Addicted to the Lord

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

1 Peter 2:1-3 (NIV)

Addictions are serious and usually destructive illnesses which can devastate lives and relationships. An addiction is an illness which requires the individual to alter their life in a way which will prevent a relapse once the addiction is subdued. Whatever the addiction, drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, or sex, the illness is never cured but the person learns to live in a way which does not give the addiction power over life choices and actions. The craving can surface at any point and especially is present during times of stress. Support groups and supportive friends and family can assist the individual but managing the addiction is solely a personal responsibility.

The writer of our passage from 1 Peter speaks of a beneficial addiction. The passage begins by telling the reader listener to rid self of behaviors which have negative impacts upon others. Then the instruction is given to become like babies who crave milk. In this situation, it is spiritual milk. Those things which feed one’s spirit such as: fellowship with other believers, reading of God’s word, time spent in prayer, contemplation of God’s magnificence in nature, engaged in worship and music, and anything else which feeds the soul in a positive manner. This feeding assists in preparing the soul to experience the promised salvation. Once one has experienced the Lord in these activities, the person will be addicted to the goodness of the Lord.

Generally addictions are a bad aspect of one’s life. However, the writer of 1 Peter makes clear that an addiction, craving, of the Lord in your life is a positive one. It is true that once you have experienced the goodness of the Lord, you desire more. The connection is strong. A desire to know more about the Lord grows in a greater way. The hunger for feeling the Lord’s presence and becoming more aware of that presence increases.

The message from 1 Peter is to get hooked on the Lord; become addicted!

Love Undergirds

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Have you ever watched a bridge under construction? The process takes time and can be very interesting to watch. It is good that it takes time because the safety of those using the bridge is important. The process begins by laying a foundation at the base of the support pillars. Then the pillars are put in place. This is followed by ensuring the pillar top is properly cut for the bridge deck. Once those are in place, the ramps for entering and exiting the bridge are constructed followed by the placing of the decking. This is a simplified overview but you get the idea. The main point is that what undergirds the bridge is important for the safety, trustworthiness and usefulness of the bridge.

Paul writes to the believers in Corinth. His goal in what he writes is to stress the importance of love. This passage is often chosen as one of the readings used in a wedding service because it describes love in the context of relationships. However, Paul’s intent was to describe love in a context of corporate relationships. He is telling the believers how they are to love one another as members of a group of Christ followers. Paul says that whatever the believers do or say should have the undergirding of love. It is love which provides safety, trustworthiness, and usefulness within the relationships with each other.

As readers today, Paul’s words ring true for us. Since God is love, it seems natural that love should undergird our lives and relationships. Striving to live into Paul’s definition of love here is akin to living into the likeness of Christ. Every day we must strive for the attributes Paul lists: kindness, without envy or boasting, honoring others, selfless, without anger, not holding grudges, rejoicing in truth, rejecting evil, protecting, trusting, hoping, and persevering. The promise which Paul lifts up here is that love never fails.

Acceptance

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:7-13 (NIV)

Frequently in life there develops an “in” group and an “out” group. Those within the special group achieve their membership based upon a defined set of criteria. This criteria can be items such as athletic ability, physical attributes, wealth, or even who the person knows. Sometimes being included may even be based on ancestry. Being part of the “in” group affords a person special knowledge, privileges, and treatment. If a person is a member of the “out” group, animosity and resentment can arise towards the members of the other group. There can be emotional and psychological pain experienced by those on the out. Trying to build acceptance among the groups can be a true challenge.

Reading from the letter to the Roman believers, we can see that there has developed a division among them. This division is based on ancestry and history. The Jews had always been considered as God’s chosen people since the time of Abraham and Sarah. This delineation was due to the events regarding Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael was sent away and Isaac became the chosen one to carry forward God’s promises to Abraham. This would begin the lineage of the

Jews, the “in” group. Those who are not part of the lineage were referred to as Gentiles and were on the outside. Paul points out that God did not intend this to be a permanent separation. In Jesus Christ, this division has been eliminated. The believers in Rome are to understand this as part of their belief in Christ and accept one another. Belief in Jesus Christ unites those who used to be divided.

This type of division still exists today in a different way. Too often today the “in” group is considered to be members of the Church. The “out” group are those who are not a part of the fellowship. There is an attitude of being special among those who worship God together. A special set of words and ritual behaviors have been established among this group. A set of criteria has been adopted which must be met to be allowed in the group. There is even an us versus them mentality. 

Like the believers in Rome, we must learn to accept one another and break through the walls which divide us; no longer in/out or us/them but an attitude and behavior of we. Those who are believers must lead the way by reaching out to those who are not currently part of the fellowship. Going outside the walls of a building or the barriers we have constructed through rules and rituals. Accepting people where they are just as Christ accepted us where we were.

Love In Action

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21 (NIV)

” You’re going to come across people in your life who will say all the right words at all the right times. But in the end, it’s always their actions you should judge them by. It’s actions, not words, that matter.”

Nicolas Sparks

Nicolas Sparks is an American novelist who was born in Omaha, NE. He is probably best known for two of his twenty-one novels, “The Notebook” and “Message In a Bottle.” What Sparks says here is a sentiment which has been communicated in a variety of ways over thousands of years. The idea is that people can say all types of endearing words but only if their actions support those words can they be trusted and believed.

Paul is speaking to the believers in Rome regarding love. Paul instructs the people on how to live out love. He gives a list of behaviors which show love to be sincere. All of the behaviors focus on the good, caring for others and avoiding a revenge mentality.

Most of us have become accustomed to not trusting what we are told. Experiences with politicians, advertisements, telemarketers and leaders have caused us to be skeptical almost all the time. When we are told that we are loved, we struggle to truly believe it and are waiting for the catch. Only by seeing these words in action do we begin to believe them at all.

As believers in Christ, we are commissioned to share God’s love with others. The problem that arises is when we try to communicate the message of God’s love using only words. The skepticism mentioned above makes those words ineffective. We must live out the love of God in our lives. What Paul shares with the Romans are examples of how we can live out the love.

Lamenting With Hope

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24 (NIV)

There had been a lot of suffering in our nation, and the world, over the last year. The pandemic has been a significant cause of suffering and death. The social unrest related to racial differences have brought to the surface long-existing suffering. The very contentious political environment has led to growing division and suffering within communities and families. The afflictions when one is experiencing them can be so strong that it feels like they are drowning one’s spirit.

Lamentations is a crying out to God. The words are considered to be from the time when Israel was in exile. The Israelites had experienced many hardships including separation from family, destruction of their homes, and being brought to a foreign land to live as servants. They easily felt overwhelmed by their afflictions. Yet there is hope in the words we read today. The writer acknowledges the feeling of being consumed by afflictions except for the fact of the Lord’s love preventing a total consumption. The compassion and faithfulness of the Lord is seen as unfailing and renewed daily. Waiting for the Lord to remove the afflictions speaks to a confidence that the Lord will and a belief that the Lord provides what is required to endure until then.

In the midst of our afflictions recently, we may feel like crying out to the Lord as we see in Lamentations. In fact, we hopefully have done just that. However, it is important to keep in mind that because we are loved by God, our troubles will not totally overcome us. The compassion and faithfulness of the Lord is never ending. We are to wait and be confident that the Lord will walk us through whatever we are experiencing.

Your Longing

You, God, are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
    my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
    where there is no water.

Psalm 63:1 (NIV)

The psalmist here speaks of a longing for God that engulfs the whole being. A longing which finds its fulfillment only in God. Looking to God as the only way to fill an emptiness within a person’s spirit. Seeing God as the only One who can provide what the soul needs to be sustained.

Listen to this song by Michael W. Smith, Breathe

Does your soul long for the Lord?

How does the Lord provide what you need to sustain your soul?

What came to mind as you listened to the words of the song?

May you find what your soul longs for in the Lord.

Avoiding the Pitfall

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Matthew 23:1-12 (NIV)

One of the pitfalls which many celebrities can experience is when they became arrogant or aloof with their notoriety. They come to expect certain types of treatment when they go to restaurants, parties or stores. When they contribute to a charity or do an act of service, they assume they will be noticed and acknowledged in some public manner. Celebrities are not the only ones who can succumb to this pitfall. Ordinary people risk adopting similar attitudes and behaviors if they are given power or status for whatever reason.

In a conversation with his disciples, Jesus calls out this potential pitfall. Jesus warns against following the example of the Pharisees who exalt themselves. They make a public showing of their actions. Instead Jesus tells the disciples to humble themselves and be servants. They are not to take titles or place anyone, including themselves, in the place of the Father or the Messiah. The pitfall of arrogance is to be avoided through conscious humility.

We would do well to listen to Jesus’s warning and instruction. Jesus is not indicating that we show or promote disrespect but instead he is advocating we keep a healthy perspective when it comes to recognition and acknowledgment. We are to avoid assuming that we deserve anything outside the decency and honor any person deserves. Anything more than that should be because others have chosen to offer it and not that we have an expectation for more. Our service to and for others should be done because we are following Christ’s example, not to receive accolades. We should always reserve the places of highest honor in our lives for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

New Life

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

Spring is a wonderful time of year because of all the new life which surrounds us. During winter the fields lay fallow, trees are barren of leaves, and grass, along with other plants, become brown. It is easy to perceive everything as being dead. With the arrival of spring flowering plants shoot out of the ground, buds which will burst out as leaves on the trees, and the green color returning to the grass and plants signal that life now exists where death seemed to reign.

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus with words about death and life. In our sins and transgressions we were dead. We followed the ways of the world and the spirit of disobedience. But God made us alive in Christ because God loves us. God has raised us to the heavenly realms where we sit with Christ. This is grace which has saved us. We have been created and prepared by God to do good works in Christ. In Christ, what was perceived as dead is truly alive.

Like creation gets a new life in the spring, we are given new life. We can put behind us those behaviors of our past which were killing our spirits. Because of God’s love for each one of us, we were not left in death but instead we have been resurrected into a new life. With new life, new opportunities exist. There are opportunities to serve others, establish mutually nourishing relationships, and discover the wonders of God’s love and grace. Embrace this new life given to you in Jesus Christ.

Being A Member

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV)

Many organizations have rules or standards which they expect their members to follow. Some fraternal organizations, in addition to rules, have rituals and customs which they observe on a regular basis. The rules are intended to insure the members represent the organization in a positive light to others. Some of the rules may also guide the interactions between members so there is an attitude of respect. Being part of a group usually comes with expectations; or at the least common behaviors.

Paul writes to the Colossian believers that as people chosen by God, they need to exhibit certain behaviors and characteristics. They are members of a group which is seen as holy and dearly loved by the Father. He tells them to adopt characteristics which demonstrate love given by God. Paul continues by instructing them on how to interact with one another based upon what they have received from the Lord. In order to live out this guidance, Paul tells the people to rely upon the message of Christ and to assist one another in following that message. Then he concludes by challenging them to do and say all things in the name of the Lord.

Those of us who are followers of Christ are members of God’s chosen. We are not chosen as part of an elite group or at the exclusion of others. God has chosen to love and redeem us. This is the group of which we are members. The instructions and expectations Paul gives the Colossians then apply to us as well. They are intended to ensure we represent to the world the behaviors of people who are loved and redeemed by God. This can be a challenging set of membership expectations. Paul’s last instruction can benefit us as we strive to meet the expectations. This instruction requires us to pause and ask ourselves how Jesus would feel about his name being attached to our words or actions before we say or do them. Definitely would prevent us from doing anything which does not align with the group membership expectations.

Congratulations on being a member of God’s group. Strive each day to uphold the expectations.

All You Need

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:3-11 (NIV)

When a person is preparing to complete a project, it is important to ensure that you have all the items you need for the project. Whether it is cooking a meal or building a doghouse, you cannot successfully achieve a satisfactory outcome if you are missing ingredients, materials or necessary tools. Planning out your work, collecting necessary items, and organizing allows you to succeed. If you are lacking in anything, the end result will be subpar or possibly a total failure.

In the letter we refer to as 2 Peter, we are told that we have been given everything we need for a godly life. This can be found in the knowledge of the Lord who called us; called us to be heirs of the kingdom of God. We have been given promises which allow us to participate in God’s divine nature. The letter continues by encouraging us to gather the elements which will make us effective and productive in our knowledge of the Lord. We are to confirm our call and election as heirs to God’s eternal kingdom.

What exciting news is found here. We learn that we have been given by God all that we need to confirm our eternal kingdom inheritance. We have been given the knowledge of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done. The knowledge that Jesus is God’s Son who obtained for us the removal of our sin is what we need to be called inheritors of the kingdom. Adding to this an adoption of Christ-like behaviors and traits makes our knowledge even more effective. We only need to confirm this by publicly declaring what we know to be true about Jesus Christ. It is like picking up our free pass into the kingdom.