Tag Archives: love

God Loves Us and Keeps His Promises

There’s Nothing We Need to Do to Earn God’s LoveGod loves us unconditionally

In the book of Deuteronomy, a book of the Bible that most people skip, God explains his relationship to his people. He starts by saying that he didn’t choose them because of their numbers or greatness as a nation. In fact, they started out as the smallest of all peoples. It was just Abraham and Sarah when God chose them.

Instead he chose them because he loved them. And he continues to choose them because he made a promise to them, and he keeps his promises. His love lasts over the centuries, despite their unfaithfulness to him and in the many ways they reject him over and over.

We can take great comfort in this.

God Loves Us and There’s Nothing We Must Do to Earn It

The people of Israel didn’t need to earn God’s love and attention. He gave it to them freely. In the same way, there’s nothing we need to do to earn his affection. We don’t need to do good things, love others, or even obey his commands to gain God’s love. Instead, he loved us first, and in response we may opt to react to his love by doing things that please him.

Too often, we get this backwards. We don’t behave better to earn God’s love; we behave better because he loves us.

God Loves Us and There’s Nothing We Can Do to Lose It

God loved the people of Israel first and continued to love them despite their many missteps. In the same way, God doesn’t withhold his love for us when we screw up. He maintains his love. It’s always there. There’s nothing we can do to push him away or cause him to withdraw his affection of us. We don’t behave better to earn God’s love; we behave better because he loves us. Click To Tweet

We often get this backwards, too. We assume that when we mess up, he will withhold his love and punish us. Yes, sometimes there are consequences for what we do—punishment, if you will—but this is a result of his love and not the withdrawal of it.

God loves us unconditionally, even if this is hard for us to comprehend.

[Read through the Old Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Deuteronomy 7-8, and today’s post is on Deuteronomy 7:7-8.]

God Is Slow to Anger and It Only Lasts for a Moment

God Loves Us and His Favor Lasts a LifetimeGod loves us and is patient with us.

The book of Psalms gives us glimpses into God’s character and his love for us. Though some people view God, as portrayed in the Old Testament, as angry and vengeful, a more careful read gives us a different perspective. We see his love and his patience; he is slow to anger. We realize his desire to enjoy community with us.

One such example of God’s character comes through with poetic elegance in Psalm 30:5. Here we read that God’s “anger lasts only for a moment.” Even better is what comes next, that God’s “favor lasts a lifetime.” And now for the poetry part: “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5, NIV).

Yes, we may suffer through some dark times (nighttime), but light will always follow (daytime), just as surely as morning follows evening. And though each day is made up of half night and half light, God’s anger is not in equal proportion to his favor. Remember that we sleep through most of the darkness and therefore experience mostly light. In this way, nighttime seems brief—at least most of the time. Just as we experience mostly the light of each day, we will also mostly bask in God’s favor. God is slow to anger, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Click To Tweet

Nine times the Old Testament reminds us that God is “slow to anger.” This occurs three times in Psalms and twice in the Law of Moses, along with Nehemiah, Joel, Jonah, and Nahum. That’s a lot of people reminding us that God is slow to anger.

If we view God as a good parent (recall that God is our father, and we are his children), we realize that there will be times of needed correction. But if we respond appropriately, our time of discipline will be short. Then we emerge from it and return to right relationship with God, experiencing his favor and his love, just as every good parent wants for their children. So, too, God wants this for us.

God is slow to anger, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Praise God!

[Read through the Old Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Psalm 29-32, and today’s post is on Psalm 30:5.]

Love Is the Greatest Command

The Most Important Thing in the Bible Is Love

Though the Bible has many commands, love is the greatest command of them all. Check it out:The greatest of these is love.

The Old Testament Law

In the first five books of the Bible, sometimes called the Torah or Pentateuch, God gives instructions to Moses. The people refer to this as the law. These rules, or guidelines, are numerous. In fact, there are 613. Though I once considered counting them myself, I decided not to. Plenty of Jewish scholars already have, and they come up with 613. I’m fine with that.

Bible students divide these 613 instructions into two categories: things we should do and things we shouldn’t do. Some people call these positive commands and negative commands. In case you’re wondering, yes, there are more things we shouldn’t do than things we should do. Furthermore, some Bible academics group these 613 commands by topic, such as worshiping God, making vows, offering sacrifices, and so forth. Even with these divisions and categorizations, the number of instructions is still unwieldy. Besides there’s not too many people I know—okay there’s no one I know—who follows all 613 rules.

The Ten Commandments

In the middle of the 613 instructions, we find the Ten Commandments. Ten is much more manageable than 613. Most people I know affirm the Ten Commandments—even if they can’t list all ten. (Though I can come close, I can’t either. But this doesn’t trouble me because different faith traditions can’t agree on what the ten are anyway.)

Again, scholars divide this list. The first four commandments relate to our relationship with God, and the last six relate to our relationship with others. Also, if you’re keeping track, the majority of the Ten Commandments tell us what not to do, only a few tell us what we should do.

Jesus Summarizes the Law

Someone asks Jesus to identify the greatest commandment. But he doesn’t give one answer. He gives two. The first is to love God fully and completely. The second is similar, to love others as much as we love ourselves. Then Jesus adds that the Law and writings of the prophets all hinge on these two commandments (Matthew 22:36–40).

Though Jesus gives two answers, they have a common theme. The theme is love. Love is the greatest command. Love is the greatest commandment. Click To Tweet

Paul Writes about Love

In the first letter Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he devotes a whole section to love. He tells them how important love is and gives them a description of how love behaves. Then he says that love never ends, even though prophecies—and other things people think are important—will cease. He concludes this famous passage with a succinct phrase, “The greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13).

Love Is the Greatest

So, we start with 613 instructions, focus on the ten big ones, and then Jesus narrows it down to two, which have a common theme of love. Paul confirms that love trumps everything.

Instead of focusing on what we should and shouldn’t do—following a list of requirements with religious fervor—we should instead turn our attention to the greatest commandment: love.

Love God, and love others.

If we do this everything else should fall into place.

Embrace the Biblical Story Arc

Though God Doesn’t Change, the Way People Perceive Him Does

 Embrace the Bible’s story arc.I enjoy a good book, one with a satisfying story arc. The Bible has an arc, too, a biblical story arc.

Some people see the Old Testament as focusing on God’s rules and judgment, with the New Testament focusing on God’s love and freedom. Though there’s some truth to this, it’s simplistic. The Old Testament also has its share of God’s love and freedom, while the New Testament gives us some new rules (though not as many) and contains judgment (check out Revelation).

However, on a more nuanced level we see changes that occur throughout the Old Testament and even the New. But it’s not God doing the changing, it’s people. As the biblical story arc progresses, the way we interact with God changes.

Aspects of the Biblical Story Arc

Intimacy with God: In the beginning is Adam and Eve, basking in the Garden of Eden and hanging out with God each evening. How cool would that be?

Distant from God: Then Adam and Eve are kicked out of paradise. Their relationship with God changes. It’s their fault, not his. From then until the time of Noah, people aren’t close to God at all. He seems quite distant.

Rescued by God: Then God looks at humanity and how they messed up his creation. He considers Noah and makes a plan: a boat, a flood, and a rescue. God is at work. He makes a promise to Noah. Man seems to be back on track with God, but not for long.

Promises from God: The next notable biblical character is Abraham, Father Abraham, a man of faith. Abraham has a closer connection with God and a deeper faith. God makes a new covenant with Abraham and promises he’ll be the father of many nations.

Guidance from God: Then we witness another transition with Moses. Moses sees God face to face. They hang out. They talk. Moses glows. God gives guidelines on how to live, moving his people beyond the barbarism of the world around them. God promises to bless others through his people, but they don’t do their part. They fail to live up to their potential. They don’t do much to bless others.

Closeness with God: Then David comes on the scene. He has the heart of God. God promises that from David’s line will come the messiah, the savior, who we know as Jesus.

Patience from God: But things go downhill after David. Future kings make a mess of things. But from the prophets we see God’s love for his people (us), his despair over their (our) actions, and his patience toward them (us). A cycle occurs: human despair, godly rescue, embracing God, backsliding, and repeat. Over and over. It’s a dark time spiritually. But this is the people’s doing. God’s always present.

Supernatural Provision from God: As we transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament and consider the books of the Apocrypha, we see a new level of spiritual engagement emerge, with supernatural acts. It’s as if the people finally see and accept the Holy Spirit at work. This is a great primer for what happens next.

Saved by God: In the New Testament Jesus becomes the star, as God always intended. Need I say more?

Community with God: In reading the Gospels, we gain a fresh perspective of God’s plan for us. Yet this viewpoint shifts as we move through Acts and more in the epistles. The people live in community and connect with God like never before.

Restored to God: By the time we get to Revelation our perception morphs yet again. We witness a supernatural battle, victory and judgment, and a new heaven and a new earth. Intimacy with God is restored. Just as God intended for us all along. God doesn’t change, but how the people in the Bible perceive and approach him does. And it’s a beautiful thing. Click To Tweet

This is a most pleasing biblical story arc.

Yet from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, we see consistency in God and his desire to live with us. God doesn’t change, but how we perceive him and approach him does. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Speak Truth in Love

Being both honest and kind is how we grow in our faith and mature through Jesus

When Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, he tells them to speak what is true with love. This should be our guide in all that we say. While this makes sense, it’s harder to put into practice.Speak truth in love.

Truth: This phrase, to speak truth in love, starts with a call for honesty. As the saying goes, “Honesty is the best policy.” Better still, the Bible commands us not to lie (Leviticus 19:11).

Yet how often do we tell a tiny fib to protect someone’s feelings? Is this okay? How often do we tell someone an untruth because it is expedient? Or maybe we lie to avoid a confrontation or having a difficult conversation.

While some of these issues may be shades of gray, others are black-and-white. The point is Paul tells us to speak truth.

Love: The guiding principle in how we express ourselves honestly is love. Love should temper what we say and how we say it. We want our words to help and not to hurt. Love is the framework for truth telling.

Yet sometimes out of a desire to love, we hide the truth. We obscure what is real because it is the easier path to take. This is a show of love, but it’s outcome isn’t truth.

We need to speak what is true and to do so with a loving attitude.We need to speak what is true and to do so with a loving attitude. Click To Tweet

Grow: Though speaking the truth in love feels like wise advice, it’s not always the easiest path to take. Being both honest and loving at the same time can be a challenging thing to do. But we must persist in this effort.

When we speak the truth in love, Paul tells us that we will grow in our faith and develop maturity as the group of people—the church—who follow Jesus.

That’s why speaking truth in love is so important. We do it for Jesus.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Ephesians 4, and today’s post is on Ephesians 4:15.]

What’s the Only Thing That Counts?

Paul tells us that faith and love is what matters most

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he opens chapter five with a discussion about freedom and slavery, about following the law and not following the law. He says that in Jesus these things have no value.

His explanation of this is a bit confusing. It’s a passage we need to go back and reread to try to understand what this prolific biblical writer is trying to tell us. But if we don’t quite grasp it, that’s okay. He summarizes his point in one succinct line: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6, NIV).What’s the Only Thing That Counts?

The only thing that counts is love expressed through faith.

Think about it.

May we use our faith to express our love to others. It’s the only thing that counts. Click To Tweet

Faith is the starting point. We have faith in God the father through Jesus the son as revealed by God’s Holy Spirit. We have faith that God lives in us and is through us. We have faith that a better tomorrow awaits us, both in this world and in the next. We have faith that God is with us in all circumstances and at all times, that he answers our prayers aligned with his sovereign wisdom.

But faith alone fall short. James tells us that faith without action is dead (James 2:17). While action could mean many things, let’s go back to Paul. He says that through our faith we are to express love. That’s what matters.

If faith is the starting point of the one thing that counts, love expressed is the outcome. Love is a confusing word in today’s modern society, covering the full gamut of emotions from preference to passion. But to understand the kind of love that Paul is talking about, we should go back to the Bible, we should go back to the words of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. He starts out by saying, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Corinthians 13:4, NIV).

He ends his explanation of love with these words, “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Did you catch this? In Paul’s trio of traits, he starts with faith, and he ends with love. Hope is what connects the two.

May we use our faith to express our love to others. It’s the only thing that counts. Paul says so.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Galatians 5, and today’s post is on Galatians 5:6.]

 

Was Jesus a Feminist?

Jesus elevates the standing of women and treats them as equal to men

As the book of Matthew winds down, we see in chapter 28 that Jesus rises from the dead, appears to his followers, and ascends into heaven. As he arises, he leaves us with the Great Commission: to go throughout the world and tell others about him.Was Jesus a Feminist?

In reading this chapter it’s easy to miss something that seems trivial but is actually a huge deal. When Jesus rises from the dead, who are the first people he appears to? He first reveals his risen form to a group of women. I think this is intentional. Here’s what happens.

Jesus’s body is placed in the tomb. After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and another Mary go to the tomb to ceremonially prepare Jesus’s corpse for a proper burial. What they encounter shocks them.

The earth quakes. An angel opens the tomb and sits there. He tells the women not to be afraid, that Jesus isn’t there and has risen from the dead. The angel shows them the empty tomb and tells them to let the other disciples know.

Jesus’s victory over death is huge news. This accomplishes what he came to earth to do. Everyone needs to know. He chooses women to carry this all-important message to his followers.

However, the culture of the day didn’t give any credence to the testimony of females. It was a male-dominated society. Women were treated as second-class citizens. Imagine that: The world’s most important news ever is delivered by people the culture overlooks and even dismisses.

But by his example, both during his life and after his resurrection, Jesus seeks to change that. He considers women fairly. He treats them as equals to men. His attitude and actions toward women is counter-cultural for the day.Jesus may have been the first feminist. Click To Tweet

Jesus may have been the first feminist. Though feminism is a loaded term—that means different things to different people—the dictionary tells us that feminism is believing in and advocating for the equality of women.

Though much has changed in the 2,000 years since, there is still more work to do. We, both male and female, should follow Jesus’s example and pursue gender equality. After all, both men and women are his children. He loves us all just the same. We should do likewise.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 28, and today’s post is on Matthew 28:8-10.]

Get your copy of Women of the Bible, available from Amazon.

How Do We Respond to Jesus?

We should show our gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us

The Bible records many things Jesus did when he was here on earth. A reoccurring action is Jesus healing people from their physical and spiritual maladies. Matthew 8 records several of these instances, and we will focus on one of them.Live for Jesus

Jesus goes to Peter’s house; his mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. (Note the reference to Peter’s mother-in-law. This tells us Peter was married.) Though we may not think too much about a fever today, this illness was bad enough to keep this woman in bed. She wasn’t merely resting, waiting to get better. She was incapacitated and not able to do anything. The situation was serious.

Jesus walks up to the bed and touches her hand. When he does her fever leaves her body. The next phrase is curious. It says she gets up to wait on him.

The cynic might say that Jesus healed her with selfish intentions, that he made her well only so she could take care of him, likely preparing some food for him to eat. Though this is a humorous thought and one many women likely nod their head in agreement with and might make men snicker, this misses the point.

Instead, I see Peter’s mother-in-law taking care of Jesus as a response to show her gratitude to him for what he did to make her better. Her example is one for us to follow.What do we do to show our gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us? Click To Tweet

Jesus has done so much for us. What do we do to show our gratitude to him?

It’s too easy for us to move from day-to-day and take Jesus’s work in our lives for granted, to not bother to show him our appreciation.

Jesus saved us, forgave us, and restored us to right relationship with his father. Plus, Jesus loves us, teaches us about God, and shows us how to live.

For all Jesus has done, what should our response be? What can we do to show Jesus how much we appreciate him?

Perhaps we should live for him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 8, and today’s post is on Matthew 8:14-15.]

Get your copy of Women of the Bible, available from Amazon.

Don’t Speak About Things You Don’t Understand

False teachers slander what they don’t understand, and they will be destroyed

Over the years I’ve heard many ministers talk about things they didn’t understand. Not biblical or spiritual things, but worldly things. Out of ignorance they condemn certain people for their actions, slandering them in the process.Don’t Speak About Things You Don’t Understand

This is why the world doesn’t understand Jesus and his church. This is why the world thinks Jesus hates them. Though he doesn’t, the words people say when they talk about things they don’t understand sends the wrong message that Jesus has something against humanity.

In Peter’s second letter he talks about these ministers and those who parrot their uninformed views. Peter explains that these teachers who slander what they don’t understand are false teachers. They’re irrational like wild animals. They’re creatures operating under instinct, void of intelligent thought. What is the outcome of these false preachers who speak of what they don’t understand? Peter makes it clear. They’ll be destroyed (2 Peter 2:12).

Jesus is all about love. Jesus loves everyone, especially those on the outside, the people on the fringes of society who religious folks reject.Many people, who claim to represent Jesus, speak out of ignorance about those outside the church. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately too many people who claim to represent Jesus, often the ministers of his churches, speak out of ignorance about those outside the church. These false teachers cause the church to reject those in the world and condemn them, even though this isn’t what Jesus wants.

We should reject these false teachers. We should ignore what they say and disassociate ourselves from them. These false teachers will be destroyed. Peter says so.

Instead we need to align ourselves with Jesus and the love he offers to everyone. When we do this, our love will point them to him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 2 Peter 2, and today’s post is on 2 Peter 2:12.]

The Bible Teaches Us How to Live With One Another

Scripture is packed with instructions of how Christians should treat each other

Last year I shared 13 Reasons Why I Love the Bible, and I periodically expand upon one of those thirteen reasons. Today we’ll explore how the Bible teaches us to live with each other. Although these lessons occur throughout the Bible, let’s focus on one reoccurring theme. I call these the “one another” commands. These instructions teach us how to treat each other. The Bible teaches us how to live with one another.

The Bible contains thirty-one of these one-another instructions. Most only occur once, but four of them occur multiple times. This must mean they’re more important, or else they wouldn’t be repeated. They are:

Love One Another: The command to love one another occurs ten times in the Bible, all in the New Testament. John writes about this the most but so do Paul and Peter.

Unfortunately our society today has a skewed understanding of the word love. Consider the following.

  • I’d love to go to the movies with you.
  • I love pizza.
  • I love to read the Bible.
  • I love my family.
  • I love God.

These are all phrases I’ve used. But they convey different meanings of the word love, ranging from preference to passion. What is love? Our society often treats love as an emotion, but let’s consider love as an attitude that prompts unselfish action. When it comes to loving one another, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 gives us some helpful instructions on how to do this. By following these verses we can begin to love others in a biblical way.

Encourage One Another: In four places, both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible tells us to encourage one another. Using positive words to lift others up and inspire them in their life and faith is a simple thing, yet most of us fail to do so most of the time. This is a skill we need to learn and then apply.

We all know people who encourage us. We enjoy our time with them, because we feel better about ourselves afterwards. May we be like them.

However, we also know people who we don’t enjoy being around because they discourage us, either directly through negative talk or indirectly through their attitudes. May we not be like them.

Let us encourage others and provide a positive, nurturing relationship that motivates them to do better.

Live in Harmony With One Another: Paul and Peter tell us we’re to live in harmony with one another. This is key. Harmony comes out of biblical love and is bolstered by encouragement, but there is more to harmony than that.

Two words come to mind that relate to harmony. The first is peace. We should strive to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

The second word is unity. It’s critically important for followers of Jesus to live in unity with one another. When we do so, we point others to Jesus. When we fail to do so, we push people away from Jesus. May it never be so.

Unity—that is, harmony—is important to Jesus. In one of his prayers he asks his father that we will live in unity, that we will be one just as he and his father are one (John 17:21).

Greet One Another With a Holy Kiss: The fourth of the one-another commands that appears multiple times in the Bible is a perplexing one. It’s the instruction to greet one another with a holy kiss. What does that mean?

I explored this in another post where I speculated that this command might be a “sacred act of intimacy for the church community.” Then I admitted that I’m not really sure.

Another thought is that greet another with a holy kiss might be like a secret handshake, a way to express Christian affinity without saying a word. I suppose that works, too.

Or we could interpret this command to greet one another with a holy kiss as a principle that implies acceptance and affection with all others who follow Jesus. This also might be a viable interpretation of this confusing phrase.May we learn to treat one another as the Bible tells us. Click To Tweet

In addition to these four, there are twenty-seven other one-another commands in the Bible. As we strive to follow them and put them into practice, the Church of Jesus will grow, and the world will be better for it.

May we learn to treat one another as the Bible tells us.

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