I grew up seeing things very black and white. I believed I had a firm grasp on all the rules in the Bible. The way I interpreted those rules was simple, if you broke any of them, you were going straight to Hell. There was no room for mercy or grace in my mind because those things don’t follow the rules very well. They aren’t easily definable and didn’t fit into my black and white world. It wasn’t until I got older that I began to make room for those in my mind and in my life. The more I looked at the things Jesus did, the more I saw that He wasn’t about the rules as much as the Pharisees were.
One of the stories that helps me to see differently is in Luke 13:10-17. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. There was a woman listening who had arthritis so bad that her body was twisted and she couldn’t look up. Jesus saw her, laid hands on her and healed her. The head person was furious with Jesus. He said, “Six days have been defined as work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath.” But Jesus shot back, “You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?” (MSG).
Jesus was telling them and us that it’s not just about the rules. We’ve got to have compassion, mercy, love and grace too. As I said, those don’t always fit into our predefined understanding of the rules, but Jesus constantly showed us that those things trumped the rules we try to force people to live by. Jesus was constantly at odds with the legalism of the Jewish leaders and did things like this to help open their eyes to what God really wants from us. A life led by God’s love for others will always yield more fruit than one bound by legalistic thinking. Yes, we need the rules, but without compassion we miss the point.
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One of the places I find myself at odds with mainstream Christianity in America (and maybe you too) is how we treat non-believers. In today’s culture, Christians are under attack for our faith. There is a war for the heart of this nation that we find ourselves in. The problem is that the enemy uses people and groups to attack us, and we fight back with these groups of people. We’ve forgotten that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and rulers of the unseen world. We never once read where Jesus attacked the people who were attacking Him. Instead, He loved them and fought against their spiritual darkness by bringing light.
We as Christians have been called to be salt and light. Who needs those? People who are living in the dark and need God’s flavors sprinkled in their life. How can we bring light when we are constantly attacking the person? How can we show them how to taste and see that the Lord is good when we consider them our foes? We’ve can’t afford to be distracted by the enemy and fall into the trap of attacking others. We are to be known for our love rather than our disdain. How can we show God’s love when we are meeting hate with hate?
In Colossians 4:5, Paul urges us, “Be wise in the way you act toward those who are not believers, making good use of every opportunity you have” (GNT). His message was to the Christians there to remind them of the roots of their faith. I believe we too need that reminder. We need to pray for wisdom in how we show God’s love to those who are against our faith, and that we do it in a manner that is pleasing to Him. Our mission hasn’t changed. If we want to turn this world upside down again, it’s going to come from God’s love through us not from our human attempts to force change.
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To me, one of the scriptures taken out of context the most is 1 Corinthians 13, also known as “The Love Chapter”. It’s been used in nearly every Christian wedding, hung on the walls of our homes and quoted to people in Love about how they should love their spouse. The truth is that it has nothing to do with loving our spouse. It’s about loving people with God’s love that’s in us in order to point them to him. We can do all sorts of things for people that bring us glory, but if we don’t love them in a way that points to Him, it’s pointless.
The last verse in the chapter is probably the most recognized one, but I want to look at it in the Amplified version which adds context to the original meaning. It says, “And now there remain: faith [abiding trust in God and His promises], hope [confident expectation of eternal salvation], love [unselfish love for others growing out of God’s love for me], these three [the choicest graces]; but the greatest of these is love.” I believe love, in this context, is the greatest because love of this sort offers God’s grace and makes us more like Him.
The first verse in the next chapter continues Paul’s thoughts on the matter. It says, “Pursue [this] love [with eagerness, make it your goal].” That kind of love isn’t natural for most of us. It’s something we’re going to have to desire to have, and we’re going to have to pursue it. It’s going to require us to pray for it and to put it into practice in our lives until it becomes a part of who we are. To have unselfish love for others should be the goal of every one of us, especially since Jesus said we would be known for our love for one another.
Today, think about what that love likes like coming from you. What can you do to show someone God’s love? It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture that goes viral on social media. It can be a simple word of encouragement, a prayer for a friend in need, a purchased cup of coffee for the person in line behind you, a warm meal for a homeless person, or a call to someone feeling lonely. These unselfish acts of love don’t have to change the world, but if we do enough of them out of God’s love for us, it just might.
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I once was invited to a dinner that all of my upbringing was telling me I shouldn’t go to. After praying about it, I felt in my heart that God was telling me to attend. I consulted with my pastor about what to do. He simply asked, “What would love do?” While at the event, I couldn’t help but notice the people there were society’s outcasts. My heart broke because they were living life in No Man’s Land, and weren’t even accepted by Christians (including myself). This ragtag bunch had found each other, but I was saddened that none of them would step foot in a church because of how they would be received.
My prayers up to attending the event were, “God, let me show your love whether I speak to anyone or not. Give me the courage to do what you’ve asked and to be a light in darkness.” At the event, my prayer changed to, “God, these people need you. Put someone in each of their lives who will demonstrate your love and tear down the walls they’ve built to keep you out.” I kept thinking of my pastor’s question. What would love do? What did Love do? He came and died for this group of people as much as He died for me. I was no more worthy of His grace than they were.
I recalled when Jesus called Matthew to follow Him. Mark 2:15 says, “Later, Levi (Matthew) invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)” (NLT). Then the religious leaders called Him out on it. Why was He having dinner with this group of people? They were so bound up by religiosity and the fear of what others would think, that they couldn’t understand that’s what love does.
You and I have to be careful that we don’t fall into the same trap as those religious leaders. We need to be more concerned with what God thinks of us than other people. We need to be more concerned with the souls of people than our reputation of being a “good Christian”. Jesus showed us what love does. It goes where others won’t, loves people that seem unlovable and invites them into a relationship with their Creator. It’s not easy doing what love does, but we’ve got to get better at it if we’re going to bear His name.
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I know it’s politically incorrect to say this, but as a kid, I used to watch “The Dukes of Hazzard”. Roscoe P. Coltrane was one of my favorites in the show. He always made me laugh. I loved it when the Dukes would speed past him and he would turn on his police lights to chase them. Inevitably he would get on the CB and radio back to Boss Hogg. He would tell him he’s after the Duke boys and utter his famous catch phrase, “I’m in hot pursuit!” That show is where I learned what it meant to be in pursuit of something.
Believe it or not, all of us are in pursuit of things in our lives. Some of us are in pursuit of riches. They’re always looking for a way to make money. Some are in pursuit of love. They need that affirmation of another individual on this planet and we desperately seek it. Others are in pursuit of fame. They leave everything behind in order to make a name for themselves. There are even some who pursue perfection. Whether it’s in sports, work or other areas of life, they want to be perfect at it.
The question is what are you in hot pursuit of? Will it matter for eternity? King Solomon had a thing or two to say about pursuing things. In Proverbs 21:21 he said, “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor” (NLT). There’s always an end result to our pursuits. Sometimes, they result in good things, and other times we get things that we weren’t expecting. Here, he tells us that we’ll get good things if we will pursue righteousness and unfailing love.
In Matthew 6, Jesus told us to pursue His Kingdom first and His righteousness, and all these other things we desire will be given to us. Is what you’re pursuing for His glory or yours? If we’re seeking things that lift Him up, we are guaranteed good things. Before we get into hot pursuit of things in this life, we need to first think about all the other things we’ll get by pursuing that. For me, I like the idea of finding life, righteousness and honor. I want to be in pursuit of His righteousness and unfailing love.
I work in the retail industry, which means I work with the public. There are times that the customer has done something with their purchase which voids the warranty. When they come in, they want to make an exchange under the warranty. Many times, I’ve caught reps saying, “Sorry. That’s just our policy.” I’ve found that using that phrase usually infuriates people. The rep usually then tries to educate the customer on our policy so they understand why we can’t do it.
I’ve spent some time working with them to help change their approach. I tell them, “Customers don’t care about policy or what you can’t do. They need compassion and empathy along with what you can do.” I explain that knowledge is not enough when it comes to something near and dear to someone. Knowledge does nothing to correct their problem. Even if we can’t do anything for them, showing some empathy will to a lot farther.
In the days of the Early Church, there were many questions about what Christians could and could not do. Many arguments broke out that created divisions. People argued their side and tried to make each other more knowledgeable so they would change their ways. Paul responded in Corinthians 8:1, “Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church” (NLT). It seemed everyone had an idea or an opinion, but few had love for each other.
Even today, many of us have disagreements and try to prove each other wrong. All that does is puff us up as an individual. God’s desire is that you and I begin to act in love and empathy in order to strengthen the Church. We can’t forget that we are one body. We may not see eye to eye on everything, but we can always choose to act in love. We are co-laborers in Christ, not competitors. It’s time we stopped trying to make the foot a hand or a hand an eye. Let’s act in love towards one another, strengthen each other and learn to work together.
Throwback Thursday is a new feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
A few years ago I had my nephew read the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. After he read it, we went to dinner to discuss it. He explained to me how the king had given servants silver and asked them to invest it while he was gone. When he came back for his money, one servant made ten times the original, another made five times and a third just buried it in the ground. The king was happy with the first two, but furious with the third.
After he explained it to me, I pulled out a hundred dollar bill and set it on the table. His eyes lit up. I slid it across the table to him and told him to invest it for me. I told I wanted him to think of a ministry he wanted to support with the profits. He quickly named a missionary in Kenya who had made an impact on him. I then told him I was going to come and ask for the money back and that we’d give whatever he had left to that missionary. Three months later, he ended turning that $100 into nearly $500. Not bad for a 12 year old.
It got me to thinking about what am I doing with the talents God has given me. Am I using them? Am I growing them? Have I invested them so I can show a profit from what He gave me? Yes, the story with my nephew is about money, but I’m talking about gifts God has enabled me with. Each of us has been given certain gifts and talents. Not one of us is talentless. Sure, some have more talent and gifts than others, but that doesn’t give us the right to bury ours in the sand.
In Romans 12:6-8, Paul tells us that no matter what gift God has given you, you should use it well. And in I Corinthians 12:7, he says that a spiritual gift has been given to each one of us so we can help each other. That means that God has given you a gift and He wants you to take a risk with the gift He has given you by using it. There’s a saying in business that says, “No risk. No reward.” Don’t be afraid to take a risk today with your gift. You might fail or you might succeed. You’ll never know until you try