Sunday June 9, 2019 – Why we can be so different!

Luke 10:33  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to help his questioner identify who his neighbor was.  When Jesus finished, the questioner rightly concluded that of the three travelers, the Samaritan was the neighbor of the man who fell into the hands of the robbers, because the Samaritan had mercy on him.

Our focus today is on the Samaritan – not the other two who failed to respond.  Note that when the Samaritan saw the man in need, he took pity on him.  It wasn’t a matter of the Samaritan having an internal argument within himself on what was the right thing to do in this situation.  His kindness and generosity were expressions of his life. The Samaritan was a loving man.

We Christians must become the same kind of loving people that he was.  We want our love to be genuine – a love that moves us to respond with right hearts.  This is something that we grow in.  By responding to the situations we see, He opens our eyes to see more.  God is working within each of us so that kindness and generosity will be natural responses that we make to situations we encounter.  This is how we love those around us – how we love our neighbors.

Do you realize that we can be the answer that God sends in response to the prayers of those in need around us?  That’s want He wants!  Maybe they don’t pray or think about God, but because of the kindness through us, they will take note of our love and wonder where it comes from.  Think of the joy and honor of being asked by someone, “Why are you so different?  Why are you so thoughtful and kind?”  To which we can answer, “Let me tell you about Jesus.”

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Saturday June 8, 2019 – Is our witness a glow or a glare?

Matthew 5:14  You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.

Years ago a wonderful Christian friend of ours named Hal was hired to manage a type of music store by a major corporation.  The corporation had pursued him given his successful track record.  Once hired, they informed him that they were giving him a young salesman who had star potential but it wasn’t being realized.

This was due to a problem he had – he was forever witnessing to employees and customers about his Christian faith.  He was more interested in witnessing than he was in doing his job.  Hal was informed that this was the young man’s last chance.  If he didn’t turn it around, he would be fired.

Hal called the young man into his office.  After talking a bit, he asked the young man to take the lampshade off the lamp that was on an end table next to them and to turn the lamp on high so that the light was at its brightest.  He then had the young man look directly at the light and Hal asked him to describe what he was experiencing.  The young man complained that the glare of the light was uncomfortable to look at.

Hal then put the lampshade on the lamp and asked him to now describe his experience.  He said that the light was attractive and pleasant to look at.  Hal explained that with the lampshade, he was seeing a glow.  Without the lampshade, he was seeing a glare.  A glow attracts and a glare repels.

The same was true of his Christian witness.  God wanted his witness done wisely, so that it was a glow – not a glare.  It was also critical that his manner of working not compromise or undermine the testimony of his faith.  By witnessing the way he had been doing and by not doing his job, he was coming on with a glare.

Fortunately, the young man was teachable and embraced the wisdom from Hal.  He became the star salesman that everyone knew he could be, and importantly, he eliminated the compulsiveness of his witnessing.  He was still able to share his faith, but with Hal’s help he did so in a manner that drew people to him and to the Lord rather than pushing them away.

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Friday June 7, 2019 – Think ‘burning bush’, the fire that doesn’t consume

1 Corinthians 8:3  But the man who loves God is known by God.

When I read this verse I think of Moses and the burning bush.  The bush was on fire but it didn’t burn up.  It caught Moses’ attention and in the midst of shepherding his sheep, he turned aside to see this strange sight.  Once God saw that he had turned aside to look, He called to Moses from within the bush.

Moses responded and encountered God in a stunning way.  It strikes me that in today’s verse, ‘the man who loves God’ is the bush and ‘is known by God’ is the burning part – the fire that doesn’t consume.  This verse is there, like a bush on fire, that doesn’t burn up, with God waiting to see who will be attracted and turn aside.

There are other verses that have this same feature – this same element of mystery and attraction.  They are there – waiting – to see if they will cause us to ‘turn aside’.  James 4:8a says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.”  Stop and think about that.  God is everywhere.  He’s omnipresent.  As Christians He lives within us.  So what is He talking about when He says if we come near to Him, He will come near to us?  Could He be talking about something more intimate?

Then in John 14: 21b Jesus says, “The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”  This verse is explosive!  The one who loves Jesus will be loved by His Father!  But, doesn’t God already love us?  Isn’t that why He sent Jesus?  Is it possible that somehow, when it comes to the love of God, there is a whole lot more we can experience?

The Amplified Bible states the last clause of John 14:21 this way, “…and I [too] will love him and will show (reveal, manifest) Myself to him. [I will let Myself be clearly seen by him and make Myself real to him.]”  WOW!!!  This shouts that there is unspeakable treasure waiting for those who love God!  Not in terms of things, but in terms of relationship and intimacy with our Lord God.  All of this is there waiting for the ones who love Him.

These experiences are reserved for those who truly pursue loving God.  It’s almost like God saying that when we first come to Him, as marvelous as our experiences might be, it’s only the ‘tip of the iceberg’.   There is so much more of Him that only the ones who love Him will get to experience.  The choice is ours.

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Thursday June 6, 2019 – ‘As you wish’ from The Princess Bride

1 Corinthians 8:3  But the man who loves God is known by God.

In these past few days we’ve seen that we love God by obeying His commands.  If we want to love Him, He has given us a very precise answer on the way it is done – the only way it is done.  And it is something that we can grow in.  Our ability to love Him is not static – He intends for it to grow all the days of our lives!  When Jesus said to walk in His ways, this is what He meant.  Think of the intimacy reflected in today’s verse for the ones who do.

I would like to offer a different perspective on commands for your consideration.   January 21, 2005 while in Brazil with our son and family, I was struggling with this whole issue of truly loving God.  That evening, in a wonderful experience with the Lord and His presence, He brought to mind a movie that has been a favorite of our family.  The movie contains something that He just opened to me that night that continues to bless me to this day.  (I love to reread my journal entry where this is all recorded)

Have you seen the movie Princess Bride?  Peter Falk is a grandpa reading a love story to his grandson – the story of Princess Buttercup and her servant Wesley.  Every time she gives Wesley a command to do something he utters the phrase, “As you wish.”  Her “wish” is his command.

It becomes clear in the movie that “As you wish” means “I love you”.  They go through all manner of adventures and the movie has a wonderful ending.  For the sake of this illustration, don’t think of God’s commands as commands, but think of them as His wishes.  So, we are responding to wishes instead of commands.

Then think of being in love. You want your loved one to share with you their wishes – to which you respond, “As you wish.”  (Remember the expression ‘Your wish is my command!’)  You then go and do what they wish to bless them and please them and be overwhelmed with joy as you do.  God shares His “wishes” with us in His word.

All of His  “wishes” become opportunities for you to lovingly say to Him, “As you wish.”  “As you wish.”  “As you wish.”  Each and every time is your opportunity to love Him by what you do, and to say “I love you” to Him.  Your heart will be filled with the desire to learn and embrace all of His “wishes” so that you can do more and more of them.

Then, there are the times when we sin, and with painful remorse we come to the Lord and say, “Father – forgive me.”  To which He replies, “As you wish.”

(*Note: A few months later John Ortberg, my favorite author, came out with a book titled, God Is Closer Than You Think.  It has a chapter titled “As You Wish”)

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Wednesday June 5, 2019 – How can I know for sure that I am loving Him?

1 John 5:3  This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,

One evening I was really moved by Jesus’ question to Peter: “Do you love me?”  The more I thought about it, the question became alive to me – Do I love Him?  If so, how do I know for sure that I truly do love Him?  What if I’m deceiving myself?  The Bible has many examples of His people thinking they loved Him but their lives didn’t give any evidence of it – in fact their lives demonstrated that they didn’t!   Does He leave us to our own devices to determine if we love Him?

As I was crying out to Him about this, a sudden thought shot through my mind, “The answers are in the back of the book.”  This really spoke to me because I’m good at math.  All the math books I used had the answers to the odd problems in the back of the book.  Sometimes I had to start with the answers in order to figure out how to work the problems.  God was saying the answers to my question were in His book!

Loving God is defined by God as obeying His commands.  Scripture is filled with commands on how we should or should not live.  Culturally we have the unfortunate tendency to think of them as instructions or suggestions, but they are commands none-the-less – and every day we have nearly unlimited opportunities to obey them.

Every time we obey a command in Scripture, or respond to His Spirit, it is an objective, concrete expression of our love for Him.  (Think be kind, be gentle, don’t gossip, seek humility not pride, love one another, forgive, etc…)  We don’t have to wonder if we are really loving Him.  We just have to live His word. (Note: As a helpful aid, I have identified 25 different portions of Scripture in the NT that contain such lists and have them written in the back of my Bible under a title of ‘Loving God’.)

God also transforms our motivation.  Obedience (holding fast to His teachings and living in accordance with them) becomes something we don’t “have to” do, but we “get to” do!  It becomes a joy to do what Scripture says because His Spirit confirms in our hearts that we are expressing genuine love for Him.   The more we obey Scripture and the promptings of His Spirit, the more we love Him.  It’s like a dream coming true!

Tomorrow – A different perspective on commands.

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Tuesday June 4, 2019 – Loving God is not optional

John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will obey what I command.”

In our culture we tend to have an allergic reaction to certain words – obey and command are two in particular that Christians tend to react to.  Typical responses are to immediately think of such words as part of legalism or to counter with a ‘grace not law’ type of argument.

Picture yourself in a quiet time and suddenly Jesus is there with you – just you and Jesus – face to face.  With a loving yet serious look, eye to eye, he says to you, “If you love Me, you will obey what I command.”  I imagine that would catch your attention.  Afterward those words would likely burn within you.

“If you love Me…”  One of the problems we have in English is that there is one word for love.  That word love applies to everything around us.  We love our sports team.  We love fried chicken..  We love beautiful sunsets.  We love walks in the woods. It goes on and on.  We love potato chips.  We love God.  What does the word “love” really mean – particularly since we use it so frequently to describe such a wide variety of things.

“If you love Me…”  With these words comes the realization that God wants us to love Him.  In fact it’s more serious than that because there is an implication in this verse that is truly shocking.  At face value, the verse says if we love Him, we will obey what He commands.  But consider the implication of the reverse: If we don’t do what He commands, we don’t love Him.

It’s imperative that we understand this is not talking about earning our salvation.  It is coming to grips with the fact that the God of the Universe – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – wants, and expects, His people to love Him.

Let that sink in.  Loving God is not optional, nor something to be approached casually.  It is at the very heart of our faith.  It is what defines us as Christians – the people of God.  The wonderful news is that He does not leave us to our own devices to figure out what loving Him means.  He gives us the answer!

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Monday June 3, 2019 – What is your evidence?

John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

In yesterday’s devotional we saw that in order to receive the promise of John 8:32, you had to be a disciple of Jesus.  A disciple is one who holds fast to His teachings and lives in accordance with them.  Today’s verse, gives us a primary answer on how those around us will know if we are His disciples.  It is critical to note that the criteria focus on how we actually live our lives.

Back in the Jesus People days of the late 60s, my wife Donna told me of a phrase written as graffiti on a tunnel wall at North Carolina State University.  The phrase was, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  Think about that for a minute.

Let’s take it a step further and place some restrictions on acceptable evidence: 1) Church attendance is only acceptable if it is backed up by other evidence, 2) Your verbal testimony is not admissible as evidence – only the testimony of others reporting what you’ve said and done is admissible, and 3) Evidence is primarily going to be provided by the testimonies of those who know you, work with you, interact with you or wait on you, i.e., clerks, waitresses, storekeepers, parking lot attendants, etc…

How will others describe you?  Simply put, what kind of person are you?  What kind of co-worker?  What kind of neighbor?  Friend? Acquaintance?  How do you treat people?  Suppose it goes further and they are able to identify everything you watch, read, or view – TV, phones, computers, whatever.

Will the evidence presented confirm that we are loving people?  Upon examination, will the testimony confirm that we hold fast to the teachings of Jesus – that we live our lives in accordance with them?  Or will the testimony present a picture where our Christian testimony (verbal) is at odds with our lives?

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