Loving like Jesus

As Christians we are stiving to be like Jesus lived and taught us to live on this journey. One subject that that Jesus had a lot to say about was love. We generally support the majority of what Jesus said about love, by  our words and actions, but there is one particular aspect of Jesus’ love that the Holy Spirit has been reminding me about lately. It can be seen in action throughout the life and ministry of Jesus but he states it the most clearly towards the begining of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5.

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (NIV).”

It is a hard sentence to live out because it goes so directly against our human nature to stir negativity against those who hurt or annoy us and circle around those who are friendly and treat us well. But Jesus is quick to remind us that even the most evil person you can imagine (for 1st century Jews, that was a tax collecter) can manage to love people that are loving and friendly toward them. Christians are supposed to be Jesus in this world (1 John 4:17), we are supposed to show the world what it looks like to demonstrate love unconditionally, just like God does.

So we are asked to show love to the people who get under our skin, who actively work to undermine us, who persecute us, who kill and persecute people around the world, and even the most vile and evil organizations you can imagine. We aren’t aksed to stop at love either, we are asked to pray for them too.

This is important because it is through prayer that we learn to love those who hate us the most. I don’t have a perfect track record here (far from it in fact) but when I do have stuggles with adversaries in life, praying for them has led me into deep love for my “enemy”. Praying for those who hurt you or those you love allows the Holy Spirit the freedom He needs to craft your heart, to remind you of Gods’ unending love for you. Even when you are at your worst or you have been someone else’s enemy. He can remind us through prayer that no person, no group of people, is too far from His love to experience love, grace, and forgiveness through Jesus.

God transformed the hearts of the incredibly evil city of Ninevah after Jonah reluctantly preached there. He turned Saul from a person who systematically terrorized churches into the greatest missionary who ever lived. He turned a group of Auca Indians in Eucador from missionary killers into ambassadors for Christ (through the persistant love of their victim’s widows). If I can be so bold as to say it, I truly with all of my heart believe that that Holy Spirit is powerful enough to transform the lives of people who are lost in the world of ISIS as well.

When was the last time you prayed for ISIS?  For the flesh and blood human beings who have been decieved by radically wicked lies? For the people so lost in darkness their only hope is a God who loves all people, even those with the darkest hearts.

This challenge is as much for me as it is for you. I will confess that until this week, when God moved in my heart through conviction, I responded to stories about ISIS and their hate with more hate. Now I ask that you will join me in praying for, what on most days, seems like one of the greatest evils in the world. Praying with faith that God can work miracles in the lives of people far beyond our wildest imagination.

When ever you see a story about the destruction and death that ISIS (or any other terrorit group) causes, pray for them in earnest.  When you encounter anger, hate, and death in this world; pray that the Holy Spirit will fill you with God’s love, peace, and life. A beacon for God in this dark world. That is loving like Jesus loved.

Jesus in the Old Testament

We heard a wonderful sermon about encouragement through the story of the two travelers walking the road to Emmaus on that first Easter Sunday. When Jesus appears to them, these two disciples are distraught over the death of their beloved rabbi, who they had hoped was the promised Messiah.  Neither of them could have imagined it being possible that the Messiah would suffer and die, but Jesus shows them the true nature of the Messianic prophesies in the Old Testament as he “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (v.27)”.

This story is important for many reasons, but one of the most important theological truths that it has for us in the unity of the Old and New Testaments. I have had many people over the years talk to me about how they refuse to read the Old Testament or feel that there is no value in the Old Testament now that Jesus has fulfilled the Law.

The truth is that the Old Testament has a lot to show us about Jesus and the grace of God.

I hope to take a look at a few of the passages that Jesus might have explained to these two travelers on the blog this week. There are beautiful passages in the Old Testament that share deep truth about who Jesus was and the nature of his mission. There are many stories about God’s grace for his people and His willingness to be faithful in the face of our faithlessness. Jesus is truly the center of the Bible, the Old Testament points to Him everywhere.

One of the first passages that I would like to take a look at is one of the most important prophesies about the Messiah which is found in Isaiah 52:12-53:13, a passage about God’s “suffering servant”. This passage is so clear about the role of the Messiah that it is often called the “fifth gospel” by many theologians. It was surely a passage the apostles turned to help make sense of the significance of Jesus’ death and the redemptive work that took place on the cross.  I will not quote the whole passage here, just a few highlights, but I would encourage you to read it on your own.

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows acquainted with grief…..surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows….he was crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace and with his wounds we are healed…All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-every one- to his own way; and the LORD laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

I don’t know for sure if Jesus explained this particular passage with the men on the road to Emmaus or not, but I know that when I read it my heart burns within me. Just like Luke 24 tells us theirs did. The gospel stories give us an account of the things that happened to Jesus according to what people saw. This passage shows us, in a way, what was taking place behind the scenes. It shows us the extent of God’s grace. That as horific as Jesus’ death was, it brough us peace, restoration with God, and healing for our souls.

That is something to be thankful for my friends!

They Will Know we are Christians by our Love

I am really concered that the story (that has gone quite viral) about how angry Christians are about Starbuck’s Holiday cup is becoming what people think about when they think of Christians. I was going to post a link to the story and the video that started it all, but do not want to dignify it by posting it here. We have become too involved in things that don’t really matter and are hurting the cause of Christ.

It is not Starbucks (or any other corporation’s) job to tell people about Jesus or educate them about the true meaning of Christmas. That’s our job, that is the church’s job. The last thing Jesus said to his followers before he ascended into heaven was “go into all of the world and make disciples”. In many ways I fear that we are losing sight of that command. We are content to just get angry and complain about how bad things have gotten, and we have stopped letting our light shine.

Jesus said in the begining of the sermon on the mount  that we are the light of the world. We shine not by posting viral videos about our political angst, we shine when we display God’s love to others.

If you are very angry about Starbucks or the way other corporations treat Christmas, that is ok. If you are angry about the de facto rule of “political correctness” that is ok. If you are angry that there is a lot of sin, death, and injustice in this world, that is ok too. But our response should be go out into the world and show God’s love.  In John 13:35 , Jesus tells his followers that people will know that they are His followers by their love for others. Not by anything else, but love.

Go change our world today by showing God’s love to others. Go be a light for Jesus in a dark place and let the name of Christ truly be gloried.

Take a break and praise the Lord

Psalm 150 (NLT)

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
    praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
    praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
    praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
    praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!

In your prayers, how long has it been since you have spent a considerable amount of time praising God for who He is?

I was drawn to several psalms through my Bible study class this week and was taken aback by the beauty, intensity, and necessity of prasing God through reading the psalms.  How can we not worship a God who has done such great things for us? How can we not worship a God who has created this world full of beauty and splendor?

Praising God is important because it draws us out of ourselves. It reminds us that we are not the center of the universe, God is. Praise helps us to realize that God is in control, and that we want Him in control. Praise draws us closer to God, exactly where we should be.

I felt convicted this week that I do not spend enough time simply praising God. I often say words of praise for a little bit at the begining of my prayers, but it doesn’t take me long to get into my list of needs and concerns.  I bet it would change my persepective a lot if I prayed entire prayers of nothing but praise like we find in Psalm 104 and 150. My friends, I think we all know that it is easy to get stuck in ruts and that it can feel great to throw ourselves some grand pitty parites.

Let your praise to the God you love and the God who loves you more than you can imagine pull you out of those dark places. Focus on Him, tell Him how amazing He is, and let your worhip of God be the fuel that drives your life.