Category: Love (page 1 of 7)

The Primary Command

Few things are as thrilling in sports as a tied NHL Stanley Cup playoff game in the third period.  Only overtime. And the Stars outlasted the Predators Monday night in an edge-of-your-seat overtime slugfest to advance to the second round. My heart has just now this morning returned to its normal rhythms. Overtime in an NHL playoff game is the only true “sudden death” in sports. And it’s incredible.

One of the great things about a Stars game on TV is the running color commentary provided by Daryl “Razor” Reaugh. Every 90-seconds or so during every single game, Razor says something that makes me giggle. The guy’s a genius. Monday night he referred to the Stars’ six-foot-seven goalie Ben Bishop as the “net-minding mastadon.” After a wild flurry of saves late in the second period, Razor called Bishop a “brilliant rubber regurgitator.” He described a save by Nashville’s goaltender as “a sassy glove grab.” When the game was over and the American Airlines Center crowd was celebrating the series win, Razor reminded all the TV viewers back home that “the singular of confetti is confetto.”

Their second round series against the Blues begins in St. Louis tomorrow night.

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The world expects Christians to show love. That’s why people rip into the Church and rail against us when we don’t show love. That’s why they criticize us.

People don’t cuss at the beach because it’s sandy; it’s supposed to be sandy. We don’t complain when rain is wet; it’s supposed to be wet. we don’t gripe when the wind blows in Amarillo; it’s supposed to blow. That’s what we expect. And the world expects followers of Jesus to love. So, they rightfully call us out when we don’t.

(Sometimes we gripe when the wind blows in Amarillo. Let’s be honest.)

Scripture tells us plainly that, for children of God and disciples of Christ, the primary command is to love. From the Old Testament law and prophets to Jesus and his apostles, loving other people is the primary response and the natural reflection of God’s love that’s been so undeservedly showered on us

According to the Bible, if you’re not a loving person, you don’t know God. If you’re not showing love to others, you haven’t truly received God’s love for yourself.

Nobody in the world will listen to you talk about God if they experience you as an unloving person. You’ve got no credibility. It’s obvious you don’t know who you’re talking about. At Texas Dodge, they don’t let their salespeople drive Fords or Chevys. The president of PETA doesn’t run the membership drive for the NRA. And you’re not going to influence anybody for Christ if you’re not a loving person. You’ll push people away.

The Church is fractured and our witness to the world is compromised because we keep getting this one thing out of order. Instead of loving first, we judge first. We condemn first. We yell first. We whine and complain first. We forward the email first. We insult first, and then love comes somewhere after that. It’s out of order.

We put socioeconomic boundaries first. We put racial differences first. We prioritize parties, platforms, and politicians. We make denominational distinctions primary. We figure out our theology, doctrine, and church structures first, then decide later where, when, and how to show love.

Yes, there are difficult passages in the Bible that must be figured out and there are parts of Scripture about which followers of Jesus can legitimately disagree. But the command to love as the most important command and the one that trumps all the other commands is not one of them.

The apostle Paul tells us that a Christian who doesn’t love is like “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Eugene Peterson’s Message translates it “the creaking of a rusty gate.” Someone else might say “fingernails on a chalkboard.” In other words, a Christian or a church like that is irritating. It gets on people’s nerves. It’s outwardly obnoxious.

If love doesn’t come first, if love is not the origin and the energy behind and through what you’re doing, it’s not good. A Christian or a church that prioritizes love over everything else fills the world with the hope and healing and joy of our Lord. Without love, a Christian or a church is a tree that bears no fruit, a cloud that produces no rain. Obnoxious.

This is a critical time in the Church. Theologians, historians, and sociologists have been telling us for four decades that we are going through the greatest transition in the last 500 years of Church history. And what you do matters. It matters to you and your family, it matters to your friends and your city, it matters to this country and to the whole world.

Anger is acceptable now in our culture, but that’s not who you are. Discord and division are society’s tools, but not yours. The culture encourages you to look out for yourself first, but that’s not proper for Christians. Asserting myself, my rights, and my personality is not my priority as a follower of Jesus. We don’t go along with the world on this. We don’t say, “Well, that’s just the way things are.” To somehow justify not loving other people, no matter the reason, is to squash our creativity and insult God’s grace and ignore the command of Jesus.

No person in the world who runs into a Christian should ever have to wonder if that Christian is a safe person who will love them. No server at a restaurant, no teller at a bank, no classmate at your school, no neighbor on your street, and no member of your church should ever spend one minute wondering if love has disappeared from the earth. People who run into you, people who experience you, should believe in love.

Peace,

Allan

First Things First

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” ~Deuteronomy 6:4-9

This passage is called the Shema. That’s the Hebrew word for “hear,” the first word in these famous ancient words. For more than four-thousand years the Israelites and Jews have recited these words out loud at least twice a day. Orthodox Jews today recite this passage out loud during their morning and evening prayers. These words are vitally important in both Jewish and Christian history, they’re so foundational for our faith.

Who is the God of Israel? Who is our God? Who are we loyal to? How many gods are we going to have?

“The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”

This is truly first things first. Before we cross the Jordan River, before we settle in the new land, before we become lights to these people and God’s image-bearers in the world, before we do anything… are we going to be devoted to the Lord? Will we be faithful to the Lord exclusively, or are we going to be seduced by the pagan gods of this new country?

By reciting this statement day after day, year after year, century after century, God’s people declare their complete and unqualified devotion to the Lord. This is not just a monotheistic confession. It’s not “This God is one God.” It’s “This God is our one and only God! We will not serve any other God!” This is a foundational pledge of allegiance. This is an affirmation of a dead-serious commitment. This statement is all about who we are and to whom we belong. First things first.

In order to consider the depth of what’s being confessed, I want to break this passage down into four parts this week.  First, today, you love the Lord with your whole person.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.”

That’s interesting, isn’t it? Can you command somebody to love? Isn’t love a mysterious feeling that just appears and sometimes disappears? Isn’t love just an emotion and it’s either here or it’s not? No, not according to Scripture. The Bible teaches that love is an act of the will. Love is more about intentional action than accidental feelings. Each one of us decides whether to love or not. In the ancient Hebrew language, the word for “heart” here actually means your heart and your mind; this is your entire inner being. This is where you feel and think. It’s both.

The literal word for “soul” here is “throat” or “gullet.” It means your appetites, your desires, who you are as a person who does things and interacts with the world and other people.

And then “strength.” This Hebrew word is translated in the Greek Old Testament as “dynamis.” That means “power.” Dynamite, right? Hebrew scholars say this is about any power you have to accomplish something — maybe “resources” would be a better word. Physical strength, yes; but also economic or social strength, maybe even the things you own like tools or livestock or your house.

The point is: you love the Lord your God with your whole person, without reservation. No loopholes. A covenant commitment to the Lord that’s rooted in your heart, but extends to every level of your being. Jesus quotes this verse and says this is the most important thing. This is primary, the first thing! Love the Lord with your whole person.

Peace,

Allan

The Power of Jesus to Heal

TV game shows have two audiences. The studio audience is the primary audience. They’re right there in the room. They’re seeing and hearing everything, up close, in real time. They’re actually participating, cheering and clapping and trying to help the contestants. If it’s The Price is Right, the people in the primary audience may even be called up to play the game. It’s quite exciting, I guess.

But there’s also a secondary audience, the TV audience, the people watching at home. You’re watching from your couch, you’re watching from a long way off. You’re learning how the game is played, you’re getting to know the host and the contestants, and pretty soon you find yourself wanting to be a part of the show. That looks like fun. Hey, I think I could do that.

Then you start to visualize yourself on the show, you can actually see yourself participating. And winning. Come on! Everybody knows the coffee creamer costs more than the ketchup! I could win that Ford Focus and the patio furniture!

Next thing you know, you really are participating in the show, out loud, from your living room. You’re yelling at the TV. What is Bismarck? $935! Come on, baby, light my fire!

I think the Gospels are supposed to work the same way. I think we are intended to see ourselves in these stories, to see ourselves in the scenes with Jesus.

In Luke 5, you are the leper on the side of the road and you beg Jesus: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus looks you right in the eye. “If I’m willing? Yes! I am willing!” And Jesus reaches out his hand and he touches you. “Be clean!” Is there anything more wonderful, more Good News, than Jesus looking at your deepest hurt and saying, “I am willing.”

In Mark 4, we’re in the boat with those disciples. The storm comes, the boat’s about to sink, and the disciples are freaking out. Jesus says, “Quiet! Be still!” And everything’s fixed. And he says to his followers, “Why are you so afraid? Where’s your faith?” And I wonder: Is he smiling? Is he upset?  Is he disappointed? Maybe he’s amused. “Why are you so afraid? Yes, I control nature, I control everything! I’m willing for you to be clean and I’m able to make it happen. I want you to be well and protected and safe and whole. I have the power. Trust me. Give yourself to me.”

Jairus’ daughter has just died. Jairus’ servants say it’s too late. Tell Jesus not to come. Jesus ignores them and says, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.” He walks through all the people crying and wailing loudly. “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead, she’s asleep.”

The world sees one thing. Jesus sees something different. He wants you to see different, too. He wants you to see yourself with him and give yourself to it. “Don’t be afraid. Just believe. My child, I say to you, get up.”

And she did.

Peace,

Allan

Love Everybody

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” ~Romans 13:8-10

If you don’t love everybody, you can’t really call yourself a Christian. Seriously. If you don’t love everybody, then you have to deny the most basic things all Christians believe.

If I harshly criticize anybody, if I refuse to forgive anybody, if I discriminate in any way, if I ignore or neglect anybody, if I make a move to harm anyone, I have to abandon almost all the basic points of Christian doctrine:

~ Christians believe that all men and women are created by God in the image of God
~ Christians believe God loves all people
~ Christians believe Jesus died on the cross because God wants all people to be forgiven and saved, including you and your neighbor, equally
~ Christians believe in treating others the same way we want others to treat us
~ Christians believe our God calls us to show his divine love to all people everywhere, no exceptions

Serving others in love keeps all the commands. Serving others in love makes all the beliefs real — not just something we know in our heads, rather something we do with our lives that changes us and fulfills the eternal will of God.

It’s not a law system that governs our behavior and keeps us in check. It’s not an honor system that forms our morality and shapes our ethics. It’s a love system. The whole thing is based on and flows out of and through love.

That’s true freedom. Because when you love like that, when you consider the needs of others more important than your own, then whatever controls you doesn’t anymore. People who used to be stressed about being famous don’t care anymore if anybody knows their name. People who used to chase power are now serving. People who used to pursue money are now giving it away. People who used to live in fear for their own safety and security are now living in liberty and risking their lives to love people who’ve never felt safe at all.

We only know love because we have seen Jesus on the cross. Once you’ve seen that love and you know it’s for you, you can’t help but show that same love to others.

Peace,

Allan

The Only Thing That Counts

“In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” ~Galatians 5:6

There’s only one thing that matters; don’t mess it up. There’s only one thing that’s important; don’t miss it. Our forgiveness, formation, and eternal life, our righteous relationships with God and with all people hang on just one thing; pay attention to it. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Circumcision? Doesn’t count! Uncircumcision? Who cares? In Christ, none of that stuff has any force. It doesn’t exercise any power. It’s got nothing. Christ Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, has all power and all authority. He alone saves. So our faith, focus, and attention is only and always on him.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” ~Romans 8:1-4

God in Christ has fulfilled the entirety of the law’s purpose on our behalf. Not individual commands — not circumcision, not the Ten Commandments, not purity rituals, not feast schedules — the singular requirement, the whole point of the law is fulfilled for us by Jesus. That’s the whole point of Jesus.

Do we trust that or not?

The perfect Son of God, the only one who’s never broken the law, became sin for us. He became your sin. He took on your sin. He took your transgressions with him to the cross. And when your sin is condemned in him, you become in God’s eyes as if you’ve never sinned. Jesus intervened to do what you can’t do. Christ became what you are so you can become what he is. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice and he has taken care of absolutely everything to set you totally free from sin and death. Now, is your faith in that, or is it in something else? The only thing that counts if faith. That’s the only thing we need to be concerned with. That’s the freedom for which Christ sets us free.

But for some reason, we feel more comfortable in the chains. We have a very difficult time with the only thing that counts. We’ve got a whole list of things that count! We’ve got dozens and dozens of things that count!

It’s not circumcision; it’s acappella. It’s not food laws; it’s weekly Lord’s Supper. It’s not feast days; it’s Wednesday nights. It’s not you must become a Jew; it’s “Is he a member of ‘The Church?'” And it’s baptism by immersion and women’s roles and bishops and kitchens and KJV and crosses in the sanctuary, um, I mean, “auditorium.”

We judge people and we draw lines and label others and decide who we’re calling brothers and sisters and who we’re not when there’s only one thing that counts! We’re paying too much attention and spending too much energy on the things that don’t count!

We are freed from all that. We don’t have to worry about those things. Having the same worship styles and the same church structures and the same name on the building is not how we’re united. Or saved. That’s not what makes us brothers and sisters. We are united in Christ alone! We are made one in Christ alone!

The Bible says there is one body, not just one expression of that body. There is one faith, but not just one expression of that faith. There is one baptism, yes, but not just one expression of that baptism. These are the very things they’re discussing in Jerusalem in Acts 15 and the decision is “We should not make it difficult for the people who are turning to God.”

We spend valuable energy debating worship styles and doctrinal positions and denominational differences, but there’s only one thing that matters. We fuss and divide over methods and traditions and structures and rules, but there’s only one thing that’s important. We get worked up over interpretations and translations and obligations, but only one thing counts: faith expressing itself through love.

That’s true freedom. When we give ourselves completely to the fact that our salvation has already been secured, that there’s nothing left to do, it’s all been done, when we embrace that in faith, then we’re living in freedom. We’re free from our sins and anything that’s ever happened in our pasts. We’re free to stop worrying about ourselves and our rights and our honor to serve other people so that walls are torn down and wounds are healed. You’re not anxiously fretting about your standing with God. You’re not looking for physical signs or proof of who’s in and who’s out. You are free to become what God created you to be, what you always wanted to be — you just didn’t know what it was!

And whatever rules there are, whatever obligations remain, we’re free to live above them and through them. We don’t worry about any of that because our faith in Christ has us loving others.

The Gospel truth that you are righteous because Jesus Christ has become for you your righteousness, holiness, and peace compels you to love God and others. It moves you to defend the weak and stand with the accused and speak up for the oppressed. It motivates you to give and forgive. It empowers you to let go and live the way God lives, erring on the side of grace and giving everybody the benefit of the doubt.

Whatever you do, don’t mess it up. It’s the only thing that counts.

Peace,

Allan

Genuine Love

“In every moment of genuine love, we are dwelling in God and God in us.”

~Paul Tillich, 1954

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