The Rules Have Changed

The Golden Rule: Love your neighbor as yourself. 

I bet if you stopped a random, professing Christian on the street and asked, “Who gave us The Golden Rule?” their confident reply would be, “Of course, Jesus did.”

I’m here to challenge that. I mean, if we’re going to Love Like Jesus, don’t you think we ought to know how He thought we should love?

Love your neighbor as yourself, is pretty easy, pretty safe as rules go. It leaves the measure of love open ended, held only to a very subjective and personal standard. Any moralist happily endorses The Golden Rule.

It leaves a remnant of plausible morality for an unbeliever; you don’t have to believe in

Jesus to obey it. The Golden Rule creates generous atheists and friendly agnostics. In the end, usually The Golden Rule is quoted with an index finger pointed at someone else’s chest, while the speaker happily forgets that there are three fingers pointing right back at himself.

You sir, how do you love?

So, if Jesus didn’t leave us with The Golden Rule, who did, and what did Jesus command us to do?

In Matthew 22:37, Jesus quotes The Law of Moses in response to a question. The greatest commandment given through Moses was indeed, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”

But, if you lived in the days of Jesus, would you be content to simply hear a sermon, then head off about your normal duties? Or, would you have been a disciple?

Wouldn’t you want to follow Him everywhere, ply Him with questions, sleep under the stars on the Mount of Olives with Him, be ever so intimate with the Man who loved you like no one else ever had?

If so, then let’s follow Jesus to a private place. I want to hear His words reserved for the company of His hand-picked friends; be one of those who would have experiential understanding of this love.

Let’s share the Passover with Him one last time and be attentive to His final words in the sacred setting:

“A new commandment I give to you, that  you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” To be known as His, it is not enough to love others as we love ourselves. As mentioned before, anyone can do that.

At the end of his life, the same man who recorded Jesus’ instruction to love others as He loves us, the man who called himself, “the disciple Jesus loved”, felt burdened to remind us of that commandment and to describe that love more explicitly.

Read 1 John 4.

To love as Jesus loved us, is to:

  1. Love before we are loved (1 John 4:10)
  2. Love beyond the world’s standards of reason
    In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus says over and over, “You have heard it said…, but I tell you…”. Jesus offers and demands something far different than moralism.
  3. Love verbally, confessing Christ and crediting Him as the one who first loved us  (1 John 4:15)
  4. Love others before they repent (while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, Romans 5:8)
  5. Believe and never forget the love God has for us, even when we fail to love as He did. We cannot continue to love as God does if we forget He loves us in our failures.
  6. Love fearlessly (1 John 4:18)

Jesus demands of His followers far more than the world expects. At the same time, He has not left us without means. Let us follow Him closely and learn from Him.

“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:3

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Matt. 11:29

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” John 14:27

The Long-term Effects of Evangelism

My husband grew up in Guatemala. He’s not verbose, but I love to hear my mother-in-law tell stories about his younger years.

When he was less than ten years old, he got see monkeys swinging from tree branches. He climbed barefoot up coconut trees and tossed the plump, hairy fruits to the ground. Then squeezing one between his feet, he learned to crack it open and suck out the refreshing milk.

It’s funny how our minds work. Quickly, my thoughts travel from her story to find similarities between it and Christ’s sacrifice for the salvation of man.

Isaiah 53:5 says, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

Jesus body was broken for us (Luke 22:19), just like that coconut. His death, the breaking of His body purchased new life for those who believe in Him. Believers take communion, eat the bread representing His body and drink the wine depicting His blood, and remember His death and resurrection. We receive life and nourishment through Him.

My husband’s family lived in Guatemala for the purpose of evangelism. His dad, a doctor, spent long hours caring for the physically sick. He delivered babies, treated parasites, closed wounds, cleaned infections, pulled teeth and more. My mother-in-law taught the children and ministered to village women through compassion and companionship.

These stories and their related truths came flooding back to me when I read this story from a distributor of The Pocket Testament League’s gospels.

“We recently returned from Guatemala where we used the Spanish version of the Gospel of John to spread the Gospel there. I believe our team distributed nearly 200. We were able to witness to many people using these as well as secure some eternities. It was awesome!”

Sharing the Gospel, evangelism, is so much more than categorical mission work. It’s more than visiting a strange land or learning a new language. It’s more than preaching. It’s even more than providing medical care and basic necessities. Sharing Jesus creates sisters and brothers; it demolishes cultural lines and physical differences.

Today, my husband’s family stays in touch with many of the people they served in Guatemala as well as some of the missionaries they served alongside. They made

life-time friends, and more than that, eternal friends.

Sometimes, a missionary or evangelist never gets to see the fruits of their labor. Also, many times, like my husband’s family, they have to move on and leave behind those they led to Jesus. But that’s what I love about Jesus: Everything He does is perfect and eternal.

The relationship that began with a Gospel from The Pocket Testament League, or the friendship that began over a shared, delicious coconut, or one that started when a doctor treated a broken arm – these relationships are eternal. They take the living water that Jesus gave and offer it to others, refreshing them too.

The love that Jesus showed to us is irresistible. We must, as believers, live intentionally to share that love with others, both practically and verbally. The reward is limitless. First, we receive the privilege of obedience to God.

“He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15

Second, sharing the Gospel creates deep, satisfying, lasting friendships, those who can be counted upon to pray for us, encourage us and hold us accountable. The apostle Paul said of Timothy, a young man whom he very likely led to Christ:

“But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel.” Phil. 2:19-22

Lastly, the more that we speak of Jesus, the closer we draw to Him and the more intimately we know Him and He will make our joy complete. (John 16:24)

Please visit The Pocket Testament League for resources to help you boldly share your faith.

Value Added

I’ve been hearing lately, incessantly actually, on the radio about the Golden Eagle Coin. Doubtless you’ve heard it too.

The ad argues, in an attempt to persuade casual listeners that their life is incomplete without this coin, that gold has intrinsic value. But paper money is valuable only because we arbitrarily assign worth to it.

The green, flimsy sheets in your wallet are nothing in and of themselves. We see proof of this all the time as the stock market fluctuates and the relative worth of American currency to that of other countries, varies constantly.

What if we woke up tomorrow and the powers that be decided that paper money is no longer “in”? What if we simply bypassed the frightening run on the bank, and tomorrow’s sunrise illuminated the collapse of our entire economy?

But I wonder, isn’t gold the same way? Isn’t everything the same way? If it were not for the value that we as individuals or society place on any given thing, what good are they?

Why does sex sell? Because in today’s cultural climate, easy sexual gratification is highly valued. However, only a few decades ago, the same risqué images that ply our greedy minds and draw us to dirty movies, provocative magazines and trashy TV shows would have repulsed the average consumer. While today the clip of a woman gasping in the shower sells a bottle of shampoo, our grandmothers would have boycotted the company. Value assigned.

Why is there a steady climb in the number of eating disorders among most demographics? Why are young children getting plastic surgery? Why do 90% of the headlines on consumer magazines promise to unveil long-held secrets of beauty?

It is because we have arbitrarily assigned a high value to beauty (a subjective term in itself) and specifically to thinness. Take those same messages to a rural African culture and their power is forfeit. It isn’t that Victoria’s Secret is the objective definition of beauty, but for the time, for this culture, she is the image of what we hold in high esteem: The model of feminine beauty.

So my question is this: Is it really fail-safe to invest in gold? Is there assurance of happiness in the pursuit of sexual appeal or a beautiful body?

Resoundingly, No. Value is assumed and people are finicky things.

The only indisputable value, the only unmitigated quantity, the only absolute insurance is Jesus Christ. For He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Heb. 13:8

An Invitation

Hi Friends!

I have something new for you today…an invitation.

Your kids are headed back to school. Most of your life is narrowing into a straighter line, a tighter tunnel. Not so much less busy as it is just more focused: classes, ball games, practices, lessons, homework. Monday through Friday – wash, rinse, repeat.

So, I’m wondering, are you headed into deeper study of Jesus? While your kids are learning the fundamentals of arithmetic, literature and history, are you studying the one and only thing that will fundamentally prepare you to face each next chaotic day, each next difficult relationship, each new phase of parenting or married life?

Several months ago, a very dear friend introduced me to Good Morning Girls, a groud-breaking group of women who have harnessed the Internet in order to internationally declare Jesus and to bring to women everywhere a feeling of community as they study God’s Word.

I am finishing up the training to become a leader/facilitator for the next Good Morning Girls Bible study that starts on September 2. We will be studying in the book of Luke, following the theme, “Loving Like Jesus.” I’m inviting you to join me in this study!

The simplest of explanations: The study is conducted on Facebook. We will have a secret group once all of our participants have joined. Each day you will individually “SOAP” (Scripture, Observe, Apply, Pray) a passage of Scripture. Then, beneath a heading on the Facebook page, everyone will leave their comments about that day’s lesson. There will supplemental, short reading from Good Morning Girls and the authors of the study. The FB group will become interactive as we read each others’ insights, talk on a personal level and share our lives. I’ve done four studies like this now and I love it!

Again, the study starts on September 2, and enrollment, which will allow you to have access to the materials (reading guide and printable book) is from August 19 -September 1. Please let me know here by a comment or email that you would like to participate in my group and I’ll keep you informed with the details.

In the meantime, I wrote this poem today, an overflow of my study in Good Morning Girls, “Women of Influence.”

Faith is an unlikely thing,
In the trembling hands of a prostitute, a crimson cord.
Faith, unlikely in an ancient man to wait another year,
nine months, youthful years.
Faith, unlikely in a puny army,
To route the enemy at the hand of a woman.
Faith, unlikely in the sands of Egypt, the hungry woods,
After nine plagues, after forty years.
Faith unlikely, is an untimely thing.
Forever tardy, slipping in on the last cool breeze,
The dying breath of hope.
Faith untimely after 400 years of Heaven’s stony silence.
Through generations of sunrise, sunset.
Waiting on. Baited breath.
Past a wish. After hope. Often after life.
Faith slips in on the last cool breeze,
Hope’s dying breath.
And grips with one last talon,
The shred of light remaining.
Faith clings till sunrise, one more time,
And sees just a little farther, over the horizon,
And waits…

Love Isn’t What You Thought it Was

Love is NOT an action. Love is NOT a verb.

Maybe I’m taking it too far. After all, it is the well-meaning marriage counselor staring across her office at the young couple engaged in an only slightly contained version of offensive PDA, who says it. She wants to warn them that the honeymoon phase won’t last forever.

Or, it’s the aged and experienced pastor, reminding his flock that love endures all things, it doesn’t give up as soon as the circumstances no longer feel good.

That’s what we mean, right? We’re trying to say that love doesn’t always evoke warm fuzzies. It isn’t always carrying a long-stemmed rose. Love doesn’t necessarily pal around with happiness. Love has guts. Love digs in, hangs on, fights through and comes out on the other side. 

So I agree, love is not a feeling. But I stand by the truth that love is not an action either.

First Corinthians 13 is the “Love Chapter”, known by Christians and unbelievers alike as the quintessential description of the highest, most unattainable, unhuman-like love. It’s what we strive for and then console ourselves when we fail saying, “we’re only human”.

When I read that long definition of LOVE, I’m am struck more by what Love is not and what it does not do than what it is or does.

“…love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrongdoing…Love never ends.”

To me, this says that for those of us who are learning Love from the Savior who IS Love,  we will need to exercise more restraint from what comes naturally, than effort to perform a list of lovely actions.

The Bible doesn’t say Love is an activist. It doesn’t say Love sets out to change the world. In fact, some things in this list suggest that such actions are often attempted without love. Frequently, our intent to change the world looks like we’re fighting for our own way, behaving rudely or being resentful.

Love doesn’t constantly offer advice. (This includes counseling, nagging and reprimanding our husbands, kids or friends.)

People with Down Syndrome are known for their ability to love far beyond what we deem normal, even without the full capacity to do many things. We admire the limitless love of our pets, referring to their unconditional love, even as they cannot verbalize their emotions.

How well do we feel loved by a bed-ridden grandma who really can’t do anything for us anymore? Or do we experience love through the prayers of a church body we’ve never seen? Or do we admire the love and joy emanating from an impoverished African child, who has little ability to do much for anyone?

Love isn’t an action.
Love isn’t a feeling.
Love is a person, and those who know Him best ought to be those who radiate it most brightly. Just as those standing closest to a candle will be most illuminated. Love is a Being, not a doing. A Being who always IS with us and doesn’t run from our unloveliness.

Welcome to hot-seat, please sit down

Christian, let me put you on the hot-seat. Don’t worry, I’ll sit there with you. We can warm our buns together and talk about sensitive subjects.

It seems these days you can’t turn around with hearing someone decrying the shame of homosexuality, the evil of abortion, the wickedness of corrupt and dishonest politicians. From nearly every pulpit and Christian media outlet, we hear of pending doom, the unbearable wrath of God looming over society’s collective shoulder as it marches into hell.

Seriously, where do we get that??

Despite our pious followup of “grace” to this vehement condemnation, we hardly live out what Christ the embodiment of LOVE actually exemplified. Think with me.

We’ve heard it and likely said, “Hate the sin and love the sinner.” Is that anywhere in Scripture? NO! In fact, the closest we can get is re-wording Ephesians 6:12, which says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

What we wish it said, what we often act like it says, is, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood sinners, but against all the evil things they’re doing.

Or take, John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.”

What we seem to think this verse says, For God so loved those who believe in Him that He gave them eternal life. 

We act as if Jesus never met a homosexual or prostitute (think of the woman at the well). We seem to believe He didn’t know any corrupt politicians or evil government officials (think Roman soldier and Pilate and Herod). And maybe Jesus didn’t ever actually see a thief or a murderer (who hung on the cross next to Him?).

I challenge us who grew up in the protective boundary of the church, and who have the privilege and honor of reading the Bible whenever we desire and knowing Christ, God’s Word, personally – I challenge us to name one time when Jesus rebuked an obviously evil person.

The people Jesus spoke against most often in Scripture were those who not only thought they were good people, but from all outside standards, really were keeping the “whole law”. Except, to love their neighbor – the Samaritan, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sinners. Christian – who do we most look like today?

Do we keep the whole law, behaving well and even performing outreach and being faithful to our spouses and being activists in our communities – but then, hold our neighbor at arm’s distance, telling them first of their sin and finally of the God who loves THE WORLD?

Another couple verses that often pop up in this delicate conversation are John 16:7-11, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Usually, I think, we read this as if the Holy Spirit is standing indignantly within us, slapping our wrists when we miss behave and giving us the authority to point out sin in the world. But I don’t think that’s what it means. Follow along to the next verse…

“…concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;” What is the sin that the Holy Spirit convicts of? It is the sin of unbelief. No other sin is unpardonable. Lay it along side that other verse we struggle over and worry about:

Luke 12:10 “And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to deny what He says, namely that we must believe. What if we quit beginning our conversations with rebuke, and changed our public arguments to stop railing against the evils of society and simply pleaded with everyone to know the God who loves them and believe in Him?

“…concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father;” because Jesus became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. All righteousness anyone could ever need to perform has been taken care of, all that’s left is belief.

“…concerning judgement; because the ruler of this world is judged.” IT IS FINISHED. There remains no means by which to condemn anyone, except unbelief. So perhaps we’re wasting our breath by tackling all the blatant sins in the world. The only good thing that remains to be done is to believe in the fully sufficient righteousness of Jesus Christ.

And after all, “It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance.” All of our indigence and law quoting is for naught. Jesus never quoted the law to an unbeliever. He merely and only loved them, and that drew them to Him, that they might believe and have eternal life.

Waiting to be…

“I have always, essentially, been waiting. Waiting to become something else, waiting to be that person I always thought I was on the verge of becoming, waiting for that life I thought I would have. In my head, I was always one step away.” Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life

I felt so guilty as I drug my family, friends and my God through the dregs of my eating disorder. I remember thinking so many times, “I’ll get this right tomorrow, then they will love me again.”

“I won’t be such a disappointment when I weigh enough, finish the program, eat cake with everyone, go out for pizza, etc.”

“God, I know you must be so fed up with me, so tired of my relapses and recurrent fears. When I finally get well, then you can use me. Then you can be glorified in me.”

A well-rehearsed Bible verse echoed in my mind, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8

How on earth can God be glorified in you? My heart accused me. You have so little faith, you can’t even eat!  What godly fruit are you evidencing? Why would anyone believe in your God? You’re a terrible example. 

No one else ever said those words, but I believed them deep in my heart. The feelings of failure served only to push me deeper into depression and deeper into anorexic habits fueled by fear and hopelessness. What if God gave up on me?

Just this morning, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to another Bible verse that I’ve known almost all my life. I can hardly believe I didn’t see the full truth, the full counsel of God’s Word before!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23a

The fruit that glorifies God and that identifies me as His disciple is not my performance! It isn’t how well I demonstrate Christian behavior. The fruit that I marks me as belonging to Jesus is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the very same Spirit that He sent to teach me all things and remind me of everything Jesus said and did for me. (John 14:26)

But the best news was yet to come. Jesus also said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9

I began to trace the references of God’s love for Jesus through the New Testament. In John 11:42, Jesus was confident in God’s love and that God heard everything He prayed. In Matthew 3:17, the Father shouted from the heavens that Jesus is His beloved son and that He is pleased with Him. In John 15:24, Jesus said that the Father loved Him before the foundation of the world.

Hallelujah! Even in the midst of my darkest days, God still loves me. He sees a forgiven me through Jesus’ blood even when I despair and get discouraged. Because of Jesus, every moment of my life, I am loved, pleasing to my Father, heard by my Father – from the foundation of the world.

Wisdom from Darlene Merwin

Friends,

For this week, and likely part of next week, I’m going to be sharing with you from the online resources that I enjoy. I’m out of town at the moment, surrounded by my favorite people in the world – surrounded and unequivocally distracted. Hence, I’m not doing a very good job of putting my heart and thoughts on paper, or keyboard as the case may be.

I hope you enjoy some samples of my favorite writers and websites. Today, I’m sharing with you from Haven Journal.

Sometimes what you think is so right, can be so wrong!  We serve a God who protects and saves us from total robbery!  When you ask Him to show you the truth, He will in some way so you can see straight!  Hes got your back!

When you visit Haven, Darlene Merwin, the author of this post, lists several Bible verses to support the truth of her words. Another one comes to my mind:

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go. Isaiah 48:17

Closing Lewis

Did you see the movie Thor? Remember that great, impassable chasm that in the end seemed to forever separate him from his love? The movie portrays two distinct realms, the world of the gods and the world of men.

Now, truthfully, the gods of Thor, were more like men, even in the fantasy. They could do evil and good. They had rivals and equivalents, relatives and love relationships. They lied and were deceived. But Praise the Lord, our God is not such!

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.” Is. 55:8

Though it’s admittedly fiction, allow me to blow some holes in movie’s premises about gods and men.

At the close of the book, The Screwtape Letters, Lewis’ main character and narrator is blasting his nephew and protege for allowing a young man to slip through his demon fingers. The human died with full knowledge and acceptance of Christ’s substitutionary death which purchased his pardon and eternal life.

It’s interesting to consider that first moment of real life. It’s murky, a muddy puddle, to peer into the mystery that we’re told we cannot even imagine.
“However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’ — the things God has prepared for those who love him–“. 1 Cor. 2:9

But as expected, Lewis does a masterful job of imagining what that might be like. You see, though God is utterly unlike us, we were created in His image. And then, Jesus came to earth clothed in human flesh so that a perfect man could ransom the lives of wretched men.

God has allowed our worlds to overlap. In fact, from the beginning, His desire was to walk with us daily, visibly, physically. Only sin has carved this chasm between us.
“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Is. 59:2

But that chasm is most certainly crossable. In fact, it has been crossed already, by Jesus, so that we can be reunited with our Creator. For those of us who have humbly accepted Christ’s payment for our sins, we have the promise that we will see Him!
(1 Cor. 2:9) 19
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,”. Hebrews 10:19-20

So listen to Lewis’ description of a Christian meeting his maker:

he saw Him. This animal, this thing begotten in a bed, could look on Him. What is blinding, suffocating fire to you[Wormwood, the failed demon], is now cool light to him, is clarity itself, and wears the form of a Man.

and

-that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower.

Think of it, Friends! Think and be thrilled that it cannot be contained! Your great future, the glory of beholding His face and being able to stand before Him loved and unashamed! What magnificence! And it is not far away!
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 24-25

In fact, except for the physical vision of Jesus, it all ready is.
“For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” Eph. 2:6

P.S. Lewis was such fun. I think I might go very slowing through his book, The Great Divorce, with you next. What do you think?