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!

Jeremiah 7:5-7

Religion Kills – Jesus Gives Life!

Religion has been the deadliest thing throughout the entire history of the world. It’s the ugliest thing today as well. Convictions around specific doctrines, practices, and ideas coupled with intolerance for any other doctrine, practice or idea, has shed more blood and aroused more hatred between peoples, countries and races than anything else except maybe money. If you want to get a picture of that just study the progress of Christianity from the first Century to the present. Fox’s book of Martyrs tells the protestant side of the story but consider Constantine’s bloody conversion of the world in the name of Christ, the Holy Roman Empire’s battle with heresy and the inquisition. The Islamic move to convert the world with the sword, an effort not totally abandoned in some circles today.

Jesus did not come into the world to set up another religion that would put itself at odds with all the rest of them. He hates a system which promotes war between Protestants and Catholics or Christians and Muslims. I am convinced that Jesus hates religion! God loves the whole world. He loves all of His children, red and yellow, black and white; Hindu, Buddhists, and every other title you might slap on a “religious” system. He came, apart from Religion, to bring every one of His children into a loving relationship with the Father. No religion is any better than any other. They all fail! That’s why Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man can come to the father but through me.” Salvation has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with God’s love for us as expressed on the cross.

Only grasping the Love of God will change us or the world. God’s greatest command has always been to love Him and each other. But it’s not that we loved Him, but “He loved us first.” We cannot give love away if we don’t have it. God lifts up His son on the cross and says to us “I love you with an everlasting love.” There will be a time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. We will have a new Jerusalem; a new order when He is acknowledged as the king of kings and Lord of Lords and will dwell together in harmony as intended from the very beginning. It’s not religion and rituals that God wants! Jeremiah doesn’t applaud their religion. He condemns it and explains that God truly wants love. Consider this when you read Jeremiah 7:5-7. It says, “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.”

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