The Apostle of Love

If you were going to choose the apostle who was most radically changed by the ministry of Jesus, I think most people would say that would be Paul.  He went from being Saul, persecutor of the church, to Paul, missionary, preacher of the gospel, writer on one third of the New Testament.  An impressive reversal.  But I wouldn’t choose Paul.  I would say John was the most radically changed of all the apostles.

Jesus called James and John sons of thunder.  They were the angry young men of their day.  Revolutionaries.  They wanted to call fire from heaven down on those who would not feed them.  They were ambitious.  They wanted to sit on Jesus’ right and left when He was elevated to His throne.

But John was changed, radically changed.  Matthew’s gospel was about the Jewish Christ of Old Testament prophecy.  Mark’s Christ was the Romanesque, make things happen Jesus.  Luke’s was the Son of Man.  But when we are asked where someone should start to read the Bible we say read the gospel of John.

The gospel of John captures the essence of Christ, the aura of Jesus.  It is touchy feely. Those three chapters near the end, the last supper, captures the Jesus who was personal, who was friend, who was love.  John wrote his epistles and they can be summed up in three words.  ‘God is Love’.

John was radically changed by Jesus and when he decided to write about how it had happened he didn’t write about Jesus’ oratory skills or His charisma or His teaching ability.  He wrote about His love.  At the end of that last supper he called himself ‘the one whom Jesus loved’.

So how do we reach people with the gospel?  Do we depend on speaking ability or charisma or compelling arguments?  Do we grasp for power, for authority, for influence?  Do we call down fire from heaven on those would would hinder us?  Boycott, march, blog and Facebook?  Maybe there’s a better way.

Maybe we are most powerful, most dangerous when we lay down or weapons, when we make ourselves vulnerable, when we love, when we love God, love our neighbors, even love our enemies.



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I Don’t Want to Get Over It

I watched a sermon about generosity the other day.  The preacher said he was thankful that he had been able to give away some big ticket items over the years including a house.  Somebody asked his wife how she felt when she found out he had given away her house.  She said she was glad that they could do it and happy that her husband had such a generous heart.  She said, “You need to know this about my husband.  He’s never gotten over getting saved.”

‘He’s never gotten over getting saved.’  That line has been bouncing around in my head the last week or two.  I wonder…

We can get righteously indignant over homosexuality and gay marriage.  We make our voices heard on refugees and illegal aliens and border walls.  We can go to those God Is Not Dead movies.  We can talk about the scientific and historical evidence of Christ.  We can preach the Roman road to salvation.  I don’t know that any of that will make that much difference.

I don’t think the people who march and preach and make their voices heard will change the world.  I think the people who will  change the world are the ones who can’t stop smiling, who have never gotten over getting saved.

How do I know when I’ve gotten over getting saved?  If the way I look and the way I talk and the way I act is more important to me than my salvation then I have gotten over it.  What I do (and what others do) should never have more value that what God has done for me.

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Five Dollar Bills

There was a thread on social media the other day about a woman in the local WalMart parking lot who was going around asking for money.  Her story was that she was out of gas and her kids were in the car and she just needed enough money for gas to get them home.  She was spotted later in WalMart buying something trivial like cigarettes or People magazine.

I pulled up to a stop light and there was one of those guys holding up a sign.  I didn’t hear a voice.  I didn’t feel a nudge from the Holy Spirit.  I guess I had been thinking about something that triggered it.  The thought came to me ‘if you’re going to think about it and write about it and talk about it you ought to do’.  I never carry money with me anymore but for the last few weeks I’ve wound up with money in my billfold.  I knew there was a twenty in there.  I hoped there was something smaller.  There was.  Two fives.  I took one out and waved it at him.  He came and took it and said thank you.

I didn’t feel the approval of God.  He didn’t pat me on the back and tousle my hair and say ‘Good boy’.  I didn’t feel anything.  I don’t know if I helped someone in need or I was scammed.  For all I know he had a five liter Mustang in the Target parking lot, one with stripes down the middle and a testosterone throated exhaust.

Our pastor preached on the Sermon on the Mount last night.  Jesus told us to love our enemies.  Jesus said that if they ask for your coat you should give them the shirt off your back.  I thought how upside down and backwards that sounds compared to the world we know and understand.  The truth is that it’s our world that’s upside down and backwards.  We see a world that is images on a cave wall.  The world we see is distorted and out of focus images in a fun house mirror.  Jesus came to tell us the truth, to show us the truth, to be the truth.  Our world tells to collect all the five dollar bills we can and hang onto them.  Jesus says we should give them away.

We need to be good stewards of what God has given us, right?  We don’t give away our five dollar bills to people who don’t need them, who don’t deserve them.  Right?  So what’s the ratio?  Would you give your five dollar bills if you knew that one in three would go to someone in need?  How about one in five?  Feeling really brave?  Try one in ten.

Jesus gave His life and through the centuries untold billions have said ‘So what?  We don’t need it.’  But Jesus did it anyway for the relatively small minority who said yes and became sons and daughters of God.  He gave His all and it was wasted on untold multitudes.  But He did it willingly and joyfully because He did it for me.




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The World’s Best…

My ancient lawn mower gave up the ghost last fall and I am in the market for a new one.  I’ve been browsing Lowe’s, Amazon, and Home Depot for the best in my price range.  The customer ratings have me baffled.

The four and five star ratings say things like ‘This is the world’s best lawn mower’.  I actually saw one that said that.  The one star ratings say stuff like ‘This mower was designed by Satan himself and it was made by his henchmen.  It is demon possessed’.  There are few two and three star reviews.

I know what’s going on here.  It’s Starbucks.  A little bit of Starbucks, of caffeine and sugar, and suddenly the world is all rainbows and unicorns and you have the best lawn mower in the world and you want to sing along with the Fifth Dimension.

A little more Starbucks and the world is full of idiots and and you want to tie dynamite to your mower and blow it up and the music in your head is head banging guitar destroying acid rock.  I would post an example of that but I don’t have a clue who to look for.

So I now I know.  The reviews, good or bad, are not to be trusted.  Which mower should I buy?  I think I’ll go with the pretty red one.

By the way, if you are thinking about posting one of those reviews, please, don’t do it while under the influence of Starbucks.

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The Goal of Our Enemy

We know who our enemy is.  It’s Satan.  And we know what he wants to take from us or we think we do.  He wants to take our health.  He wants to take our money, our financial security.  He wants to destroy our relationships.  He wants to take all of that and more.  Or so we think.

I think he has a different goal in mind and those other things are just a means to that end. I think his design is to steal the fruit of the Spirit from our lives.  You know the verses from Galatians 5:22-23:

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

He wants to take love and replace it with hate.  He wants to take joy and replace it with depression.  He wants to take peace and replace it with fear.  Right down the line.  He wants to replace each with its opposite.

Oh sure.  He wants to destroy our faith.  But if he can’t do that he will settle for stealing the fruit of the Spirit from our lives.  For without the fruit we have nothing to give the world.  We call it our witness, our testimony.  The fruit of the Spirit is God’s particular stamp on us.  It is His imprint on our lives.  The fruit of the Spirit shows the world who Jesus really is.  It shows who God is.  Without it we can have a testimony of the greatest, most miraculous salvation and still have nothing to give the world.

So now you know.  You know what the enemy wants to do.  Don’t let him.


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Turning the Corner

My beloved Razorbacks football team did not have a good year.  Up and down.  Win one, maybe win big, then lose one, maybe by a wide margin.  Most are talking about the defense and they were bad but I think the offensive line bears some of the burden.  We couldn’t run the ball and that led to three and outs and that led to our bad defense getting back on the field.

They would win big, like against Florida, and people would talk about them having turned the corner.  Then they would lay an egg the next time out.  Turning the corner talk is detrimental.  Turning the corner may mean meeting an eighteen wheeler head on.  (Another spin on ‘the light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming train’.)

The basketball team seems to be stuck in the same turning the corner syndrome.  They look good for a few games.  Then they get their heads handed to them.  They haven’t turned the corner.

There is no turning the corner.  There is only preparation, focus, concentration, intensity, a certain dogged determination.  Do this week what you did last week.

In the days of my callow youth I spent my Saturdays playing golf .  I wasn’t very good.  One Saturday everything fell right and I shot an eighty-five.  I still have the scorecard, just to show you how pathetic I was.  I was proud of an eighty-five.  I still am.

So anyway it was clear that I had a lock on the game of golf.  I had turned the corner.  All I had to do was get on that tee and swing away.  We played another round.  I didn’t save that scorecard.  I don’t remember what I shot.  I tried to forget it.  I may have not broken a hundred.  I had not turned the corner.

There is no turning the corner.  There is only preparation, concentration, focus, intensity, a certain steely-eyed dogged determination.

The Christian life is like that.  Sure I’m a new creature in Christ.  I am the righteousness of God in Christ.  I am a member of the royal priesthood and a holy nation.  But there’s that thing about walking in the Spirit vs. walking in the flesh.  If I ever get the idea that I’ve got it knocked, that I can put it on cruise control, that I can ‘swing away’, then I’m probably heading for trouble.  Next week I’ve got to do what I did this week.  I’ve got to pray.  I’ve got to read the Word.  I’ve got to stay in communion with Him.  I’ve got to abide in the vine.

There is no turning the corner.  There is only preparation, concentration, focus, intensity, a certain steely-eyed dogged determination.

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Works are born out of faith.
Faith is not born of works.

My wife and I are going through a study of Romans.

My favorite stuff in Romans is in chapters 8 and 12 but there is a lot of good stuff in the first seven chapters too.   There are key scriptures in there that are familiar to us.  ‘All have sinned and fallen short.’  ‘There is none righteous, no not one.’  And several others.

When you close read verse by verse it gets kind of deep.  That’s the thing about Paul (and the Bible in general).  You can read on one level and be enlivened and enriched.  Or you can dig deeper and find stuff that excites and inspires.  One process is not more righteous or more spiritual than the other.  God can reach us, can minister to us, can use us wherever and whoever we are.  Having said that…

This stuff in Romans 3 and 4 got me really excited.  ‘Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.’  That’s familiar.  We know that and we cling to it but I wonder if we miss the full reality of it.  Abraham circumcised himself and all in his household as God had commanded but the promise was not in the circumcision.  Circumcision was an outward statement of Abraham’s confidence in the promise.  The promise came first.  God said it.  ‘Blessing I will bless you.’  ‘In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’  It was not what Abraham did. It was what God said.  God’s Word.

The children of Israel got it wrong over and over again.  They marched through the wilderness, sacrificing and eating the right things and not eating the wrong things and keeping all the special celebrations and feast day.  They came to the Jordan River but they would not cross over because they were dependent on what they did instead of what God said.

If my righteousness and my salvation and the promise of Heaven is dependent on what I do, what I do will never never never be enough.  My righteousness, my salvation, the promise of Heaven are based not on what I do but on what God has said.

Somehow in the midst of Romans the Holy Spirit connected the dots for me and led me to Hebrews. I’m going to paste a rather long passage here because I think it’s important to get the whole thought covered.

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

4 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.  Hebrews 3:16-4:10

Google ‘There remains a rest for the people of God’ and you will get all kinds of Greek and Hebrew and stuff about going to church on Saturday and what you can and can’t do on Sunday.  I don’t know about all that.  I only know what the scripture says to me and what it says is that there is a rest for me, a here and now rest.

I don’t see the other side of the Jordan as a type of heaven.  There were battles to fight over there.  We have battles to fight in the here and now but in the midst of the battles there is a rest for the people of God.

The children of Israel traveled in the wilderness doing the right things but never learning to trust, never learning how to rest.  And when they came to the Jordan they balked because they trusted in their works instead of God’s promise and they knew that they did not measure up.

We do all the right things.  We go to church.  We give.  We volunteer. In our desperation we witness because it’s a command and we think we will not make heaven if we don’t.   And deep down we know that all our works are not enough.  We have it upside down.  We have it backwards.  And we are not at rest.

There is a better way and that way is to put our confidence not in what we do but what God has said.  All of those things happen and are effective when we find our rest in what He has said instead of what we have done.

It’s Sunday, January 22.  I opened my browser this morning and everywhere I look on Google News I see things that are determined to destroy my rest.  In the coming months and years it will be increasingly difficult to stay anchored in that rest if I don’t keep my focus on what God has promised.  And what He has promised is that…

There is a rest for the people of God.

Works are born out of faith.
Faith is not born of works.

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