Habits for Every Christian: Walk in Love

“Walk in love…” (Ephesians 5.2)

How, Paul? What does that mean, to walk in love? Does it mean I should have gushy feelings for everyone as I plod through my day? Should I attempt to warmly hug everyone I meet? I’m a tad uncomfortable with that thought.

The whole verse says:

“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5.2b)

So JESUS is our standard of love! On the one hand, He had compassion for individuals, touched lepers from time to time, took little girls by the hand, reclined at the table with His disciples in close sharing. On the other hand, He overturned table in the Temple, seared the Pharisees and Lawyers with condemnation and judgment, and preached in such a way that many of His followers deserted Him. He’s our picture of love.

We’re not talking about FEELING love. We’re talking about GIVING love. This kind of love (ἀγάπη agape in the Greek) concerns a selfless giving of yourself to others. It’s doing for others what you’d like them to do for you, loving them like you’d love yourself, doing what is best for them, regardless of how you actually feel about them at the time.

Imagine Jesus on the cross, experiencing some of the most excruciating pain a human can endure and having been deserted by all His disciples. Lonely. Shamed. Being murdered by lawless men. Can you imagine the human feelings He must have experienced? Surely He was not wishing He could hug those at the foot of the cross. He was holding back His awesome power in order not to annihilate them all! He spoke words of forgiveness. He cared for one of the thieves beside Him and for His mother below Him.

Now imagine your family. It’s late, everyone’s tired, and you’re trying to cobble together a quick supper before bedtime. Children complain. Your spouse grumpily pokes around, getting in the way more than helping. What words slip your tongue at times like this? What thoughts run through your head? What complaints of your own do you mumble to yourself?

Are you truly thinking about your family, how you can bless and serve them? Do you pray for God to forgive your children for their complaining…”for they don’t know what they’re saying”? Do you speak kindly and gently to your spouse even when the words coming your way are less than gentle? A soft answer…a soft answer…

Brothers and sisters, “we who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15.1). “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” How, exactly, has Christ welcomed you? Would Jesus say, “You need to learn to speak more respectfully before I love you.” Or “You got yourself into this mess; you can get yourself out”? Or “I’ll only help you when you start to help yourself”?

Or did Jesus die for us WHILE WE WERE STILL WEAK (Romans 5.6), WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS (Romans 5.8), and WHILE WE WERE HIS ENEMIES (Romans 5.10)? And does He continue to put up with us despite our severe weaknesses and stark flaws?

God expects you to walk in love and has shown you how to do it. May God give you opportunities today to show the love of Christ to your child and to your neighbor and to your boss and to your waitress. Keep the cross forever in mind–the absolute love Jesus showed for you–and let Him be your motivation.

God, teach us to walk in love!

Why Did God Choose You, Dear Christian?

Picking CherriesWhy did God choose Israel? Was it because they were smarter than other nations? Were they better looking? Were they a nation of mighty warriors, stronger than others? Did they exhibit a stronger faith in the One True God? Was it something inside them, a strength of character or virtue?

God obviously chose the nation of Israel above other nations of the world to be in a special relationship with Him. Does that sound unfair? I would agree. Notice what God says in Isaiah:

But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel,
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine! (Isaiah 43.1)

“Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
And gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring My sons from afar
And My daughters from the ends of the earth,
Everyone who is called by My name,
         And whom I have created for My glory,
Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” (Isaiah 43.5-7)

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD,
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
So that you may know and believe Me
And understand that I am He.
Before Me there was no God formed,
And there will be none after Me.” (Isaiah 43.10)

“The beasts of the field will glorify Me,
The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I have given waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My chosen people.
The people whom I formed for Myself
Will declare My praise.” (Isaiah 43.20-21)

“But now listen, O Jacob, My servant,
And Israel, whom I have chosen:
Thus says the LORD who made you
And formed you from the womb, who will help you,
‘Do not fear, O Jacob My servant;
And you Jeshurun whom I have chosen. (Isaiah 44.1-2)

“Remember these things, O Jacob,
And Israel, for you are My servant;
   I have formed you, you are My servant,
O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me.
I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud
And your sins like a heavy mist.
Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 44.21-22)

“I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden wealth of secret places,
So that you may know that it is I,
The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.
For the sake of Jacob My servant,
And Israel My chosen one,
I have also called you by your name;
I have given you a title of honor
Though you have not known Me.” (Isaiah 45.3-4)

I ask again, based on the above Scriptures, “Why did God choose Israel?” What a swelling of pride the Israelites must have had when they heard Isaiah preach those words. Or would they have? The wild thing is, Israel had departed from following God as their only God; Yahweh was no longer “the Holy One of Israel” as Isaiah reiterates. In most of these last chapters of Isaiah, God declares “I am Yahweh; there is no one like Me.” He defends Himself this way because His chosen people had departed from Him to serve idols–or at least include idols alongside Him. But God will share the stage with no one, for the greatest of all commandments is this: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. No room remains for other gods, other loves, or other desires.

Notice the last verse listed above (Isaiah 45.4) ends with “though you have not known Me.” What a slap in Israel’s face! God had lavished grace upon them, but they still didn’t know Him.

Why did God choose them? He chose them NOT because of who they were but in order to show His grace, His love, His redemptive power in them! He chose them despite who they were. He chose them, as Isaiah 43.10 says, “that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He.”

God stated similar sentiments concerning Abraham in Genesis 18.19:

“For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of Yahweh by doing righteousness and justice, so that Yahweh may bring Abraham what he has promised him.”

He didn’t choose Abraham because he commanded his children in righteousness but that he would command his children in righteousness. Do you see the difference? God chooses NOT because of who the we are but in order to change and bless us despite who we are. He hammers this point home in Deuteronomy:

“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7.6-8)

Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.” (Deuteronomy 9.4-6)

Why, then, dear Christian, did God choose you? What can we say about God’s chosen today (“But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION” — 2 Peter 2.9)? Have you been chosen because you are good or despite the fact that you are a sinner? Have you been chosen because you somehow deserve it or because God wishes to show His glory in and through you? We often define grace as “unmerited favor,” but do we really believe that definition? Nothing in me deserves God’s blessing–nothing at all! Yet He has seen fit to save me through the blood of His Son Jesus the Christ. He showed me the gospel and drew me to Himself, despite who I am.

All I can do is praise and glory in the wonderful work of God!

Humility, Grace, and Restoration: Job 42

Why?After saturating ourselves in the book of Job for four wonderful weeks, our church enjoyed a final study last Wednesday. However, we failed to finish the last chapter, where some of the juicy “so-what” information lies. In the last chapter we see Job’s humility, God’s grace, and God’s heart to restore back to Job what had been taken.

Humility

Job’s final response (Job 42.1-6) is a picture of extreme humility. Many recoil at the thought of God allowing Satan to commit those terrible atrocities against Job (see chapters 1 & 2), and they cannot fathom remaining silent. But Job laid a hand on his mouth, realizing he held no authority before God. He had no answer to God’s questions in chapters 38-41, and he had no right to demand an explanation from God.

HumiltyCan you and I be so over-awed by God’s power, majesty, and authority that we humbly accept every insult, every pain, every trouble which comes our way without complaint? Extreme humility engenders extreme contentment. If I can realize, “I don’t deserve anything,” I will also say, “Thank You, God, for what I have.” If I can realize, “God doesn’t owe me anything, yet He has blessed me,” I can also say, “Naked I came into this world, and naked I shall return; the Lord has given and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1.21).

Grace

Besides the grace towards Job (God chastened His child into beautiful, humble submission and also blessed him again after the test), God also extended grace to Job’s three friends. In anger, God insisted, “You have not spoken of Me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42.7-8).

Apparently, to not speak correctly about God greatly offends Him. This should give us great pause and make us extremely careful (and perhaps uncomfortable) with how we speak concerning the awesome Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth. Let us speak only what He has revealed to us–no more and no less.

RebuildDespite their grave sin, however, God commissioned Job to offer a burnt offering of seven bulls and seven rams, “and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer” (Job 42.9). God forgave those three friends who had spoken rashly and incorrectly about Him! That’s grace.

Restoration

Though God does not owe us anything, He delights in restoring to His servants what we lose. This is wonderful! What a blessing to have a Father who so loves us that He will help rebuild after the storm does its damage. God loves restoration.

“The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten…” (Joel 2.24-25)

Have you wrestled with the deep things Job wrestled with? Have you wondered how a loving God can allow His servant to be treated so ruthlessly and aggressively? Perhaps you’re walking through a fire right now. Job is an extreme case, but we all endure periods of trying, testing, and tempering. Don’t become angry with God, though He did allow your situation to happen! Yes, He controls it; but, no, you don’t have a right to accuse Him of evil. God sometimes allows great pressure in order to shape His clay into something useful. Sometimes He allows fire in order to burn off the dross and leave pure gold. God loves us enough to humble us, He extends grace to us, and He delights to restore to us what is lost!

The Political Christian? World Says…Word Says

American PoliticsWORLD: “The worst possible thing that can happen is that a Democrat/Republican president is elected.”

WORD: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Rom. 13.1)

WORLD: “If my presidential candidate doesn’t win, I’ll take to the streets in protest. The other person won’t be MY president!”

WORD: “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Rom. 13.2-4)

WORLD: “I’m not going to pay taxes. Paying taxes is unconstitutional.”

WORD: “Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Rom. 13.5-7)

Helping HandWORLD: “I don’t like that person who is running for president. Therefore, I shall share every news story I find that tears him/her down. I like this other person, so I shall share every news story I find which builds him/her up.”

WORD: “You shall not bear false witness.” (Rom. 13.9) “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4.15).

WORLD: “If someone doesn’t agree that my presidential candidate is the right one for our country, I’ll let them have it with both barrels blazing!”

WORD: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4.29-32)

Emotions in the Face of Election Results

DisbeliefIn light of the political upset which we witnessed last night, I realize many are excited, many are bewildered, and many are upset. I appeal to you, my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, to set your mind on things above, not on things here below.

The following guidance from Scripture seems appropriate:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2.1-4)

So many in this country drift this way and that because they don’t have a firm authority in their lives. They rule their own lives (they think), and so their whim is their command. They have no rock, no anchor of their soul. Their emotions drift with them.

Our emotions, however, are governed by the Lord our God, as we walk in obedience to Him. We can rejoice in all things, even in election results which may or may not have gone our way. We should be careful not to fully think of it being “our way,” even if we voted for Mr. Trump, because we surely don’t stand for everything he does! We should be careful not to think of it being “our way” if we voted for Mrs. Clinton, because it seems God has decided not to place her in this position right now–surely we don’t want to stand against His will.

Christian brothers and sisters, just keep being who you are supposed to be. “Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5.13). Love your neighbor as yourself–especially if they voted differently than you!

God bless you. God give our country peace. May we continually bless Him and bless others.

Are You Walking in Grace Today?

ComfortingTheoretically, I assume grace would come naturally to a sinless and selfless individual. But to all of us lawbreakers who feel guilt and shame in our lives, grace makes us nervous and unsettled. As weird as it may seem, grace almost feels wrong to us.

Take for example the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20.1-16 in which the landowner went out five times during the day to find laborers for his vineyard. The first men began work early in the morning, the second around 9 a.m., the third around noon, the fourth around 3 p.m., and the last at 5 p.m., leaving them only an hour or two of daylight in which to work. Those last men were called “about the eleventh hour,” Jesus said (Matt. 20.6). We use that phrase “eleventh hour” to mean “the very last minute.” Indeed, those men were called at the tail end of the day, and we law-abiding folk balk as the landowner handed every worker the exact same wage no matter how many hours he had worked!

“Not fair! Those who worked longer should have received more. Workers have rights, you know. You can’t give those sweaty, exhausted workers the exact same thing as to those men who lazed around most of the day.”

Oh really? Jesus demands that we consider it. Isn’t it up to the landowner to hire workers and pay them whatever he wants? If the workers agreed to the wages, they received what was fair.

Not only was the landowner fair, but he extended grace to those who worked fewer hours. He didn’t have to pay them a full day’s wage…but he did. It’s not that he wasn’t fair to the first men, it’s that he is more than fair with the last–and therein lies the message. Grace makes us squirm.

When your wife has left several obvious items at the house undone, when your children succumb to temptation and break your rules, when a man holds a sign on the side of the road “hungry, please help,” do you act in grace? Is grace your default, or is it something you must work at?

By the Grace of GodBecause of our sinful natures, grace is often difficult and not our default. Grace is truly being like God, and we have fallen from His nature; that image has been corrupted. Jesus is the exact image of the Creator, but we are not!

How have you responded to your husband / wife today? How have you dealt with your children recently? When your boss is cranky, what is your default reaction? When your employees don’t exactly measure up, how do you treat them? Humans mess up. God doesn’t. Yet see how He treats us in spite of our sins!

Are you walking in grace today? Or do you walk entirely by law? When people don’t measure up, do you prosecute (persecute?) them to the fullest extent of the law?

“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1.17)

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3.21-26)

For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6.14)

For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you. (2 Cor. 1.12)

Think on these things.

Helping Out an Enemy

Helping outMy wife and I watched War Room a couple of days ago, and we both highly recommend the movie.

Slight spoiler alert…

In one of the scenes, the main couple drives up to a guy in a business suit and nice car who has a flat tire. It so happens (of course) the stranded man has been sour and belligerent towards our story’s protagonist, and so we wonder if the man will stop and help his foe. The short scene packs the right kind of punch as we see our hero step out of his car to help his enemy while his wife and daughter watch.

I ran across this verse in my readings this morning:

Exodus 23.4-5 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.”

What an excellent illustration of both “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12.31; Rom. 13.9), which undergirds the even harder instruction to “love your enemy” and “pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5.43-48)!

If you see an enemy in trouble and you can help him / her, help! It’s what God does. While we were yet enemies Christ died for us…

Notice in Exod. 23.5 the situation God describes: “If…you would refrain from helping it…” In other words, we sometimes find someone we don’t like in a tangled mess, and in the darkness of our hearts we snicker, “This ought to be good,” when we should really be thinking, “I reckon I should help her out because, after all, that’s what I would want from her if the situation were reversed.” Yes, sometimes we just don’t want to help out; we would refrain from it. But God insists, “You shall surely help him with it.”

Yes, Lord. I need an attitude adjustment.