1 John 4:18-19, Matthew 22:36-40, Romans 10:4

You Have to Get the Ball

I remember an old Nike commercial. The leading re-bounder for the NBA was alone on a court running back and forth from net to net, tossing the ball up against the backboard to practice snatching the rebound. The camera would shift from a full shot of his hard workout, down to his shoes, and then back. At the end, it would zoom in on his face at mid court as he stopped with sweat dripping off him, and looking dead into the camera he would say, “You’ve got to get the ball before you can shoot the ball.”

That’s true with so many things in life, not the least of which is love. The Apostle John explains one of the chief characteristics of God in 1 John 4:18. He writes, “God is love.” Then in 1 John 4:19, he tells us something very important about Love. “We love because God first loved us.” You have to get the ball before you can shoot the ball.

This is extremely important because when Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, He replied in Matthew 22:36-40, “‘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.” The ultimate fulfillment of the law is found in loving God and loving others. But no one can keep the law! In Romans 3:20 Paul explains the purpose for the law. He writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The religious leaders of Jesus’ day and many religious leaders today think they “have the ball.” They didn’t and they don’t, and neither do we. Jesus does!

John tells us in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Just before that in John 10:11, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Only Jesus loved God with all His heart and His neighbor as himself. We do not and we cannot! Repentance is confessing that truth. Comprehension of our failure under the law leads to recognition of our need for another way by which we can be made right with God. God provides that way for us. Paul explains it in Romans 10:4, “For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in Him are made right with God.” Believing that Christ made all things right between us and God through His sacrifice on the cross gives us the ball. Do you have it?

Psalm 54:10, 1 John 4:18-19, Romans 5:8

Let God Love You!

I’ve been retired for two years now. It’s hard! My wife and son get up and go to work everyday. I get up with them and we do our morning routine of exercise and devotional discussions but when they leave for work, I do whatever I want. Sometimes it’s productive, but honestly, most of the time it’s not. I’m still trying to find my niche in the retirement community. When my wife gets home she asks, “what did you do today?” but I hear, “you lazy bum, why don’t you do something worthwhile?” So I attempt to justify my day by either exaggerating what I’ve done or sometimes making up stuff that I know I should have done but didn’t. Yes, I’d call that lying! I know I’ve fallen short of what I should do and be, so I have to find ways to justify myself – even if I have to make them up.

Jesus was once asked by a scholar of the law, “What must I do to be saved?” Jesus answered his question with the question, “What does the law say about this?” The lawyer answered, “You must love God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “That’s right, do this and you will have life.” Then Jesus looked the lawyer in the eye and Luke adds this comment about him. He says, “desiring to justify himself” the lawyer brings up another question: “Who is my neighbor?” Obviously, the lawyer knew he had not fulfilled the ultimate commandment and wanted a way to justify his failure.

I am of the opinion that Jesus simply wanted the Lawyer to acknowledge his failure thus opening the door for God’s love expressed on the cross of Calvary to reach him. Romans 5:8 tells us that while we were and are sinners, God demonstrated His love for us in that Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. As long as we’re trying to justify ourselves, we cannot avail ourselves of the Love of God in Christ. Our problem is, we don’t trust God’s unconditional love for us so we fear God instead of loving Him.  We see him as a boss trying to get the most out of us, a policeman hiding behind the billboard trying to catch us doing something wrong, a teacher laying the measuring rod against us to see if we measure up, or a wife condemning us for not being productive. These attributes might be right with bosses, policemen, teachers and even wives, but none of those reflect the truth about God’s attitude towards us.  He loves us unconditionally!

We have trouble receiving God’s love because we know we don’t deserve it. But you see, that’s the point! We begin to experience God’s love when we realize He loves us no matter what. In Psalm 54:10, the Psalmist speaks for God, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed.” There is no way any of us will ever fulfill the commandment of love without having received God’s love first. In John 4:18-19 we read, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us.” The most profound exhortation you can ever hear has nothing to do with trying harder or being better. It is and always will be “Let God Love You!”

Isaiah 7:14, Acts 7:9-10, Judges 2:18

O Come, O Come…

Immanuel! We hear this word a lot during the Christmas season. In Isaiah 7:14 the Lord promised Ahaz a sign, “behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” It means “God with us.” This verse has been a key one for establishing the deity of Christ. Jesus was not a created being but the “only begotten son” of God himself. Jesus was God in the flesh and he left his home on high to pitch his tent “tabernacle” with us, to be with us, to enter into our experience. Jesus was in a very real sense God with us in the flesh. But what does it mean for “God to be with us.”

Acts 7:9-10, tells us that God was with Joseph when his brothers sold him into slavery. That verse says, “God  was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom…” The book of Judges teaches us that “God was with” all of the Judges. Judges 2:18 says, “Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies…” The name “Immanuel” might mean a lot of things but we have good reason to believe that it means God will rescue us from our afflictions and he will fight for us and give us victory over our enemies.

My favorite Christmas Hymn is “O Come, O Come Immanuel…” One of the lessor known verses of this hymn is the prayer for the Christ, the Messiah, to rescue us from our afflictions. It goes like this, “O come, O Bright and Morning Star, and bring us comfort from afar! Dispel the shadows of the night and turn our darkness into light.” Another verse addresses his victory over our ultimate enemy. It goes like this, “O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny. From depths of hell Thy people save And give them victory o’er the grave.” My point is that “Immanuel” has come in the person of Christ. He is indeed with us through faith as he was with Joseph in his trials and as he was with the Judges in bringing them victory.  In Christ we find eternal comfort amidst our trials. In Christ we find eternal victory over the last and greatest of our enemies.

Luke 6:46

Why did you do that?

I remember doing some pretty stupid things as a kid. I stole some ball-bearings from a neighbors garage to use as ammunition for my sling shot! I was to find out they were precision bearings used for sophisticated machinery and were very expensive. My dad asked me “what in the world were you thinking?” I was caught cheating on a midterm exam while taking a makeup summer school course in bookkeeping at Tech High School back in 1961. My dad asked, “why would you do such a thing?” My answer for both of these questions was “I dunno.” I’ve heard my kids answer similar questions that I’ve asked them about “why” they did or did not do what they were supposed to and the answer was, “I dunno.”   But the question is not really a question seeking an answer, is it? It’s a condemnation of said behavior and when you hear that question you don’t think about the answer.  You understand the question to be a rebuke to drive home the “errors” of my ways to inspire me to try harder.

After teaching about loving enemies and doing good to those that wrong you and the folly of judging others and other difficult instructions, Jesus asked his followers a question.  In Luke 6:46, He said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you to do?” Almost every commentator I read on this verse suggests in one way or another that this is a question of condemnation. It’s not a true question calling for reflection and self-examination.  I think they are all wrong! I think Jesus was pointing out a truth about ourselves that would shake us to our very foundation.  Why don’t we obey Jesus’ commands? It’s really very simple! We can’t! We might want to and long to but the truth of our very make-up makes it impossible for us to do so. This is what the Bible means by true “repentance.”

The commentators suggest that Jesus is asking this question to guilt us into becoming better people. I think that’s what my father’s questions to me and my questions to my kids were. But I do not see Jesus doing that. I see him lovingly prodding us in our thinking to come to understand a state of affairs in this life that He had to manage for us on the Cross of Calvary. As long as we keep reading the Bible as instructions for becoming better people, we’ll never understand God’s loving interaction with us through His Son that can save us from ourselves.

Jeremiah 7:9, Genesis 3:1, 2 Corinthians 11:14

All That Glitters is not Gold!

As I was studying Jeremiah Chapter 7, verses 8 and 9, I remembered some lyrics from an old song from 1970.  I remember way too many of the popular songs from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. I’ve always enjoyed Linda Ronstadt’s music. One of my favorite songs that she made famous is titled, “A Long, Long Time.” In this song she sings to a man she has loved for a long, long time but who had never loved her back. She says she has been living in the memory of the “love that never was.” In the course of her indictment of her false lover she says, “I can’t say you hurt me when you never let me near, and I never drew one response from you, all the while you fell all over girls you never knew.”

The last phrase of verse 9 is what brought this to mind. Jeremiah is speaking to God’s false lovers. God wanted nothing but an intimate loving relationship with his people but they weren’t interested. He did not draw the kind of response He wanted from them. They focused on ritual and rites and religious expressions but had no true heart for God. Jeremiah says that the people of Judah had forsaken their one true God and have been chasing “…after other gods that they have never known.”

That’s the hidden core of all temptation – the mysterious unknown! And what is even more attractive is the forbidden unknown! We are all there in some way and it began with Adam and Eve. We often wonder what was so attractive about a talking snake. But that was not the case. The Hebrew word in Genesis 3 that introduces us to Satan literally means “to shine.” As a noun it means “the shining one.” I guess that’s why Paul called Satan an “angel of light” in 2 Corinthians 11:14. Genesis calls him the most deceitful and beguiling creature in the world. He promises one thing but delivers another. He presents sin as something desirable hiding its ultimate destructive nature. But Jeremiah ends his indictment of Judah with the warning that following enticing, forbidden lovers will always end badly. It did for Judah and it will also end badly for us. Truly, all that glitters is not gold!

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