Radical Love

In a world where there are so many expectations and requirements to be accepted and loved, it is good to be reminded that we fully receive love and acceptance from our Lord. The love which we are given comes in a radical way with no strings.

1. How do you experience God’s love?

2. What prevents you from receiving God’s love?

3. How does this truth impact your life?

Creation of Humanity

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Genesis 1:26-30 (NIV)

One of the most famous ceilings in the world can be found in the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the vaulted ceiling of the chapel. One of the panels depicts the creation of Adam and has that exact name today. Below is a picture of that panel as it appeared in National Geographic.

1. What do you see first in this image? Why do you think this stands out to you?

2. How do you interpret the relationship between God and humanity as depicted here?

3. Why might Michelangelo have chosen to place a space between God’s finger and Adam’s finger? Do you agree with that choice? Why or why not?

4. Was there anything missing in the painting which would be important based on your reading of today’s passage?

Turning Things Upside Down

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

Matthew 5:38-47 (NIV)

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book which has a complete plot switch towards the end? The story line may appear to be taking you in a certain direction but before the book ends, the plot winds up resulting in a completely opposite outcome. This can be shocking, frustrating or even disarming but for some reason there also exists some excitement when this occurs. The unexpected can create a thrill for the viewer or reader.

Jesus creates a plot twist in his teaching as recorded by the writer of Matthew. The people of his time, and we who are later readers, understand the social norms of how to react when we have been treated unfairly or have an enemy. But Jesus turns all of our understandings and social norms upside down. Jesus teaches that instead of an eye for an eye, we are to not retaliate when someone treats us wrong. Instead, we are to offer more than they demand from us. Jesus continues in teaching opposite reactions when he speaks of loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. He calls us to be different from others who follow the norms of our society.

This is absolutely mind blowing. Surely Jesus really did not expect us to follow these teachings. Perhaps we should just skip over this passage. Perhaps it was an editorial addition which some scribe added during translation. If Jesus really did say these words, then we have to redirect our instinctual responses. We cannot seek revenge but instead we must offer more. We cannot seeth about and lash out toward our enemies and persecutors but extend love and pray for them. It is just like Jesus to shake up our view of what seems right. He even went further by demonstrating this as he was persecuted and hung on the cross.  Guess that he meant it.

Choosing One

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

1 Samuel 16:1-13 (NIV)

Choosing a leader can be a challenging task at times. The first step is to determine the qualifications and traits which will be sought in a candidate. Then a pool of potential candidates must be collected. This is followed by examining each candidate’s qualifications and traits against the list of sought ones established at the start. When a potential leader aligns closest to the desires, then the declaring of the new leader can occur.

The passage which has been read for today presents the story of choosing a new king for Israel. God had become displeased with Saul for Saul’s unfaithfulness to God. God sends Samuel to anoint Saul’s replacement as king. Samuel is to go to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse. Jesse brings his sons before Samuel when Samuel arrives. As each son presents himself before Samuel, God indicates that each is not the right one even though they appear to be by human standards. When it seems all have come before Samuel but not any are accepted by God, Samuel makes sure that there are none remaining.  Jesse indicates there is the youngest one who is tending the sheep. Samuel sends for him and when he arrives God tells Samuel to anoint him as king.

We learn from this passage that God looks beyond the obvious human traits in choosing the right person for the job. The human qualifications of appearance and stature are not what God uses to determine the qualified one. Instead God looks for the spirit, attitude, and personality of the correct candidate.

As humans, we too often get dazzled by a person’s appearance. Physical traits and charisma play too large of a role in our choosing of a leader. We also disqualify ourselves or others because we are unable to see the traits of a true leader. This story of Samuel, David, and God cautions us to look beyond what is visible and seek to understand the spirit, attitude and personality of a potential leader.

Move On

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So the Israelites did this.

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.

10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.

Exodus 14:1-15 (NIV)

Back in the day when almost every house had a phonograph of some form, it was common for records to skip or get stuck in an endless loop. The cause could be food or drink being spilled on the record, or a scratch forming due to the record player being bumped while playing, or possibly a particle being in the grooves of the record. When these times would arise, there were a few options available to the listener. You could gently nudge the phonograph or the arm holding the needle. You could remove the record and gently clean it. Or you could purchase a repair kit and attempt to fix the issue. A person had to do something because losing part of a song or being caught in an endless loop was not acceptable.

As the Israelites journeyed from Egypt to the new land which God had promised them, they quickly got caught in an endless loop of fear and complaining. The portion of their journey which we find in Exodus today presents one of those times of fear and complaining. After leaving Egypt, God instructs Moses where the people are to encamp. God says that Pharoah will pursue them. Pharoah and the officials change their minds about letting the Israelites go so they pursue them. The Israelites shout out in terror as they see Pharoah and his army approaching. They complain about  being led out of Egypt. Moses assures the people that God will protect them. God has Moses tell the people to stop crying out and move on.

There are times in our lives when God needs to deliver to us the message given to Moses to deliver to the Israelites. We can become like the Israelites, caught up in a loop of fear and complaining. We need to be told to just move on. Continually crying out for relief does not always lead to improving our situation. Instead, moving forward can alter our circumstances enough to provide new opportunity and new hope. Thank goodness we have a God who is eager to lead us out of our ruts. Thank goodness we have a God who will send someone to bump us out of an endless cycle of fear and complaining.