Saturday, February 28, 2015

Loving Like Jesus

We call 1 Corinthians 13 the Love Chapter. It is without a doubt the most beautiful treatise ever written on the subject of love. It is often read at special occasions such as weddings. Unfortunately, we can get the wrong impression of these words when we just read them in very special circumstances where we all feel good. It was really written to help loveless people learn how to love. It was written to the kind of people who feel awful because they have just hurt those around them because they didn’t know how to control their anger and their words. It was written to the husband who just walked out on his wife because he was so frustrated. It was written to the wife who has just belittled her husband because she is so disappointed in him. It was written to the parents who have just yelled at their children because they are short on patience.

If you want to see just how loveless you are, then try a test. See how you feel when you fill in your name instead of the word love. I will put my name in as an example.

“Boyd is patient and kind; Boyd does not envy or boast; he is not arrogant or rude. He does not insist on his own way; he is not irritable or resent­ful; he does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Boyd bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Boyd never fails."
(1 Cor. 13:4-8).  Do the same thing for yourself, and you will know how I feel: not very loving at all.

When I read my name in the passage, I am smacked with a reality check. I fall so short of even coming close in any of those areas. Instead of making me feel good, this passage makes me feel terrible. I know one thing and that is if I am going to be able to love like this, God will have to help me do it.

However, when I insert the name of Jesus in the place of love, it fits perfectly.

“Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; he is not arrogant or rude. He does not insist on his own way; he is not irritable or resent­ful; he does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus never fails."
(1 Cor 13:4-8).

Jesus is the only one who ever loved this way, and he is the only one who can teach us how to love this way.  Jesus never did anything without love. He even loved his enemies and prayed for those who killed him. We won’t ever know real love unless Jesus introduces us to that kind of love. Without Jesus we are hopelessly inadequate to love others. Because Jesus loves us precisely the way Paul describes, we are empowered to love as he loves us. Remember that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, and there is no greater love than that. Jesus died for loveless people everywhere, and if we let him, he will show us how to love.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Road Building

In the 1970’s, I drove from California to Alaska. When I entered Canada, I had to drive the 1,400 mile Alcan Highway to reach my destination. It was mostly an unpaved, solitary road that allowed me to see some of the beautiful sights as it took me to Alaska. It was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. As important as this road is, connecting Alaska to the lower 48 states, there was another road builder long before who built the most important roads.

He was John the Baptist. Luke wrote this about him, “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The prophet Isaiah had written these words hundreds of years earlier about John, "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation’” (Luke 3:3-6).

John preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He knew there was a sin problem, and the only way people would be able to overcome this enormous problem would be to acknowledge their sinfulness and repent, and then God would forgive them.

As John preached, the Spirit convicted the people of their sin. There is a close connection between repen­tance and forgiveness. John actually was a spiritual road builder. He helped people flatten out their sinful mountain peaks and fill in the terrible valleys of self-deception so the savior could enter their lives.

Today many preachers shy away from even mentioning the word sin so as not to offend people. However, if we don’t know how to repent, we will never find God’s forgiveness. If the church would repent of its indifference, materialism and selfishness, a wonderful highway of repentance would bring God’s refreshing blessings in our lives.

John's preaching brought a response of multitudes that came out to hear him preach. How this same kind of preaching is needed today because there are so many who need to feel conviction for their sin. Husbands need to repent for being loveless partners in marriage. Wives need to repent for being bitter and resentful against their partners. Families need to repent for hurting each other. Their repentance is a road that invites God’s presence, his forgiveness and his healing.

John told the people to “bring fruit in keeping with repentance”(Luke 3:8). It was dangerous to hear John preach because he brought them into God’s presence. That was both exhilarating and frightening. In God’s presence we all see ourselves as we are, completely sinful and undone. The fruit John was talking about was “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” Gal 5:22-23). This fruit comes from God transforming our lives. It is the fruit of the Spirit, and it cannot be produced through self-initiated efforts but only after we have truly repented of our sinful ways.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Connecting the Dots

We only have one story about Jesus from his childhood after the narrative of his birth. During the silence of the thirty years until he begins his ministry, only this one incident gives us a brief look at the boy, Jesus. Then silence again for the next eighteen years.

Luke tells this story most likely from his interviews with Mary. Jesus’ family, and even extended family, made the same trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem every year that his Mother and Joseph had made at his birth. They came with thousands of other pilgrims from all over for the Passover. The temple was fully staffed with hundreds of additional priests to accommodate the long lines of devout Jews who came to offer their Passover lamb. Jesus, with Joseph, would have been in one of those lines to offer their lamb to God and then would have carried the sacrificed lamb back to the family to eat for the Passover meal. Jesus would have heard the explanation of the first Passover in Egypt long ago as God’s means of protecting his people from the final plague. At this Passover, more than any other, Jesus began to connect the dots of what Passover meant for everyone, and especially for him.

When the Passover was over, the family began their almost one hundred mile journey home. However, without realizing it, they left Jesus behind. It wasn’t until the end of the first day that his parents realized he was missing, since they were traveling in a large company of relatives. Jesus, being a real adolescent, most likely forgot about everything but what he had just experienced and had become enthralled with what was going on in the temple. Apparently, his mind had begun to realize that he was to be the ultimate Passover Lamb.

When his parents realized he was not with them, they traveled back and found him in the temple, “…sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Mary demonstrates her anxiety with these words, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you” (Luke 2:46-47).

Jesus’ answer was very astonishing to his parents, but also is extremely enlightening for us. Jesus answered, “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:48).

Jesus’ answer shows he realized that the temple and the Passover were his Father’s house and his father’s business. Jesus had come to realize his special relationship with his Father. From this time forward he never used any other term for God other than Father. His answer indicates he had come to realize that his life needed to be occupied with his Father’s business.

When we realize who our father is, then we will comprehend our purpose in life. This is the ultimate connection of relationship with purpose. It is also interesting that when Jesus went with his parents back to Nazareth, his astounding revelation of who he was did not change his relationship to his parents. He was obedient to them and grew in wisdom and grace (Luke 2:49-52). True understanding of who God is makes us submissive and obedient, not arrogant and rebellious.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Longing Heart

Eight days after giving birth to a baby, Mary and Joseph went to the temple in Jerusalem to have their baby boy circumcised. It was also the time to declare his official name. Both Mary and Joseph knew what the name would be because they both had been instructed by the angel Gabriel what to name him. They called him Jesus which is the Greek rendering of Joshua which means that “Jehovah is salvation.” As Joshua had been Israel’s conqueror and deliverer, so Jesus would deliver from their sins all who come to him, as Gabriel had said, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:21).

About a month later, Mary and Joseph returned to the busy temple for the dedication of their son. God had prepared this moment for them because a priest named Simeon was moved by the Spirit to go to the temple at the very moment the couple entered. He had been assured by God that he would see the Messiah before he died, and as he held the baby in his arms, he knew this was the one he had waited for (Luke 2:25-28).

Though the hustle and bustle of the temple was everywhere, Joseph and Mary were with Simeon, and it was as if they had known each other all their lives because God had arranged this meeting. Accompanying Simeon was Anna who was over a 100, and she, too, was longing to see this baby. Many were waiting for a Messiah to come riding atop a black stallion, but Simeon and Anna expected otherwise. Their hearts longed for God, and this day he filled both of them. Simeon exclaimed that he had seen and had held the Messiah, and his heart was satisfied.

Simeon offered a prophesy over the child and his mother. "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too" (Luke 2:34-35). Mary was hearing for the first time of the sorrow that would pierce her heart when she would witness her son’s death.

Simeon’s words about Jesus are so revealing for all of us when he says that Jesus is destined to cause the rising and falling of many. Jesus is so controversial even today. He is loved or hated, understood or misunderstood, followed or rejected because he reveals who we are. Everything hinges on whether we open or close our hearts to Jesus. If we receive him as Simeon did, our longing hearts will also be satisfied in Jesus.