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

If God is Good…

For about a week now, I’ve been fumbling with thoughts about pain. Sounds morbid, right? Except that I’ve been thinking about the Privileges of Pain.

Truthfully,  most of the world is hung up on, “if God is good, why Pain, Suffering, Death?” Authors have gone so far as to declare loudly, God Is Not Good, (Christopher Hitchens.) But before we turn away from this topic, which we have covered for two months, I want to suggest to you that pain proves that God is decidedly good. 

Let’s start at the very beginning, according to Fraulein Maria, in Sound of Music, a very good place to start. What is the very first recording of pain in the Bible? I imagine the animal that God slew in order to fashion clothes for Adam and Eve was the first creature to experience pain. (Genesis 3:21)

If you recall, Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The first indication of their sin was that they realized they were naked, they became ashamed and they hid. Therefore, God made clothes for them of animal skins.

The animal whose life was forfeit in order to clothe Adam and Eve was the first picture of a blood sacrifice to cover the sins of man. Then, throughout the Old Testament, under the Mosaic covenant, death was required to pay for sin so that man might remain in relationship with God. (Hebrews 9:22)

Fast forward to the first four books of the New Testament. These Gospels tell us the story of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus endured pain’s grand finale in his death on the cross. His pain was the payment for our sin. Isaiah 53:5

But why pain at all?  Pain came with man’s sin. Man invited death, pain and struggle into God’s perfect world. (Genesis 3:14-20) But why does pain remain? And if God loves me why must I suffer? 

Think of a little child who brazenly ignores his mother, climbs up on his step stool and promptly places his tiny palm flat on a hot burner. What if there was no pain? Not only would the child not remove his hand from the burner where it would continue to destroy his flesh, but also his pride and embarrassment would keep him from running to his mother. If the child was not forced by his pain to seek out his mother – who would soothe his wound, apply ointment and offer comfort?

God knows that if we don’t experience pain in this broken world, we will ignorantly continue to invite sin and death into our lives, essentially playing Russian roulette until one day, unaware of our self destruction, we will die – forever. If pain and death were not the result of rebellion against God, what would drive us into His arms and restore relationship?

I do not mean to imply that pain and suffering are a direct result of sin in an individual’s life. Even those who love Jesus with all their hearts and have trusted him for salvation, experience pain and eventual death. Now look with me into the heart of Christ’s ministry, right in the middle of the Gospels’ stories.

In John 9, we meet a blind man. Because he had been born blind, the snickers and questions circled as Jesus healed the man. “Who sinned? This man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man or his parents sinned, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)

God’s glory arrives in the midst of our pain. When HE saves us. When HE comforts us. When HE is enough. When HIS strength is proved perfect.

God’s glory arrived in the midst of Christ’s anguish. When God showed that HE was willing to go to the farthest length to restore man. When God showed that HE loved us enough to walk among us. When God showed that HE was stronger than death.

So maybe we should quit saying that God allows pain to teach us something. Often that causes us to look inward and try to change what surely must be wrong with us. What if pain is simply so that He can show to us and in us the change He has already made: that He conquered death, that He reversed the power of sin from the very first painful experience in the Bible.

The Greatest Miracle in History?

What do you think was the biggest miracle of all time? Creation? Every sunrise? The resurrection of Jesus Christ? If I had to answer that question right off the top of my head I probably would have said the resurrection. But recently, during my quiet time, my thinking was challenged. I am still not sure where I fall on this issue, so I welcome your thoughts:

The greatest miracle of all time was the death of Jesus Christ.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;'” John 11:25

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6

If Jesus actually IS life, how could He die? Jesus, physical Jesus, was perfect. Jesus was from the beginning (John 1). The truth that our Almighty God, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor loved a rebellious world, of whom every single one had gone astray – loved that world enough to die for it – THAT is the miracle. We were doomed to die for our sin, but the Immortal chose, with an absolute act of will to DIE for us, in our stead.

It seems to me that it took a greater miracle for the Author of Life to choose to die for His own creation, than for the very God who IS life to rise from the dead. Sin and death are diabolical opposites of life and holiness – therefore Jesus Christ could not be contained by a grave.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers,” 1 John 3:16

God did not compromise one iota of His holiness to redeem a wicked world. God did not extend a second chance to sinners, He offered a perfect, infallible rescue.