No Fear

Read 1 John 4:16-18

Over the course of human history, there have been leaders who sought full control over the people who they were to lead. These leaders have employed a variety of tactics to establish and maintain this control. One of the methods utilized by every one of these leaders is the employment of fear. They establish techniques which will instill in the people a fear which prevents them from acting in any manner not prescribed by the leader. This fear is based on witnessing or anticipating repercussions if the leader’s desires are not met. Such repercussions  may include banishment, imprisonment, torture, seizing of assets, dismemberment, loss of statics, financial ruin, or even death. The people follow the leader not out of trust but out of fear.

The writer of I John presents a leader who has an opposite approach. In the midst of a discussion which equates God with love, the writer speaks of a relationship between humans and the Divine. Because we live in love, we have no fear in our relationship. The writer points out that love and fear are incompatible. We do not have to fear anything from God. In fact, since God is love, fear is pushed out of our relationship.

There are church leaders who attempt to use fear much as the world leaders mentioned earlier. These leaders create fear as a way to control while masking it as an attempt to “save” people from God’s wrath. This originated with the Jewish leaders and has come down over centuries to the Church. Jesus spoke against this technique during his ministry. In our passage, we see the incongruity of using fear in regards to a relationship with God. Instead, the message we receive, and should pass to others, is that it is love which draws us into a relationship with God. Love is the source of all of God’s actions, teachings, and promises. Love not fear emboldens us to be in relationship with God. Our actions, teachings and promises should flow out of love.

Like An Ocean

Read Ephesians 3:14-19

When I was a young boy growing up in the church, there was a song which we often sang during Sunday School opening gatherings, “Peace Like a River.” One of the verses in the song says, “I’ve got love like an ocean.” I would sometimes ponder what that amount of love might be like. I always came to the conclusion that it was love which was boundless. Even though at that age I had never actually been to an ocean, I had seen images on television so the idea that you could not see the other side of the ocean from the beach upon which you stood gave me the boundless image. The image of wave after wave hitting the beach and rocks also created for me the endless waves of love coming upon me.

At the conclusion of the part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians which we read from today, Paul speaks about praying for them. In his prayer, Paul says that since the people are rooted and established in love, he asks that they be able to understand how wide, long, and deep Jesus’s love is for them. This love goes beyond their knowledge. He also indicates that this love is the full essence of God.

Reading what Paul tells the Ephesians brings to mind the images from my childhood Sunday School song. Taking hold of such a boundless love seems impossible. Realizing the vastness of this love brings an overwhelming sense of acceptance, security and great joy. Imaging Christ’s love lapping over one’s self over and over provides comfort and warmth.  May you come to the understanding of Christ’s love for you being like an ocean!

Positive Outcomes

Read Isaiah 48:17-19

As a parent, a person desires the absolute best for all her/his children. Much of the time a child lives in the home, the parent is using opportunities to teach and guide the young person. The hope is that as the child matures, the lessons taught will prepare them to make choices which will benefit them throughout their future. This does not always happen. When a child makes a choice  which results in a lasting negative outcome, the parent is disappointed. This disappointment is not in the child but in the missed opportunities for a more positive outcome. No parent wishes for a child to experience negative outcomes because the love a parent feels is great.

In the reading from Isaiah, we see God as a parent to the Israelites. God has a great love for all of God’s children, greater than even a human parent. Because of this love, God desires only positive outcomes for the Israelites. God has taught and guided them in ways which can bring about positive results. Yet the Israelites have chosen to ignore the teaching and take paths different from those to which God has guided them. In making these choices, the Israelites have experienced a lot of negative outcomes. God’s disappointment in these results is evident in the words recorded here.

This trend continues throughout human history. We have received the ongoing teaching from God through Scripture, trusted Christian leaders and teachers, and from within our own families. God has utilized these individuals in our lives to guide us and give us the tools which will help us achieve positive life outcomes. But like the Israelites to whom Isaiah speaks, we have at times ignored the teachings or rejected the guidance. Making this choice leads us to not receive the full measure of positive life experience. We may have times when we do not suffer greatly from these choices but we still fall short of what could be. Other times we experience great suffering because of the choices. When this happens, God feels disappointment because of what could have been for us.

From this passage we learn to follow the teachings and guidance of God so we can fully experience the greatness God has planned for us.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 10

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Today we look at the last half of the final petition in the Lord’s Prayer. We saw this petition begin with a request to God for assistance in avoiding the temptation of sin. This petition ends with the phrase, “but deliver us from evil.”

This phrase is focused upon the evil in our world. Luke’s version of the prayer does not include this phrase. Both the NIV and NRSV versions of the Matthew passage end the phrase with “evil one” and not just “evil.” The Greek word which is translated here can be translated either way. Since choosing “evil” as the word is broader and more encompassing, our spoken version includes one word and not both.

The task with which we must grapple is a definition for evil. The dictionary provides this, “profound immorality and wickedness, especially when regarded as a supernatural force.” Many interpret evil as humans doing wrong toward others. Either definition leaves itself open to interpretation. The way to define evil is greatly dependent upon perspective and context. Over time, the application of the label can, and does, change in certain situations. Therefore, the best way to define evil is when there is a void of love. Whether it be action, words, behaviors, or situations, if love is not demonstrated in them then evil is an appropriate label.

This portion of Jesus’s petition is requesting that God deliver us from the environments and impact of evil; a request to be delivered from experiences which are absent of love.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 7

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

Continuing our look at the Lord’s Prayer we come to the phrase, “And forgive our debts,” The last word in this phrase is different depending on if you are reading it in Matthew or  Luke and how it is translated. The most common English translations for this word are debts, trespasses and sins. Later in this devotion we will discuss the impact of which word is chosen on how we understand the petition. 

The first significant word in this phrase is “forgive.” We are asking God to no longer hold our offenses against us. We seek to have the consequences of our sins cancelled. The psalmist expressed this desire when he wrote, “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.” (Psalm 25:7) We know that if God forgives our sin, God also forgets our sin. “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)

As mentioned above, the final word in this phrase is translated a few different ways. If we translate it as “debts” then we are given the image of a transactional aspect to this forgiveness. We owe God something because we have sinned. Instead of making the required payment, we ask God to wipe away the amount due. If we choose the translation which results in the word “trespasses” then we understand our sins to be an offensive action against God. Our third option of using the word “sin” in this phrase seems to be the most straightforward option. This word clearly describes what we wish to be forgiven.

Choosing to use sins at the end of the phrase requires us to have a definition of sin. Sin is generally understood to be a violation of God’s law. Jesus gave us a concise statement concerning the law of God when he answered what is the greatest commandment. Jesus answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.” (Matthew 27:37,39) God’s law is summed up in the word love. Sin is any action which does not represent love.

Jesus’s second petition in the prayer related to humanity is a request that God forgives (and forgets) the times when we have failed to love.

Entitled

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8 (NIV)

There appears to be a pervasive altitude of entitlement in the world today. This attitude manifests itself in a common phrase such as, “I deserve (fill in the blank) because…” For a long time people lived according to the idiom, “earn your keep.” This idiom was first commonly said in the 1800s and was in reference to working for room and board which was common on farms. The understanding of earning what one received was prevalent even to the point of going too far at times. Whether one deserves or has earned something depends a lot upon perception.

Paul understands the concept of being deserving or undeserving when he writes to the Romans. As sinners, people who have not lived out God’s love, what is deserved is punishment. According to the covenant which God first established with humans, and then continuously renewed, the punishment for sin is death and full separation from God. Paul points out that humanity did not receive what was deserved because at exactly the right time Christ died for us so we may live. God’s love overpowered what was deserved and instead of death, we received life.

It is great to not receive what is entitled to us or even what we have earned through our actions. We have been given a great gift, grace, in Christ’s death and resurrection. The love of God remains present even when we do not live it in the world. Instead of waiting for us to stop breaking God’s love (sinning), God gave us the gift. Thank you  God for not giving me what I deserve!

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?

Having to Choose

14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

Joshua 24:14-18 (NIV)

Our lives are filled with choices for us to make. Some of these choices are fairly mundane such as what clothes to wear each day, what we are going to eat for breakfast, or what movie we are going to see at the theater. Other choices can have a significant and lasting impact upon our lives like what we are going to do after high school, who we are going to marry, or what job opportunity we are going to accept. Millions of choices are presented to us each day. Which option we choose can alter our experiences, our perspectives, and/or very lives.

Throughout the Bible we encounter stories of people having to make choices. The story today involves the Israelites and Joshua. Joshua is talking with the Israelites about the covenant which they have with God. He recalls for them how the Lord has brought them to where they are now. He recounts God’s saving actions and the leaders God has sent to them. Then Joshua tells them that they have a choice to make as they live in the new land which the Lord has provided. The people must choose if they care going to serve God or some form of another god. The people commit to serving God.

In truth, Joshua’s question is placed before us each and every day. When we start our day, and potentially many times throughout the day, we are called upon to choose who we are going to serve. This fundamental decision will impact each choice we make after it. If we choose to serve the Lord, the one who loves and redeems us by grace, then our words, actions, and interactions with others will come out of an attitude of love and grace. When this is not our guiding force, we know that we have chosen to serve another.

Hear again Joshua’s words: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” How do you respond?

Contrasts

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:27-36 (NIV)

Contrasts can be interesting to examine. Comparison of one item to a different one can result in some enlightening findings. Remember those assignments or test questions which invited you to compare and contrast two ideas, philosophies, arguments, or physical items? The assignment or question is designed to test your observations and ability to show the knowledge which you have in regard to those things being placed before you. Contrasting items can also be helpful in making decisions.

Jesus often taught using contrasts. His teachings were to show the greatest contrast in life, the contrast between God’s way of living and the human way of living. Whether Jesus was contrasting ways to lead, to love, or to make choices, he always explained God’s way versus humanity’s way. In our passage he sits up a series of contrasts. These contracts have to do with revenge, greed, generosity and love. Jesus is presenting how humans normally respond to one another versus how God responds and desires us to respond. The teaching here is difficult since it appears to stand in opposition to what humans consider to be natural.

As children of God, we are a contrast to the human understanding of life. Love instead of revenge, punishment, and fairness is counter to what we may declare as right. We do not see the equity in what Jesus proposed here. A fear of being trampled and used by others causes us to bristle at the instructions Jesus gives. However, Jesus is telling us that by always acting and responding out of love as demonstrated by the Father, we come out on top. There is nothing easy in Jesus’s words but we are given a standard which we must work toward every day.

Hospitality

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Hebrews 13:1-3 (NIV)

“The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers, ” is the definition which you will find if you Google the word hospitality. There are individuals who have the gift of practicing hospitality in their lives. All of us have the capacity to extend hospitality to others but there are ones who do so with great ease and comfort. They appear to have a knack for anticipating and fulfilling the needs of anyone whom they encounter. This gift becomes even more appreciated when a person is experiencing a crisis or some difficult situation.

The Bible is full of stories and exhortations regarding hospitality. In review of these, one comes to the conclusion that God sees the exhibition of hospitality as an expression of love. The exhortation found towards the end of the letter to the Hebrews pairs hospitality with love. The visiting of prisoners and care for those suffering also are seen as expressions of love for one another. A reminder is given that when a person offers hospitality, he/she may be extending it to a messenger of God. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story of caring for others and says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

We are told by our Lord that we are to demonstrate hospitality to others. Welcoming another into our space is the starting point of offering hospitality. Then we should be attuned to the needs of our guest, visitor or stranger. Anything which we can do to meet their needs should be done. Showing hospitality toward others can have a positive impact on another’s life of which we may never be aware. Extending hospitality is also one of the expressions of God’s love to a world where doors are slammed in people’s faces way too often. So practice hospitality whenever you are given the opportunity.