Love

Tuesday Devotionals: 1 Timothy 3

bibleRead 1 Timothy 3:1-3

Christianity is in its nature the Gospel of grace.  There is forgiveness in Jesus.  There is understanding in Jesus.  But we must never do away with standards and expectations.  We must never do away with consequences and repercussions for our actions and behaviors.  There is a bar.  This bar is not one of perfection but it is one of Holiness.

The Gospel of grace understands our fallen nature, but we must never take the grace of God lightly.  We are extended grace in Jesus Christ not to be forgiven repeatedly for our sins but to be forgiven once and for all of our debt.  To be a Christian there must be a commitment to change.  To be a Christian there must be an ongoing revelation of Fruit.  Our lives should be a living testimony of the power of Christ to change what seemed impossible to change. It should magnify the glory and beauty of Jesus Christ.  It is Christ IN us.

The love of Jesus does not condone sin, and to live in sin is to stand in opposition to the Lord, Jesus.  We must have a standard.  We must know what that standard is.  And when we see that a brother or sister is not living a life worthy of the name of Jesus, we must address it.  Not with a heart of judgment or self-righteousness, but with the heart of Christ that never left a soul to believe that they were in no need of what he came to bring them.  The Gospel is one of grace, love and understanding.  We will never be perfect and we will never be completely free of the sinful flesh until we are with Him and made to be like Him.  But a standard still remains.  The standard is THE Gospel.  If we claim the name of Christ and therefore proclaim unity with the Son, we must bear the fruit of the Son.  He is the standard.  He is the Way.  To represent Him means to reveal Him.  If we are not revealing Jesus then we must question if we authentically represent Him in spirit or in name alone.

The standard of the cross is not there to loom over us, casting a long shadow of hopelessness and intimidation.  The standard of the cross keeps us moving.  It keeps us safe.  It keeps us alive.  Without the standard and without accountability to hold to the standard, we die.

 

Tuesday Devotional: Zechariah 2

Read Zechariah 2bible

God is for us.  This is often overlooked and often misunderstood.  But God is for us.  There is nothing that God takes more personally than when we, His beloved, are threatened and harmed.  While Jesus tells us that there is no value to a man gaining the whole world and forfeiting his soul, God proclaims to His children that there is nothing that He wants more than us.  He desires to be with us, to live among us, to unite us, to protect us, to lead and throughout all, to love us.  God is for us.  God is for you.  Do you know this?  Do you believe this?

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” This is our news.  This is the news of Jesus Christ.  That God loved the world by sending his only son to carry and bear the iniquities of man’s collective sin in order to save what He deems most precious and beloved.  This is His love and His love is for us alone.  We exist to be loved by Him.  Everything thing we do and everything that we are has been carefully designed for the purpose of channeling the love our God has for us and then to worship Him in return.

We were designed for God and our God is for us.  And if God is for us, who can be against us?  What in this world can harm you if the creator God is on your side?  In the love of Jesus nothing can separate us from the love of our God.  We often reduce God to a helper, assistant, partner figure.  He comes to us ultimately in the name of Jesus proclaiming none of these identities.  He comes proclaiming to be the great “I am” of old and to be the chosen and anointed Christ, the Messiah.  Look upon the face of the savior Jesus and believe that God is for us.

 

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: the Power of the Cross

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Read along with this series here. 

The Power of the Cross

The cross is and has always been the sign of Christianity. Today it is unmistakably synonymous with the Christian church. However, while the cross has always and must always be the sign of the faith, the overexposure of the cross without true understanding poses an important question. Do we really understand the cross?

We see crosses blanketing city skylines atop churches that fail at living out the gospel. We see people wearing the cross on necklaces and earrings who openly profess no desire to submit to God. We see athletes drop to their knees following some athletic feat, pointing to the sky and making the sign of the cross on their chest, who place more faith in their athletic equipment and contracts than the Holy Word of God. With so many misrepresentations surrounding us on a daily basis, it is easy to see how the message of the cross has gone misunderstood. In fact, for many Christians, the looming cross on the wall of a Church often evokes much more fear and obligation than peace and joy.

From this landscape of misunderstanding and misrepresentation concerning the cross, the understanding that emerges from  the baptism of the Holy Spirit appears distinctly different. Upon being baptized in the Holy Spirit, the cross is no longer a marketing symbol or burden. The cross suddenly is seen in the light in which it was originally meant to be seen.

This light illuminates more than just wood and metal. This light illuminates pain, the unbelievable pain Jesus endured hanging on the cross. This light illuminates sacrifice, the costly sacrifice Jesus paid for the sake of saving us from the pain and suffering that we rightly deserve and he had no obligation to undertake in our stead. The light also illuminates the sacrifice that God the Father experienced in seeing his own son endure the suffering we deserved, in feeling separation from a son that he had always had intimate fellowship with, a son who had never done anything wrong. Lastly, this light illuminates love, the love of God to see such beauty within us, despite the layers of sin, that to lose his own son was worth seeing us back in unity with him. The love to never give up or let us out of his reach. The love to know how deeply we need a Father to guide us.

This love is not just sacrificial, but is an invitation. The beginning of the end. The start of something new. The cross leads to the tomb and ultimately ends in resurrection and new life, a new life we are given as a result of the cross. The baptism of the Holy Spirit isn’t simply an outward manifestation of the supernatural. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that can open the eyes of our heart to see the reality of the cross, beyond what our physical eyes have always seen.

This is why I speak to them in parables:
‘Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Matthew 13:13-17

The baptism of the Holy Spirit opens our spiritual eyes to see the cross in the power that it truly possesses.

Tuesday Devotional: Genesis 50

bibleRead Genesis 50:15-21

Why are we so suspicious of grace? Why are we so suspicious of undeserved forgiveness? It is a sad reality that in a world filled with so much love shared between us that we find it hard to receive that love without a complete understanding of why we deserve it in the first place. The state of a child is not only innocence and freedom of paralyzing self-awareness. The state of a child is also an innocent unawareness of the evils of this world. Unfortunately, as we grow older we begin to lose this innocence and begin to come into what we call “the real world.” This real world is one that is far more acquainted and nurturing to the selfish desires of man that are not conducive to free grace or undeserved love. In the real world we learn to be cautiously suspicious of forgiveness that is not deserved. We develop tactical skills in defending ourselves from love while we persistently hope in and seek to discover it. In the hearts of man is a struggle, a conflict, a fight. This fight is between our natural childlike nature that expects love to be love, and our nurtured state of maturity in this world that cannot accept the reason or logic behind a love that cannot be explained or rationalized. To a child, unexplained grace is a gift. To an adult, unexplained grace is a ploy. It is a move. It is a plan, a scheme, a trap. Perhaps this is the reason why the human heart is so resistant to the cross and so unwilling to accept the life of Jesus Christ. This inability to accept holy and righteous love is such that for those that have understood or accepted it, it is a crushing blow to the heart. It is a blow that brings the heart to tears. The effect of sin in this world is that it has not only separated us from God spiritually but it has produced a barrier between the love of God that we so desperately desire but as a result of sin are simultaneously afraid of.

Serving the King: Suffering

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

Serving with Suffering (Isaiah 53)

In the first section, in 1 Samuel 15, we met Israel’s first king: Saul, a king with human tendencies and human abilities.  Saul demonstrates so well the potential of the human heart to fall victim to power, success, temptation and glory.  In this section we will read one of the most powerfully prophetic scriptures about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Isaiah 53 shows another sort of king, a “suffering servant” who is the complete opposite of Saul.  This individual, innocent of sin, is the most glorious and most praiseworthy figure in history, yet received nothing but suffering, disgrace and shame in his mission to save the world.

The Bible can be difficult to digest because it is an ancient text, but it also can be difficult because of what it demands of us.  The Bible and, more specifically, the teachings of Jesus Christ, establish a bar of behavior that is intimidating at best.  Christians are called into a life of service that no human being could ever live up to. Jesus Christ’s depiction of true Christian character seems superhuman and impossibly unrealistic.

Unfortunately, many Christians and non-Christians leave the expectations and frustrations there.  They see expectations and demands and never move beyond the daunting realities that those demands present.  But this mistake can be resolved if we understand Isaiah 53.  In the Gospels we don’t encounter a list of demands and orders from a distant and judgmental deity.  Rather, we meet Jesus.  The suffering servant came into our world and lived alongside us in order to model a way of life so that we could follow him and not simply the commands.  Jesus never preached orders.  On the contrary, Jesus preached repentance, change not to harm us but change that can free us.  Jesus announced “good news,” not “new rules.”

Jesus preached himself because only in him can we truly live the way he expects us to.  He is the savior of Isaiah 53 who did far more than we will ever be expected to do, simply so that we wouldn’t have to.  In Jesus we have a God that suffered, felt pain, and understands us completely.

Why did Jesus choose to come into the world? The question can be confusing.  If we view his life as a platform by which to give orders and make demands, then his sacrifice and the way he lived falls out of order and lacks purpose or rationality.  For thousands of years God spoke through the prophets, like Isaiah, to deliver important messages to his people.  Therefore, what necessity would there be to send someone as valuable as his son to do the same job?  However, if we think about the life of Jesus as he himself proclaimed, his purpose begins to fall into place.  The mission of Jesus Christ was not only to save his children, but to be with them and love them by living alongside them, and finally, by dying for all of them.

In our social lives, the people that we are closest to are typically people who share the most in common with us.  We are drawn to these people; we depend on and trust them.  Therefore, knowing our hearts, God knew that the only way to reach us was to be a “God with us.”  He came as a servant to show us that he was willing to serve in a way we could never serve.  Only through the reception of his life and service as a free gift, undeserving and unearned, will we find the ability to live the life that he desires for us.  Jesus Christ came into our world to serve us with only God’s approval in mind.  Through the life of Jesus we see that God understands us: our trials, our sorrows, our tribulations. Not only has he experienced them all himself, but he can truthfully say that he was tested beyond anything we can possibly compare with.  Lack of understanding and empathy does not emanate from a God who demands too much from us without knowing us.  The lack of understanding is ours, directed toward Jesus, who gave more for us than we could ever give him in return.  He suffered in ways we never will be required to.

Jesus was the teacher of all teachers for many reasons, but one of his most powerful qualities was his ability to lead by example.  He led us into salvation by his example.  All that is left for us is to do is be moved by his life and begin to follow in his footsteps one step at a time.

Tuesday Devotional: Hosea 1

bibleRead Hosea 1 here. 

There are very few things that we value more than our relationships.  Relationships require us to trust beyond comfort and to make ourselves emotionally vulnerable beyond security.  When a relationship is given a firm foundation of trust, and security to flourish, we will treasure the result more than most things.  These relationships become the closest to home that we will ever find, anchoring us when all other things show signs of weakness.  However, nothing quite compares to the pain when these relationships strain, weaken and eventually break.  The pain of broken trust and safety is something that many people never recover from.  The two things that most often fracture these relationships are indifference and unfaithfulness.  The experience of one’s trust and love not being reciprocated has the power to completely break a once unstoppable heart.  The experience of trust and love being set aside for the pursuit of another love can empty a heart once so abundantly full of endless love ready to be given.  Yet the love of the creator God has extended far beyond our love for one another.  The love of the Creator has broken the bonds of time that so constrict our human relationships.  The creator God has experienced an ongoing cycle of broken “ideal relationships,” yet has continued to pursue the ones he loves.  His love, for all intents and purposes, is “crazy” and “illogical,” beyond our ability to comprehend or duplicate.  But this is the gift: love we all seek, but only God can provide.