Archive for the ‘Different Scriptures’ Category

Judas – The Betrayer

You look down on me, I know. You can’t believe I would do what I’ve done. Looking back, I want to tell you – I can’t either. I can’t explain it, but it seems my entire life I’ve been awed with the power of money. I don’t remember a lot growing up, but our family has been through quite a few highs and lows. My father was a religious leader and I was always trying to prove myself to him – to get his praise and attention.

So when the chance came to follow this Jesus, I jumped at it. I just knew he was different from the others who’d come and gone, pretending to be the Messiah. Somehow, I knew this man was different. Something new was happening here. My dad was going to be so proud of his son – at the epicenter of the Messiah rising to power and overturning the Roman rule we’ve been living under for so long.

There was one problem – even though I was handpicked by Jesus to be one of his 12 closest apostles, I was the only Judean. I was called “Judas Iscariot”, which told everyone I was from Kerioth, about 30 miles south of Jerusalem. I thought that would help my position in the ranks – you see, the other 11 were all from Galilee. I was different. I was unique. I was from a city closer to Jerusalem than all of them. Unfortunately, they all knew my hometown was not traditionally a place for faithful Jews. Still, just being one of “The 12” seemed like such an honor, and surely when he rose to his power I would be remembered. I just needed to serve well, and let him see how valuable I was.
I knew my chances for power increased when I was able to secure my spot as the “Group Treasurer” . I would take in donations, make decisions on what supplies we could sell, and make sure we always had the money we needed when traveling. You should have seen the gratitude some people wanted to give us. Sometimes a rich young man, or a powerful servant would be healed or want to give thanks for their masters’ healing. I knew Jesus was a humble guy, and simple as well. He didn’t want to accept gratitude, and didn’t want people to give us more than we needed. Thankfully, he had me in charge of that area. I knew he would eventually need some seed money to secure the provisions and supplies for an uprising worthy of the Son of God. And, of course, if I needed to set aside some of the funds myself, or enjoy some nice things on my own to survive our travels – that would be okay.

One time, Jesus sent us out in pairs to accomplish his ministry with greater impact. He gave us authority over unclean spirits. Imagine – the power to command unclean spirits and heal in the name of Jesus. I won’t tell you which disciple went with me, because I don’t want to get him in trouble. But let’s just say he wasn’t doubting my ability to make use of the gratitude people gave us. Jesus told us as we went out, not to carry any money in our belts, but he didn’t say anything about spending what was given to us while it was still in our hands!
So yes…I may have enjoyed being with Jesus a bit more than some of the other guys. But it only made sense. For so long, we Jews had been taught that life was all about living according to the law, and finally here was the Messiah saying – we didn’t have to worry about the specifics of the law – just the love of God. And boy did I love what following God gave me.

Too much, obviously.

It was my weakness. It was an area I thought I was gifted in – and it became the one area I wasn’t watching carefully. I was so good with numbers. I could tell you what anything was worth, and I could tell you how much it would cost for a group of 13 to manage a journey from Jerusalem to Galilee. I remember overhearing Jesus complimenting my skills of calculation to a fisherman whose boat we had borrowed. He seemed so genuinely glad to have me around. In that moment, I knew I’d secured my spot in power with him when his time came. I remember when that Tax Collector, Zacchaeus had us all over to his house, and apologized for defrauding people of their money. Jesus had me stay after the meal, and help this small man calculate how much he owed each of the people he’d taken from. I was so mad at this pawn of Rome’s power and oppression. He’d taken so much from his own people, all while using his position as servant of Rome to benefit from crushing his own. It was great to see him humbled. You should have heard the story Jesus told, about men who had been entrusted with wealth, and the honor given to the servant who helped multiply what was given to him. As I listened, I knew Jesus would be thankful for all the ways I helped grow our finances. Thankful enough, even, to forgive the small amounts I kept or used for my own.
He should have listened when I complained about the woman, Mary, pouring money all over his feet in the form of perfume. I’d smelled the scent only a few times in my life – this was liquid gold, basically. This was the kind of gift he would usually turn down, and I would accept after he’d walked away on his behalf. Do you know how much money it would’ve gained us? But he didn’t always make sense.

Like not long after that meal, when we arrived at Jerusalem. Word had gotten out that we were coming. That he was coming. You could hear the noise rising while we were still a long way off. So what does Jesus do? He asks us to get him a COLT. An ugly little thing that had never carried more than a basket of grain. He made us look like fools, even as the people cried out “SAVIOR, SAVE US!!” We tried to hold our heads high. We were with him.

But the problem had grown clearer with each passing day. Whenever we’d bring up his plans for power, he’d start talking and teaching us like we were children. Whenever we’d start day dreaming about putting Rome in it’s place, he’d redirect the conversation and try to soften our hearts toward the Roman oppressors.

Three years. Three years of my life I’d given to following this man, investing all that I had in what might happen next. I knew it was time. Everything was ripe for revolution. The crowds were with us. The power and influence in the Kingdom was shifting. But every single time we’d try to mention it, Jesus would try to calm us, change the subject, or start telling stories. I got to the point where I just started walking away. I didn’t need to hear these words. I didn’t need to hear these stories. I needed to see action. I needed to see that God’s Messiah hadn’t grown soft and gutless.

I began to wonder, what if? What if this wasn’t really the Messiah I’d thought he was going to be? What if this was just another false prophet, stirring up the crowds and speaking with authority, only to let us all down all over again?

I began to pay more attention to his stories. He warned against the scribes, saying his followers shouldn’t worry about getting respect, and having the best places in the synagogues or places of honor at banquets. He pointed out a poor widow putting two copper coins into the treasury at the synagogue. He honored her offering as if it were worth more than those who gave gold and silver. As I held onto our groups finances, I was pretty sure he wouldn’t want all of our coins to turn to copper. What was all of this talk about? We should have been looking for wealthy allies, people who could offer us the connections and supplies we needed for the upcoming revolution. Instead – Jesus was praising the gifts and presence of this woman who had nothing to offer us.

I was there, not long after, when he started to prophecy about the destruction of the temple, and the destruction of Jerusalem. I think that’s when it happened. When my heart really began to harden against this man I thought was the key to my future, the key to OUR future. What kind of Messiah would talk about the coming day when the Temple would be destroyed? What kind of Messiah would talk about the destruction of God’s Holy City? He even talked about the Judeans needing to flee into the surrounding mountains, away from the city! Didn’t he know this was God’s Holy Place? This was the place where our salvation and freedom would come from. This was the place where Majesty would be enthroned. This place was OUR HOPE. This place was our very LIFE.

As he continued to teach, I listened less and less. Something about the coming of a “Son of Man”. He was probably confessing we were all still waiting on a Messiah – including him. He seemed to be losing it, and was filled with emotion as he stared at a fig tree nearby. He talked about how you can tell summer is coming, because of the leaves sprouting on the tree. He compared it to knowing about the Kingdom of God, and how we can know it is near because of the signs he’d talked about. That we should be on our guard, and watchful.

Watchful. For what? If he didn’t know when God was planning to set up His Kingdom, it must not be now. It must not be here. It must not be Him. But he was so powerful. He was so different. He was so – Jesus. My heart was torn. I was mad. I was sad. I was breaking apart.

I lost track of the days. He would spend all day teaching in the temple, and come back to the Mount of Olives most nights. Some of us went with him. Sometimes a few of us stayed back. I usually stayed back those days. That’s when it happened…

Some of the higher ups were walking nearby, and I don’t think they realized I was there. They were talking about a secret meeting, and wanting to get rid of Jesus. I made myself remember where they were meeting, and when…..just in case I could connect. This would be the perfect way to see if he was the Messiah or not. If he could be gotten rid of, he was obviously not the man we’d been waiting for.

So as the others were gathering supplies for the passover meal, I knew this was a rare chance to sneak away. I went to the place this meeting was happening. At first they were worried, because they knew I was one who was close to Jesus. But I told them what was on my heart. We had a common goal. If this was just another man, he needed to be quieted. If this was the Messiah, well then – what could we do to stop him? They offered me 30 pieces of silver. Not a lot, but better than being left with nothing if they were going to have him killed anyways. I agreed.

Imagine, then, what happened next. As we gathered for the evening meal, Jesus took off his outer robe, tied a towel around his own waist, and came around washing our feet. A lump rose in my throat. The room was so quiet, as he came to each of us. Simon Peter, obviously, couldn’t keep his mouth shut, and wouldn’t let Jesus do it at first. Then Jesus mentioned we didn’t need to wash our entire bodies, because we were clean…except, he also said – not all of us were clean. I couldn’t tell if he looked at me in the moment, or not. But as the meal continued, it was so hard to pretend anymore. Finally, he paused as he spoke, and warned everyone that one of us would betray him. Of course, everyone responded with gasps, wanting to prove who was the most loyal. I tried to fit right in, in that moment. Then he called me out on the spot. How did he know? He excused me from the table, and I knew – my time was short. If he knew I was involved in something, it wouldn’t be long before he ran. I knew where he was going to be that night, but wasn’t sure about his plans the next days. So I went to find the men who I’d spoken with.

The leaders took me and we went to find a group of guards. Words were flying, accusing Jesus of instigating a political uprising. The guards knew exactly who they were talking about, and it wasn’t hard to convince them Jesus had a large following. They were charged with keeping the peace, and making sure we Jews didn’t attract too much attention from Rome. They knew if this went beyond them, it could be their own lives at stake. So they came with us, as I led them into the garden.

With a kiss of greeting, so I wouldn’t have to say a word, I’d agreed to show which man was Jesus there in the darkness of the garden. As soon as we arrived, I began to question what was about to happen, but if I turned back now it would be my own life at stake. So I walked forward to greet Jesus. I felt the glare of Simon Peter, hand already on his sword, and my eyes began to water as I greeted our rabbi.

I stepped aside, as Jesus with a commanding voice asked them “Whom are you looking for?” They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth”. Then it happened. I can’t explain it, but as Jesus spoke the words “I AM.”, all the fullness of a divine power seemed to overwhelm us, and we dropped to our knees. Still trying to understand what was happening, we heard Jesus ask again, “Whom are you looking for?” The guard responded again, this time bracing for what might happen….”Jesus of Nazareth”. Jesus answered “I told you, I AM. Let these other men go.” That’s when Peter ran forward with his sword drawn. I thought he was coming at me, and quickly dodged out of the way, but his eyes had always been fixed on the high priests’ slave who was reaching out to grab Jesus. He sliced the mans ear off, and that’s when several of us began to run. I was afraid of getting caught up in whatever might happen next.

The next hours were unbearable. I ran until I couldn’t run. I cried. Three years, for this? But the love in his eyes. The grace and kindness, even in those last moments. I wandered back into the city. I could hear crowds chanting, and women crying in the streets. I could hear the religious leaders rallying the people against this rebel. Threats that they needed to silence this man before Rome came to put us all in our place.

But the accusations they made. The horrible picture they painted of who Jesus was. How quick they were able to get everyone to turn against him. I didn’t even care anymore if he was the Messiah. Maybe he wasn’t – because this sure didn’t look like a rise to power. This looked like a path toward prison.

Finally I heard the news. It wasn’t prison – it was a death sentence. I couldn’t believe it. Jesus wasn’t rising to power the way I’d thought he should. But he was definitely a powerful prophet from God. An innocent man. And I had accepted payment to send him to a horrible death by crucifixion. This mans blood would be all over my hands, for the rest of my life. I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to give the money back, but they wouldn’t take it. I threw it on the ground in the temple, and ran.

You know my story. But I want you to know – we are not so different. We all want a savior. There’s a part of us that doubts whether Jesus has what it takes to meet our needs. To meet the needs of our community. To change our world.

I want to assure you – I don’t know everything. But I know the power of that man was divine. I want you to know the Love in those eyes, even in the moment of my betrayal – is the kind of love that can change a world.

I want you to know, if you get a chance to follow Jesus, even if the road ahead looks rough….please – follow Him. Any other path, leads only to death. A death you don’t have to experience – because he already did for you…

“here is your son.”

The Connected Child(ren of God)

Years ago, when we began the journey of adoption, it was surprising to read in “The Connected Child” that we would want our daughter to cry.  Reading the explanation, however, seemed to make perfect sense.  For a child who has never known the safe environment of a loving home and parents who cared for her needs, she has to learn the connected-child-cover-web-198x300instinct to cry out.  Previously, crying gained her nothing, or quite possibly the opposite of affection, and so she may have “unlearned” the behavior.  As our child became connected to us, it would become evident through moments like crying out – knowing she could trust a proper and loving response.

Fast forward several years.  We’ve finally brought home a daughter who is about 5 years old, and not only has she “unlearned” many habits of children who grow up in healthy environments – she’s also acquired many habits of children who grow up in unhealthy environments.  She is loved, for the first time as never before, and brought in to being part of a family. At first, she didn’t understand much of anything.  What did “Father” mean?  What did “Mother” mean?  There are certain things, and certain words, that if you were to examine them in the routine of many normal homes it would be confusing.   But in our context, where we’re attempting to purposefully build the connections most children would naturally develop from birth, they make sense.

Now take a step back.  Think about the Old Testament and the actions or words spoken between God and His people.  A common question among people who don’t want to believe in God, or even those who do but are honest with their doubts – “Why would God command ______?  Why would God do ________?”

I can’t pretend to understand the mind or heart of God completely, but I do understand the heart of a Father who wants to connect with the heart of their child. A child who has never known a Father like this before.  A child who has become so separated from the concept of “family” or “parent”, that it is a completely foreign concept.

So we see God calling out His people from among all others.  We see God rescue His people, only to force them into depending on Him through the wilderness for 40 years. We hear words from God about the wrath He’s capable of, even though ultimately He reveals His heart to be powerfully Loving and full of Grace for humanity. (lol, I realize that sounds bad here.  No worries, we’re not threatening wrath or taking our daughters on 40 year wilderness journeys.)

It’s not the kind of relationship we’d have if we were born aware of Him.  But it’s an adoption that impacts us to the very core of our being, for eternity.  Romans 8:15 reminds us, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

One of the most natural ways to build that connection and bond? Simply to hold our daughter, and to allow her to feel our love. To remind her that we are here, and she is here, and she is ours no matter what happens.  To help her feel safe, and loved, and comforted.  To provide for her needs, and help her to see how depending on us to meet those needs is a trustworthy habit to develop.

In this moment – maybe it’s a good reminder for you and I – if this is what I am aware of, can’t we trust that God knows even better how to move His children into a fully connected relationship with Him?  We can trust in these moments, if we allow ourselves to be held by Him, to listen to His words, and to depend on Him to provide – these are habits worth developing in our own lives.

Even as I continue to pray my daughter would know my love deep in her heart, and not just in behavior – I also pray that my heart would deeply come to know the Love of my Father, not just in my behavior.  I pray that God would use this understanding of His Love – to invite even more children into fuller connection with Him…

Leading Them To Water

Moses: Hello rock.

Rock: Hello Moses.

Moses: How are you today?

Rock: Oh, ya’ know, it pretty much rocks being me.

Moses: lol, always so witty.  Hey, do you think you could give us some water?  God said it was cool.

Rock: Well sure (transforms into giant office water tank).  Go ahead.

Moses: Wow, that’s a pretty nifty trick.

People: WHOO HOOO.  Hooray for the Lord, God of Moses! All of creation responds to His desires!

You may not recognize the above story from your time in scriptures.  That’s because it never got a chance to happen.  In Numbers 20:8, God directs Moses to relieve the thirst of the people and their animals by speaking to a rock “that it may yield its water.”  Who knows what they may have looked like?  Okay, probably not the situation above, I just had a bit of fun with it.

Instead, Moses was filled with anger and frustration at a whiny group of untrusting people.  Even after all they had been through, they were blaming God for their thirst, and asking if Moses had led them to this place to die.

I imagine a large group of kids in the back of a mini-van.  This trip has been much longer than they thought.  They’ve asked “Are we there yet?” about a hundred times, and now have escalated to the drama of “I’m going to die, I’m so IMG_9800thirsty!!”  Mom and dad are in the front, thirsty too, but driving through traffic jams in the middle of midwestern cornfields doesn’t offer many chances to stop.  Finally dad slams on the breaks and pulls over.  He’s had enough.  He turns around to look at his children and the main goal in that moment is to stop the whining.  He gets out of the car, and hits a rock.  The rock starts gushing water, and the need is met.

Now for a “bigger lens”…

As parents, we want to meet the needs of our children.  Just like Moses, we feel the burden of providing for our family.  There are ways to do it, that honor God and help turn the hearts of our children toward responding to their ultimate provider in worship.  There are other ways to do it, that simply (or luxuriously) put food on the table, but end in a result of our children being amazed at our abilities and filling their thirsts.

It’s difficult…sooo very difficult to spend time talking to rocks.  But in the end we recognize our children have a thirst that goes deeper than any material item in this world can quench.  More important than causing the water to flow, and meeting their every immediate need – is providing them a path on which they see and experience the love and provision of God, and are shaped to depend on Him.

The question then becomes – Where is the rock God is calling you, as a parent, to talk to?

 

Oh, be quiet Larry…

I remember back in late high school or early college:  There was this short Christian classic on sale or clearance or something and I wanted to get it.  A small part actually wanting to be the kind of person to read such books, and a larger part wanting to seem to be the kind of person to read such books, I snagged it.  I read through it a bit.  I smiled.  I even understood a few sentences.

In college, it was mentioned here and there.  I knew the topic vaguely, and smiled and nodded whenever someone mentioned it in conversation.  Yes, that is quite a good book.  Yes, I do so enjoy practicing the presence of God, just like Brother Lawrence did in “Practicing the Presence of God”.  Whether doing the dishes (as he did) or other menial tasks that my day to day existence brings me, I love the fact that Christ always offers to be very near.  God truly is with us, closer than we often realize.

I was a bit surprised then, when reading the book more closely for my current course on Spiritual Formation, to find so larrymuch in the book I didn’t like.  When the author writes Brother Lawrence (let’s call him Larry) to tell him of a friend who loses a close friend to death, Larry tells him to advise his friend to use these moments to his advantage.  “What a great opportunity to give the part of your heart previously given to your friend back to God where it belongs!”, he seems to say.  Or when the author himself is aging and enduring intense suffering of some sort, Larry refuses to pray his suffering would be taken away.  Instead, Larry insists on praying that God would strengthen the author to endure the suffering that is most likely God’s way of refining his heart and soul.  No, I do not like this guy much at all.  I don’t think I would have written him as much as the author seemed to.  A man who neurotically spent at least 10 years of his life anxious that he shouldn’t be distracted in thought or feeling by anything that might take God’s place, finally ending up with peace (albeit alone, and without much pleasure it would seem beyond the “presence of God”).  No, I do not like this guy much at all.

Yet…I can appreciate his heart.  A heart that yearns for the presence of God so much that everything else – even the extremely important things in life – melt away.  An experience of God’s presence, even in suffering alone, that gives him a sense of complete and udder wholeness that so many empty people in our world are hungry for.

I’ll admit, wrestling with his message comes at a poignant time.  Last week was the final week of Lent.  The season of preparing for Easter.  It was also a week of waiting for an important update in terms of our adoption.  This journey that has taken over 3 years, it finally feels like our boat has spotted land.  So it takes a bit of humility to confess that I, a pastor who was allowed to even baptize several people this morning, was distracted most of my week by checking my e-mail for an update that never came.  That dotting my week of anticipating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I was experiencing the brokenness of a human whose heart is not at complete peace in this broken world.

Part of me realizes that’s probably okay.   Jesus was certainly not often “at peace” in this world.  Another part of me realizes, there’s something to all this stuff Larry was talking about.

But before you or I go out and leave our family, secluding ourselves in monasteries away from our spouses and children, aiming to live like Larry and push away anything that threatens to occupy a place in our hearts – I don’t think that is required.   But we can be reminded in powerful ways, the truths found in Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 15.  That Jesus died and was resurrected.  The truth of this powerful statement impacts us as individuals, and puts every anxious thought, every deep-seated need/emotion, and every well-intentioned prayer in a wonderfully redemptive context.

The Truth of a resurrected Jesus Christ releases us from serving the state of our situations.  Even though there are times (like this past week, and probably again in the future) we don’t want to hear it, the words of Brother Lawrence come as important reminders: Even really important and good things are not “foundational” the way Christ and His resurrection are.  We can have Peace, even in the midst of needing peace.  That is something the world considers foolish.   That is something scripture considers faith.

That is something my daughters need from their father.  Something my wife needs from her husband.  And so, not as an individual but as a family – we work to shape our heart to seek pleasure only in the things that please God.  We seek to walk with Him as the center of our being.  We confess that this is not an easy road, and we sometimes lose focus.  But we return to this walk and practice – together.

(and really really pray that our boat would draw a big step closer to “land” this week) 🙂

Suffering Joy

This morning, it doesn’t take long for the difficult words from this past Sunday to come whispering back into my mind… “Rejoice always.  Pray continually.  Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18a)

The world is broken, and mourning the loss of so many young lives.  Attackers stormed a school, with automatic weapons and the indifference of knowing they too were going to die, and killed over 126 people – mostly young children.  Largely between the ages of 12 and 16, the victims were just beginning to have grand thoughts about what to do with their lives.  Daydreaming, passing notes, and looking forward to the weekend….many of their lives ended without being able to express what was really on their hearts and minds.

My prayers are with them this morning.  The community that weeps.  The parents whose homes have been torn apart. The friends who’ve lost their classmates.  The young loves who’ve lost the one they were inspired by.  The students who’ve lost a teacher.  May God bring comfort, even to those who may not be able to give name to the source.

Certainly God didn’t have any of these scenes in mind when He gave us the words of Paul to the church in Thessalonica.  Surely if God would have known we’d have things like this happening, he would have given a different command.  Something closer to, “Rejoice when you can.  Pray if you can spare the time.  Give thanks before you lose it.”  But we know better than that.  Even as Paul gave those words, God’s people had known immense suffering.  God looked across the suffering that would come to His people, and painted a picture of who we are to be…even in the midst of the brokenness of our world.

Not those who avoid it.  Not those who seek it.  But those who seek God’s presence in the midst of whatever may come.  Those who are able to suffer with those who suffer, have “compassion”, and simultaneously be comforted by a God who has promised He is with us.  Those who are able to celebrate blessings in life with the humility that sees the reality much larger than the moment.  Those who recognize that the only way we become people with hearts grounded in God’s reality is to be those who “pray continually”.  Not starry-eyed false hope that someday this suffering will all make sense.  But a solid foundation of hope that today, right now, even in the midst of brokenness and ugly humanity – there is the presence of a God who says through His tears….”I love you.  I am with you.  Listen to my voice, and receive life that transforms.”

We cannot throw extra God-presence in a box, wrap it, and ship it to those suffering from this tragedy.  But we can allow these moments to call forth transformation in our own lives.  Give yourself time to pray today.  Rejoice, as one Beloved by the Son.  Spend time both speaking AND listening to the voice of our Father who loves you.  Give thanks for the movement of the Spirit that brings New Life.

Allow yourself to feel the story, even in the midst of a day/news-hour that moves right on to the next thing.  Allow the pain in your heart to enable you to cry out to God with them….”Lord, come.  Lord….come.”  And know that He has.  Know that He is.   Know that He will…

Luv is a Verb (part 2)

So what does THAT look like? It seems to look, like Love. Not love like feelings and mushy stuff and roses. But love like laying down a life for ones’ friends. Love like sacrificing our own desires, and letting go of self preservation for the sake of living naturally as one through whom God loves. It’s not an effort-based thing either, not something they’ve been trying really really hard at, in an attempt to look like the loving Christian they know they’re supposed to be. Like the toddler earlier, it’s not an obsessive compulsion to make sure Loving acts are happening regularly. It’s a natural, and often “giddy” outflow of what exists in the heart sourced in Christ.

King Jesus tells them “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

I always forget this next verse comes from BOTH those who followed Jesus, and those who did not. They’re taken back, surprised, and ask the King, “Lord, when was this?” They had NO IDEA they were serving and showing love to Jesus. They were simply living out of the New Creation they had been transformed to be. They were living naturally out of the heart of God. It might be tempting in our walk with Jesus to think, “I know God wants me to love each person as if I were loving Jesus himself. So I’m just going to pretend each person I bump into is Jesus.”

But if I look into the face of every person I meet, and only see Jesus, I’m missing out on the beauty and uniqueness of all the individual lives and ways God has shown his creativity. God doesn’t look down on us, and forget our names, faces, and stories, seeing only Jesus. But because of what Jesus has done, God is able to look fully at each of us as individuals. Your name, your story, and all the unique ways He has created you to reflect bits and pieces of God into the world. THAT is how we love, because that is how we have BEEN loved! Once again, the child of God can only do that which they see the Father doing.

So we see the people of God, not aiming for larger mansions in heaven. Not loving the least of these because they know it’s part of their Christian duty. Not even because they see Jesus in every face around them. But because their very nature has been changed. Their reflex is no longer “Self”. Their reflex has become “Love”, even to the very least of these. To those our world overlooks, tramples underfoot, and has forgotten about. Those our world is afraid of touching, or even just, afraid of. To the very last in line, the follower of Jesus is broken as God’s heart is broken toward them. Desiring justice. Desiring to care for them. The orphan, the widow, the poor, the hungry, the powerless, the voiceless, the sick, those with nothing to offer us in return. The people of God naturally reach out in love, with the heart of God. And in each of these cases, it makes us vulnerable. It costs something. It may lead us the way of the cross.

In his book, Bob Goff writes, “That’s because love is never stationary. In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or keep planning for it. Simply put: love does.”

Or as DC Talk put it back in the 90’s, “Luv is a verb”

This is not a foreign concept to us, as Free Methodists either. John Wesley wrote, “This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. The first branch of it is the love of God: And as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us.”

It seems so simple. It seems a little mushy even. And yet we can’t get away from the fact that it seems to be completely tied to those who anticipate the coming justice and reign of Jesus as Lord fully over all things. It makes these “acts of love” even more vital, and even more connected to what is coming as the Son of Man returns to sit on His Throne. Because we are not just loving to make someone feel good. We are loving as a powerfully subversive statement that says, even in the midst of laws and cultures that say otherwise – LOVE like God’s is the way of my Citizenship. It is the way of my King.

So what is our challenge this morning, in the midst of these Truths? How do we ensure that we don’t end up like the second group? This group may have had a large and honest love for Jesus, because they genuinely wanted to be saved from sin, and wanted to enjoy heaven for eternity. They say to Him, “Wait….when did we even see you, and have a chance to offer you food, drink, clothes, or invite you in?” To them Jesus gives the same response, “..just as you did or didn’t do for the least of these, who are members of my family, so you did for me.”

How do we begin moving in the direction of the first group, who’s knee-jerk response was to love without regard? Based on what we hear Jesus describing in his response about what the son can do, it would seem we first need to start with realizing what the Father is doing. And what the Father IS doing? is loving.

God. Loves.

God Loves you, no matter what you come from, and no matter how you’ve lived toward Him. God loves you, whether you’re important and people listen to you, or you have very little influence and a timid voice. Whether you are a decision maker, or whether life pretty much dictates what road you have to travel. God loves you.

But also, God loves them. The people on the other side of the street, that make so much noise or act so different it makes you uncomfortable. God loves them. Those imprisoned for making horrible choices, and living what seems to be comfortably in broken lives. God loves them. Those who completely disagree with you theologically, politically, and work hard to make sure your efforts fail. God loves them. You. Love. Them.

And as we’ve talked about already, Love is a verb. God loves you. God loves them. God is pouring out His Spirit to unite your heart with His, so that you can actually experience Love for your enemies. So that you can be broken with God’s heart for them. So that you can look at the least of these, and not see Jesus, but actually see someone who is called “BELOVED” by God. So that you can look in the mirror, and not see your accomplishments or your failures, but actually see someone who is called “BELOVED” by God.

What if this week, as people are making giant lists of things they’re thankful for. For homes, for food, for clothes, for comforts, or many other blessings. What if you became united in solidarity with those who have very little thanks to offer, beyond the love of God? I’m not saying cancel your family dinner, and tell all the relatives you’re going down to work in the soup kitchen instead….although you’re certainly welcome to do so. What I’m saying is, to be aware of how beloved you are. To exist, as my Pastor has said before, with the “radical preoccupation with the preciousness of others.”

To ask God even now, that He would give you His heart. That he would transform your mind. That his ways of love in our world would be revealed to you, so that you can do exactly what you see Him doing. So that you can love in such a response to the love of God that you forget you even heard this story about it being Jesus you’re loving.

That will naturally look different in each of our lives. Each of us has a unique place in our communities and families. Each of us has unique things we can offer in love to others. But each of us has….LOVE. Love that responds to hunger with food. Love that responds to thirst with drink. Love that responds to those left out by inviting them in. Love that clothes the naked, cares for the sick, and visits those imprisoned.

Not because doing these things earns us the right to be called “Sheep”. But because we have been made into New Creations. We have been born again as Children of God, and have received New Life in Christ. We are made free from sin – for a reason. The justice of God is coming one day fully in Jesus Christ. We look forward to that day. And we proclaim that day, by living under His Lordship even now. By acting according to the ways of His Kingdom. Citizens not of the law, but of Love in which the law finds it’s perfect fulfillment.

It’s why we serve, and work toward the justice of God, even though we know it will fall short until Jesus returns. Because as we read in 1 Corinthians 13:7, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

The altar is open this morning, as we close with a final hymn, “Come, All Christians Be Committed”. A hymn of invitation that speaks about offering our lives to the Lord, and offering our love to each other.

Maybe you’ve already made the commitment to accept Jesus as your savior. But maybe today, you’ve heard God calling you to make a commitment to Love as God loves. To become saved not simply for yourself, but for the sake of being enabled to show love to others. Whatever the case, or if you simply want to thank God for His love….I invite you to respond to God for a moment before you click out of here and go about your day…

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