

Much of that scenario comes from principles Jesus taught His followers about settling disputes:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)

Notice these important principles:

  • Reconciliation works best when the parties meet in private.
  • If you are feeling wounded, take personal responsibility to initiate reconciliation.
  • Listening is the key to understanding.
  • If you cannot agree, still keep it small and private, but bring in a couple of neutral witnesses because it is possible that you are wrong.

The last part of Jesus’ teaching pertains especially to followers of Jesus in a church setting.  Local churches are supposed to operate as a bodies.  If a part of your body has caused hurt to the rest of your body, the rest of your body acts in a united way to take care of it, to bring the offending part back into line.  For example, perhaps you have heartburn: your whole body gets up and goes to get an antacid. You chew it and swallow it, working to restore peace.  When such a thing happens in a church and is not resolved easily in private, it is necessary to see if, working together, the whole church body can restore harmony.

If not, Jesus says, “…treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (the worst example of a social outcast).  How does Jesus teach us to treat pagans and outcasts?  He commands us to love them and tell them about the good news!  To reach out to them and invite them into the fellowship of Jesus’  followers in the Kingdom of Heaven.

I know, I know: ain’t no way Congress is going to resemble the Kingdom of Heaven.  But my prayer is for the believing Senators and Representatives to obey Jesus and start acting as though it could.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

You are Precious

The pushing and shoving has already begun.  Now that the nastiness of the political campaign process is over, the winners are now jockeying and maneuvering to be the greatest in the new government, to have the most power and prestige possible.  That’s the way we do it here on earth.

But not in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus said the greatest in His Kingdom would be those with the simplest, humblest faith.  He said that each believer in His Kingdom would be personally loved and treasured by God, so much so that He would take it personally when anyone caused harm to any of them.  He spoke in the strongest terms about how horrible it would be if we hurt ourselves by getting stuck in sin.  In other words, Each of us who join His Kingdom by faith is precious.  Our importance and significance is measured by this:  we are important and loved by Him.

Therefore,

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:10-14)

When you accept Jesus by faith, you are more than accepted by God.  He receives you into His family.  You are precious to Him, so much so, He will pursue you if you wander away.  God is not willing that _____________________ (put your name in the space) ever be lost!

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Jesus Would Have Loved It

You can’t touch the Queen of England.  That is a strict rule of etiquette and tradition.  But back in 1991, there was an African American woman whose childcare facility got a royal visit.  Maybe she didn’t get the memo.  More likely, that rule didn’t compute for her; when you welcome someone in her culture, you give ’em a warm hug.  So that’s what she did!  Everyone gasped, but I’m guessing the Queen loved it…  Best hug she’d had in years, no doubt.

Everyone gasped when Jesus’ disciples picked some heads of grain to eat on a Sabbath day.  The Pharisees were quick to criticize but Jesus told them to back off and get a better understanding of God’s Word.  He said:

“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7)

To paraphrase what He meant, God would much rather have us adopt the attitude of His heart than try to earn brownie points by coldly following all the religious rules.  God would rather have you hug Him than stand at a distance and genuflect.  He wants us to have hearts of “mercy.”

“Mercy” weakly translates the Hebrew word, hesed, which is rich with deep meaning.  “Hesed” describes a savory stew of faithfulness, compassion, grace, loyalty, and love all expressed in the context of an intimate relationship.  “Hesed” is the word that is used to characterize the heart of God.  “Hesed” is what He wants most for us to hold in our hearts.  “Hesed” is how God wants us to treat each other.

A group of us were visiting the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem.  As we waited in line, someone, who could not contain her joy, began to sing: “Joy to the world, the Lord is born!” Others joined in and our harmonies began to fill the lofty stone arches of the cathedral that had been built to honor this wonderful birth.   But the priests on duty there were having none it.  They descended upon us, scowling and scolding and wagging their fingers.  “No singing in here!”   But I couldn’t help think…

“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7)

I couldn’t help think, “Jesus would have loved it.”

 

 

 

Which God is the Real One?

Is God bipolar?   Can the same God be gracious and angry, forgiving and strict?  A comedian said, “My wife likes to play a game with me every morning: Guess what mood I’m in today?”  He said, “I always lose that game…”  Is God like that?  Does He flip back and forth between warmth and wrath?  Or, is the Old and New Testament written about two different Gods?

Mr. Bigelow taught math at my high school.  Best teacher I ever had.  He could draw a perfect isosceles triangle or circle behind his back without looking while keeping his attentive and steely gaze fixed on the whole classroom.  If you wanted to learn how math worked, there was very little that Old Man Bigelow would not do for you; he’d spend hours with you, making sure you saw how interesting and elegant the complexities of math could be.  But if you were in his class to disrupt it in any way…   watch out!  Same guy – two very different responses.  He was not bipolar; he was passionate to teach.

After God rescued the descendants of Abraham from slavery in Egypt, He gave them a choice:

“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)

Much of how God seems to be portrayed in the Old Testament is due to those people repeatedly making the wrong choice.  The Old Testament is a record of how hopelessly rebellious we humans tend to be.  If you feel angry to read that, ready to argue and say that we are not rebellious and that God should not act like that, your attitude proves the point.  We are hopelessly rebellious; we tend to want to decide for ourselves what is right to do.  Inevitably, we make the wrong choices.

But God still reaches out for us, ready to forgive us and fix us.  But even the way in which He reaches out to us through Jesus may seem a bit bipolar.  That is because God’s character is a perfect mixture of love and justice.  In justice, He requires full punishment for our rebellion.  In love, He pays the penalty for our rebellion Himself!  He accepts the curse, to give us the blessing.   (For a fuller explanation, see: What’s Love (and Justice) Got to Do With It?)

If we refuse His offer to pay for our sin, we experience God’s wrath and justice.  But if we accept His gift and receive His forgiveness, the same God pours out His love and grace upon us.

Where Are You?

My friend was really worked up at my naivete and ignorance.  He said it was stupid to believe the God of the Old Testament was the same God portrayed in the New Testament.  He said he could never believe in a God Who was so angry and vengeful.  This was a primary reason he said he couldn’t trust the Bible.  His comments have caused me to reflect on the character of God, specifically on His heart toward humanity as revealed in the Old Testament.

It begins in The Garden:

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”” (Genesis 1:26)

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”” (Genesis 1:28)

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)

Perhaps you have made something that turned out “very good” and satisfied you.  Perhaps you poured yourself into it and your creation reflected who you are.  Felt pretty good, didn’t it?   If you have also had a child, can you remember how excited, happy and hopeful you were when your child was first born?  Mix those two emotions together, dwell on them and you have a small taste of God’s heart at the beginning.

Now, consider the heart of God after the humans He made rebelled and turned away from Him.

“But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”” (Genesis 3:9)

The night my daughter ran away is still a tough one for me to think about.  I had never experienced that kind of pain.  I spent hours looking for her.  If I had found out she was being held captive, I would have done anything to bring her home.  She eventually returned, and now has her own teenagers to worry about.  We have been fully reconciled for many years now.  But I still ache when I hear God’s cry: “Where are you?”

That is the heart’s cry of God, the same God of both the Old and New Testaments.  He did more than call; he sent Jesus to bring us home.  Where are you?