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God is Love

One of the most famous verses in the Bible is John 3:16, sometimes displayed at football games, on vehicle stickers and roadway signs. The verse contains the message of God’s love, Jesus coming, and eternal life. The verses that follow disclose the heart-breaking desire of people to remain in darkness. Are you living in the light?

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Photo credit: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton (cc)

John 3:16-17

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The divine gift

God loves more than a people group, gender, or nation. He loves the whole world. His love propelled Him to give the divine gift of His Son as a sacrifice for sin.

Although Christ’s coming brings judgment to those not believing, this was not the purpose. His aim is saving the world.”

John 3:18-19

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

Lovers of evil

Refusing the divine gift brings judgment. People consumed with wrongdoing prefer to not be shaken out of a comfortable sinfulness. Yet if people desire darkness over light they have chosen condemnation.

John 3:20-21

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

Loving darkness

Those in darkness hate the light because it exposes the real person. Few like being confronted about what they do wrong. Even so, some willingly lay down pride and respond to the love of God, accepting Jesus.

The challenge

Live life in the light. Choose Jesus! Then tell others about their need to embrace God’s love in order to spend eternity with Him.

How has living in the light changed your life? Share your comments below.

The Church – Called to Love

Over the course of the next year I will be writing a book about the church. This series of blogs about the seven churches will serve as a precursor for my manuscript. I look forward to hearing your comments along the way!

Matthew 16:18 records Jesus telling the disciples that He will build His church. The word “church” comes from a Greek word meaning “an assembly of people called out for a purpose.”

The church is a faith community called out for a divinely expressed purpose; namely, “to make disciples.”

A revelation

The book of Revelation gives special emphasis to seven churches in modern-day Turkey. The seven Asian churches represent the local church in every age and every country.

A light to the world

John the Revelator received a vision of seven golden lampstands and seven stars. (Revelation 1:12, 16) Jesus, standing among the lampstands, tells him the lampstands represent seven churches.

The church is the light-bearer in a darkened world.”

Revelation 2:1-7

“‘Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:

‘I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.

Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.’”

called to love

Ancient Ephesus

Located on the western coast of Asia Minor, at the convergence of three highways from the north, east, and south, Ephesus was a trade center in the region.

The city of Ephesus was also the worship center for the fertility goddess “Artemis” (Greece) or “Diana” (Rome).

Ephesians were cosmopolitan and transient, living in a city with a history of cultural-political change.

Enduring hardship

The Ephesian church is considered founded by Aquila, Priscilla, and later Paul.

The believers had toiled to the point of exhaustion and dealt with hostility from a society at odds with their faith. Challenges included disbelieving Jews (Acts 19:9), the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:16), and a mob stirred up by Demetrius the silversmith (Acts 19:29).

Loving truth

Early in the church’s formation, Paul commended the members for loving each other, “Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you” (Eph 1:15, 16).

Revelation records the church being commended for having a low tolerance for false teachers. Their quest, however, for truth and holiness left them without love for God and neighbor. They lost a quality they first possessed, divine love. They became overly critical of others.

Recognizing disciples

Jesus shares, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

Love for others is an important characteristic of followers of Jesus.

The church is called to love.”

Working for God

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work.” The Ephesian church was a busy church, actively serving God in various ways.

The church had a distrust of false doctrine and a desire to engage in works of faith. Unfortunately, they allowed the fresh glow of love for God and one another to fade.

The message today

Are you overly critical of others? Have you made yourself busy “doing” things for God? Have you forgotten to abide in Him?

Be intentional about abiding in Jesus. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.” (John 15:5)

Bearing godly fruit

As you meditate on God’s word, spend time in prayer, and encourage fellow believers, you are abiding in Jesus. Holy Spirit fruit will then be evident.

“The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23).

The promise

If a community of believers return to their first love they inherit eternal life. By displaying love for God and love for one another there is hope of a great reward, God and followers of Jesus restored to perfect love and fellowship.

The challenge

Abide in Jesus! Ask Him to ripen the fruit of the Spirit in your life. Display God’s love to the world so that others will turn to Him.

How can you show love to God and others?  Share your comments below.

Steadfast Love

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Matt. 5:7

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Photo Credit: Mercy Health (Creative Commons)

Jesus the poet

The original audience would have recognized the Beatitudes as a form of Hebrew poetry. They form couplets, grouped together in pairs.

  • The poor in spirit, mourning over their sin
  • The meek who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • The merciful who are pure in heart
  • The peacemakers who are persecuted for righteousness sake

A chiasmus

The first section of the Sermon on the Mount is a chiasmus, making a point larger through a reversal of two or more related clauses.

  • Blessed are the poor and spirit and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn sin and are peacemakers, for they shall inherit the Holy Spirit and resemble God.
  • Blessed are the meek and pure in heart, for they shall know God and experience His promises.
  • Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness and are merciful, for they shall find satisfaction.

A Hebrew perspective

Although the New Testament is written in common Greek, Jesus may have been speaking Aramaic or Hebrew when delivering the sermon. The Hebrew word used for merciful is Hesed, meaning a strong and steadfast love.

Blessed are those who have a strong, steadfast love for God and man.

A declaration worth dying for

When George Washington heard the Declaration of Independence was signed he requested it read aloud to his soldiers so they would know what many would be dying for.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

A Kingdom worthy of life

When Jesus declares the meaning of life in the Kingdom He uses the words poor, mourning, meek, and merciful. He is not painting a pleasant picture of Kingdom living. At the beginning of His ministry He tells the crowd,

Look, you want to join me, this is what it looks like.”

People were expecting a military deliverer but Jesus dashes their hopes. Blessed are the merciful. Israel did not want a merciful leader but a conquering leader.

Blessed are those with strong, steadfast love, for they shall receive mercy.

The challenge

Recognize your need for mercy and ask God to give you a strong, steadfast love. Display mercy to others!

How is strong, steadfast love being displayed in you? Share your comments below.

Faith, Hope, and Love Abide

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13)

Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a city of many faiths: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Orthodoxy. This creates an interesting environment to live and work. As part of a Jesus-centered community, people who believe differently frequently wonder about us. Some have remarked,

You are from different parts of the United States, yet there is a spirit that unites your group. You seem to really love each other.”

An authentic display of God’s love is attractive to the world.

Love the greatest

The virtues of faith, hope, and love embrace life in the Spirit and the return of Christ. In some ways faith and hope give more attention to the individual while love addresses the wider community. People are saved by faith and hope but the kingdom of God depends on love. Love unites.

Faith

Believers have faith in God and trust Him to forgive and accept them through Christ. They cannot visibly see Him yet trust in His goodness and grace.

In eternity the trust in God that began in this life continues. Faith becomes sight.

Hope

Believers also have hope for a future guaranteed through Jesus. By His resurrection they are future-oriented people. They know the present is on its way out. They are on a journey to a place in the presence of God, seeing Him face to face.

In eternity hope becomes realized.

Love

Love is the greatest because love unites believers with God.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:10,19)

Through God’s love followers of Jesus are able to love one another. By loving one another they display God’s love to the world.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

In eternity love becomes fully actualized.

The challenge

Have great faith in God, profound hope in the future, and a deep love for Jesus and the church. May the love you show others reflect Christ to the world!

In what ways can you grow your faith, hope, and love? Share your comments below.

Loving People While Hating Tolerance

Our culture strongly endorses tolerance. Is it healthy for the church to embrace this trait? Is tolerance equal to love?
tolerance

“Kind people go to heaven!”

The note pictured above was on a cafe counter in Jerusalem. The pervading thought of “kind people go to heaven” is deeply ingrained in many cultures. Not offending others has become top priority today. Tolerance seems to reflect kindness. This has led many to think tolerance is love.

Love God, Love people

Jesus said the greatest commandments are to,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind (and) love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37, 39)

We align with God and ask the Spirit’s fruit to increase in our life – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

We experience more of His transforming power and naturally start wanting to tell others about Jesus. We love neighbors and even enemies. We want them to experience life to the fullest.

An eternal concern

To not express concern for a person’s eternal welfare is not love but passivity.

Love does not include blind tolerance for unwholesome lifestyles that separate people from God.

Bringing a sword

The message of salvation can bring division. Jesus states,

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34)

Social norms support people with unbiased tolerance for any lifestyle. Expect conflict when upholding biblical values.

Love and division

When lovingly talking with others about God, the message may not be appreciated. This should not change your God-given burden to see them rescued from eternal separation with the Creator. Oswald Chambers encourages,

Never be diplomatic and careful with the treasure God gives you.”

Defining love

Tolerance is easy, love is hard. As someone who follows the One bringing meaning to life and hope for the future, choose love. Real love leads people to a relationship with God. We have a treasure to give and tolerance will not save people from hell.

Please excuse my intolerance

If you do not follow Jesus, please excuse me for refusing to passively walk through life, ignoring a lifestyle not exhibiting a meaningful relationship with God.

I cannot idly stand by and watch you live a life displeasing to God, keeping you separate from Him.

Excuse my intolerance but accept my love and concern for your eternal destiny. John 3:16,

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

The challenge

Genuinely love! Be bold! Share your faith! Do not let tolerance stand in the way of telling others what God will do for them, about the forgiveness and freedom experienced when following Jesus.

What are some ways you can express love to your neighbor? Share your comments below.

Storming the Gates of Hell

Bringing love, justice, and peace to the world

What is our role as the church? To discover this we need to look at Jesus and His work on earth. 1 John 3:8 states: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

The cross is victory over the powers holding people in bondage; sin, death, and the devil. As God’s emissaries, believers are called and empowered to continue the work Jesus began with his life, death and resurrection.

Jesus desires to use you to build His church and advance His kingdom. Matthew 16 helps you to better understand your role.

Matthew 16:15-18

He (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied,

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Gates of hell

Caesarea Philippi – Temple of Pan and Cave known as the Gates of Hell

City of false gods

Jesus travels with His disciples 20 miles north of Galilee to the district of Caesarea Philippi. In this area is a rocky hillside where shrines dedicated to the god of Pan, Echo, and Hermes existed. Next to these shrines is a large cave where a powerful stream once flowed, called the “Gates of Hell”.

The worshippers of Pan would perform human sacrifices in the cave and cast the remains into a natural abyss at the back of the cave.

The living God

In this area where other god’s required human sacrifice, Peter confesses Jesus to be “the Son of the living God.” God brings life, not death. Jesus promised in John 10:10, “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”

An advancing kingdom

In this passage Jesus is saying,

The church will overcome these lesser gods – the god of Pan, Echo, and Hermes. Other gods focus on self, materialism, pride, fame, sex, power and bring death. I will build my church over these things and the gates of hell shall not prevail against my advancing kingdom.”

Storming the gates of hell

We advance the kingdom by charging the gates of hell, as inaugurated by God’s reign of love, justice, and peace. Where there is despair, bring hope. Where there is unbelief, bring faith. Where there is hatred, bring love. Where there is sickness, offer healing.

We are to be walking, talking, representatives of Jesus to the world.

Committed to the Church

Connect to a community of faith. You cannot effectively advance the kingdom of God on your own. Believers working together with a common goal make it happen.

We need one another. Paul refers to the church as the Body of Christ, with everyone having an important function. You need the church and the church needs you.

Promised victory

When we work together what does Jesus say will happen? “They shall not prevail against us!” The keys of the kingdom have been given to us.

Victory has been promised. We simply need to be willing to advance on the gates of hell.

The challenge

Commit yourself to the task of storming the gates of hell until His imminent return. Be intentional to turn people to Jesus at home and work by displaying His love, justice, and peace to the world.

Listen to my podcast “Build the Church, Advance the Kingdom” The podcast gives a more in-depth discussion of this passage of scripture.

What are some ways that you can storm the gates of hell? Share your comments below.

Blessed to be a Blessing

The role of God’s children

A common thread throughout the Bible is God’s people being blessed to be a blessing. The covenant with Abraham was, “And I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2) God intended Abraham’s descendants to bless the nations.

Blessed

The Blessing of Family

The call

Psalm 67:1 reads,

God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us – that Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations.”

Not only have God’s people been blessed to be a blessing, but they are blessed as they respond to His divine purpose for their lives.

Faith, Hope, and Love

Shellie and I have found this to be especially true in our lives.  We have seen tremendous blessings according to the three Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love.

Encountering hardships

As Shellie and I attempt to bless others we are blessed. We have experienced a tremendous growth in faith.  When living in Sudan we faced numerous challenges. We encountered daily hardships in an oppressive society, was confined for a day at a police station following a car accident, rebels from Darfur fought government troops across the Nile River from our home, experienced demonstrations in Kenya, and vacated Madagascar during a government overthrow while visiting friends to relieve stress. When we returned to the States we were exhausted.

The blessing of faith

In the States we gave extra time to reading the Bible, praying and singing songs of worship. We began to realize our hardships had developed a profound faith in an omniscient God.  We better understood James 1:2-3, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Adversity is uncomfortable but is a blessing when viewed from a right perspective. Faith is the greatest of all blessings. The next two blessings grow out of the blessing of faith.

The blessing of hope

When Shellie and I decided to pursue overseas work we were public school teachers in the Chicago area. One reason for not serving in the Middle East was college loans.  Seeking to pursue God’s heart for the nations, we made applications for international work. We put our house on the market. In six days we had a contract on the place. Twenty-five days later the sale was complete.  The education loans were paid and we were able to fulfill our desire to work overseas.

Returning from Sudan our family went for a dental check-up. The bill came to $786.  Four months later we received a gift in the amount of $790.  A pastor friend says our walk with the Lord should be constantly amazing but never surprising. We were amazed the check had been sent but not surprised because of our great God.

The blessing of love

After a few years of marriage, we learned medical intervention was needed to have children.  After a prolonged period and miscarriage Shellie became pregnant with Nathaniel. His name means “gift of God.”

While living in Sudan Shellie used fertility medicine once again but to no avail. We decided to simply trust God. Within six months she was pregnant with Haley. Her name means “unexpected gift”.

A month ago we welcomed the latest addition to the family, Lucas. His name means “bringer of light.” In six years we have been blessed with children and, most of all, with the light of an unfolding faith journey. What doctors thought impossible without medicine, God made possible.

The challenge

God desires to bless you while being a blessing to the nations. Participate in what God is doing by praying, giving, and even going.

Listen to my podcast message “Blessed to be a Blessing.” The podcast shares how my family has been blessed as we have desired to be a blessing.

In what ways can you intentionally bless others? Share your comments below.