Life Is Short – Love Well

You may be thinking that I should say “Life Is Short – Live Well“, but my friends, the key to living well is to love well. How many of us truly “love our neighbor as ourselves“? How many of us truly love our spouse and other family as ourselves? Do we REALLY place their needs and interests ahead of our own desires?

As someone who hasn’t always loved those dearest to me as myself, that is one of my deepest regrets in life. Unfortunately, I more often put my desires ahead of my family’s needs far too many times but I can’t live that way any longer. There is way too much at stake, and just because I lived that way for many years doesn’t mean that I am doomed to live that way for the rest of my life. I have the opportunity to love well, so I don’t want to squander that opportunity.

I am no stranger to death and dying. When I was five or six years old, the teenage son of my dad’s work partner was badly injured (burned) in an on-the-job accidents. The father was badly burned and had a very long recovery, but the son died of his injuries a few days later. My grandfather McFarland died on my eleventh birthday. We lost a dear family-friend in 1973 as they were prepping him for a surgery that would have given him a new lease on life and returned him to the tennis court. Since then, I lost a brother to cancer in 2011, my dad in 2013, and my mom this year.

I was a bagpiper for several years, and during that time, I played services for everyone from a 15-month-old baby, all the way up to people who were in their 80’s. Regardless of who I helped bury, I was affected by each one, not as a disconnected-observer, but as someone who identified with their grief. Death leaves an indelible-mark on our hearts, one that will never go away.

Yes, life IS short, even if a person lived along full life, because God didn’t design death into His original blueprint for mankind. We were meant to live, not die, but the Fall brought death into the human-experience.

Make no mistake about it, “loving-well” is NOT the “easy-path“. It is tough, it is costly, but it is supremely worth it in the end. Our supreme example, Jesus Christ knew from eternity-past what it would cost Him to show God’s love in this way. He knew, before He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, that a “cross-shaped-shadow” would follow Him from the moment He was conceived until He died on the Cross. Yet, “for the joy that was set before Him“(Hebrews 12:2), He did it all, for me, and for you. What was the “joy that was set before Him“? That “He would bring many sons (and daughters) to glory”(Hebrews 2:10). He could bear suffering as our sin-bearer more than He could bear eternity without His chosen-ones – us. How would YOU like to know your destiny before you were even born. Jesus did, and He carried out God’s plan anyway.

How did Jesus command us to love each other? 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:34-35). “As I have loved you”… How did Jesus love His disciples (and us)? He gave His life for us. 12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13) “Lay down our life for our friends”? Yes, that is what true love means, putting their needs ahead of our own, and even being willing to lay down our lives for them.

How can you “love well“? Start by holding your money and possessions loosely. He who dies with the most toys does NOT win, he just dies, and leaves those toys to others. Live modestly and within your means. You do NOT have to go into debt for the latest goo-gaw or play-pretty, and trying to “keep up with the Jones” will only result in more headaches and grief. Use your “spare” money to help someone less fortunate than you, and do so gladly. The Jones don’t care, but God does. Do what you do out of love, not because you “have-to“.

Perhaps the hardest part of “loving-well” is “being-there“, and I mean really “BEING-THERE” for those you love. Being “present“, “in the moment“, is very difficult when what they need most is a “listening-ear“, someone who will truly LISTEN to them with understanding AND without judgement. What we think or what we believe is NOT their “reality“, so unless you are asked for your opinion, don’t offer it. Keeping our mouths shut is one of the hardest things in the world, but we have been given TWO ears to listen, but only one mouth, and it MUST be connected to our brain. Don’t speak before you think – a LOT about what you are going to say.

That is what it means to “love-well“.

In Christ,
Steve

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Studies in John’s Epistles – 1 John 4

After telling us how we can be certain that we are in the faith, John proceeds to give us a “litmus-test” to be able to judge whether others are in the faith. This test harkens back to what he has told us about Christ in the opening verses of this epistle, and to his warning concerning the Antichrists which are arising in our midst. He has already warned us of those who claim that Christ only “appeared” to be human, and now he nails it down with a sure-fire “litmus-test”. Call this a “spiritual pathology-report”. He now equates believing that Christ only “appeared” to be human with the spirit of the Antichrist (the Docetic view).

Testing the Spirits
4 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

God Is Love
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4)

Test the Spirits
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)

Oh my word, what a timely text! With the previous chapter ending by saying that we can know that Jesus lives in us because of the (Holy) Spirit He gave us, now John takes another step forward in our experience. How can we tell who is right and who is not?

Simple! Test the spirits!

There are many Christians, who, while they will give mental ascent to Jesus’ humanity, can’t wrap their heads around the “nitty-gritty” of His humanity because they believe that this somehow “demeans” His deity. We see this subtly expressed in a phrase in the popular Christmas Carol, “Away In A Manger“; “But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” If Jesus didn’t cry, He wasn’t human.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a three-part series of articles entitled; “How Human Was Jesus?” approaching His humanity from a real-world perspective. I wanted to ground my own perspective in facts, not some “sanitized-version“. Part 1 of that series is included in today’s study packet, and for those joining us online, I invite you to read the whole series.

Well, it is actually simple, but at first it sounded a little creepy to me. On closer examination, however, it isn’t creepy and it isn’t hard. Does a teacher or commentator acknowledge that Jesus Christ came in the flesh? Do they acknowledge Him at all? If they do, they are from God; if they don’t they are not from God. If they don’t acknowledge Jesus, they aren’t from God, they are Antichrist. If this is so, would we consider them a reliable source of insight? Well, you can decide that one…

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:4-6)

John finishes this thought in these verses, making his point even clearer. We have overcome the spirit of Antichrist, because the Holy Spirit within us is greater by far than the spirit of Antichrist could ever dream of being. Interesting point to bear in mind when reading commentaries, blogs and books! These false teachers speak from the viewpoint of the world, not from the viewpoint of God, and the world will listen to them. Yes, and while the world will listen to the false teacher, the spirit of Antichrist, the world will not generally listen to us, for they simply can’t fathom what we are talking about, so let’s not be surprised by this.

I’ve spoken with many Christians who fear that they might be tricked and led astray, and I always tell them that they will not be tricked and led astray if they have a strong relationship with Christ. That is precisely what John is asserting here. It’s so simple to tell the difference, and when you were little, your mother or father probably told you how to recognize who is credible and who is not, for I’ll bet they told you to “consider the source.” To put it another way, I wouldn’t recommend that we take spiritual advice from an atheist, nor would I suggest that we should take Bible instruction from a non-believer.

See how simple this stuff is?

This is Love
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:7-10)

We are now beginning the central core of this letter, and this core runs from verse 7 to the end of this chapter. It is not only the central core of the letter, but it is also the central core of Christian theology. All of those comparisons at the beginning of the letter, and all of the discussion of evil, Antichrists and the testing of spirits comes back to this theme, for without it, the rest of the theology of our faith is rendered meaningless. In short, what is written in this section is the one thing that gives Christianity its power and authority, and against which the gates of Hell itself cannot, and will not stand.

John is giving us another “litmus-test” which demonstrates the reality of God’s love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. God hasn’t left us to question His love, He has graphically-demonstrated it so that we need not ever wonder whether God loves us. God has demonstrated His love for us by providing the WAY that we can be restored to fellowship with Him. He has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. If you ever doubt whether God loves you, look at the Cross, because it is the most graphic-evidence of God’s love for you. Furthermore, the Cross was no “Plan-B”. It was part of God’s plan for redemption even before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden.

The last sentence in this text is the key: God loved us. In fact, he loved us while we were lost, and not loving Him at all. Yet God loved us anyway! He loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us. Yes, you’re right, this has already been pointed out in this letter, but here it is again, as the core of everything else; that is how important it is that we grasp this simple concept!

How could God love us so much in spite of everything? Because God is love! Love is an integral-part of God’s very nature. God cannot NOT love us, because to NOT love us would violate everything God is.

Because of God’s love, demonstrated on the Cross, we are to love one another just as God loved us. Nobody can do this unless God is in that person, which is to say that person is in Christ. Loving one another as God loved us runs counter to every teaching of this world, as it also runs against our natural human inclinations. Therefore, if a person does not love, it is because God is not in him or her.

More Love
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

John is continuing his thoughts that we looked at in vv. 7-10, and as I mentioned last time, this is the central core of Christian theology, the part that everything else is built upon. Simply stated, this love core flows like this:
1. God loved us while we were still sinners.

2. God sent His Son to die for our sins.

3. We loved God and responded to the Gospel.

4. God loved our brothers and sisters in Christ.

5. Therefore, so do we.

We see this pattern at work once again in verse 11. God loved us, so we should love each other. Then John, as was his custom, takes one more step. Since no one has ever seen God, and since God loves all of us and we love Him, if we also love each other, God’s love will be complete in us and visibly expressed within His Body, the Church. This is as far as John has gone so far…

At this point, we can infer that there is another step. The other step is implied in John’s mentioning that “no one has seen God.” OK, why did he choose to write that? Think…

No one has seen God, but if we love one another as God loved us, then His love will live amongst us, and through us, all will see it.

During a recent debate about Evolution and Creation, there was an assumption that if we cannot observe some “evidence” that God exists, then we can determine that He does not exist. I’m no scientist, but this seems to be a natural inclination on the part of people who are educated with regard to the Scientific Method. Remember that one from your school days? It was the one about observations, and testing theories with observable evidence?

Back to John. Have you ever thought that it would be nice if you could find the positive “proof” of God’s existence? Yes, something that can be observed and studied?

Are you sitting down?

John just gave it to you! The proof is God’s love at work in our lives and within the Body of Christ. At least it should be! Maybe if we started taking these verses to heart and putting them into our everyday manner of living, like we are commanded by God to do, more people would notice that the greatest “proof” of God, the observable evidence is right there in front of us all: Love for one another as Jesus has loved us, and gave His life for us.

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Consider this question: Do you ever wonder if it is a coincidence that the whole concept of Godly love has been corrupted and demeaned in our culture? After all, doesn’t society use the word “love” to mean just about anything other than Godly love?

God is Love
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:16b-18)

This short text is tricky; we need to be sharp to get the full benefit of it. “God is love.” OK, so far, so good, this part is easy. Then John says, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them”. For us to live in love is to also live in God, and when we do that, God lives in us because God and His love are inseparable. Here comes the curve: John is building again. Because of the inseparable nature of God and love, living our lives in love will make love complete, and ensure that we will be confident on the day of judgment: This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: OK, this one is really interesting…

John finishes this way: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Did you catch that? If we live in love, we live in God, and God lives in us. This is because love and God cannot be separated. If we live this way, we live like Jesus lived. Jesus did not fear death, why should He? He knew exactly where He was going! When we live in love, we need have no fear of judgment, for that love drives fear of judgment out of our lives.

When a person dies, the next step is judgment. You might believe that we die and immediately go to judgment, or you might believe that we die and sleep until judgment day, but to be honest, it doesn’t matter. Judgment is the next step either way. Just as Jesus knew exactly where He was going, so do we, we are going to be at His side.

So what really happens?
When we go to judgment, there are two sets of books. There is the Book of Life and there is the Books of Deeds. If your name is in the Book of Life, that’s it, you’re in! If not, the other books are consulted, and you are judged by your deeds. You don’t want to be involved in those deeds books! The judgment is not a horrifying ordeal if you are in the Book of Life. Your name is read and that’s it, “Welcome home!” What John is telling us here is that living in love means that our names are in the Book of Life.

Let’s put it another way: We read about this day in Revelation 21:11 ff. If you are in Christ, living in love (they are the same thing) your name is in the Book of Life. That being the case, you are not being put on trial or accused of anything at all, for your sins have been taken away entirely; they are as far from you as the east is from the west. There is no sin to even discuss: Period. That is why John can say here, that perfect love drives out all fear. The love God has always had for you terminated all discussion and your appearance at judgment is a welcoming ceremony, you might say.

We love because He first loved us
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:19-21)

This just about sums it all up, don’t you think? God so loves us that He went to extreme measures in showing it, sending His Son to die for us… because so great was God’s love. (John 3:16)

If God loves us, and we in turn love God, then we must also love our brother or sister. As you can see from these verses, there is no negotiating to be done. In fact, John says that it is a command from God that we love our brother. End of discussion!

In verse 20, John gives us yet another “litmus-test”. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. We cannot claim to love God if we don’t love our brother also. Period!

Well… almost. It may strike some as odd that God has commanded love. It is really a fair question to ask if someone asked it… How can I be commanded to love? I see my brother or sister, and I don’t feel anything for them. As I’ve written before words are funny things; they mean stuff. In English, we only have one word: “Love.” John wrote in Greek. Greek has five words for our “love” and they mean different things. The word that John used here is agapaō which is the word used in the New Testament for God’s love. It is not the word for romantic love. When we are commanded to love one another, this command has nothing whatsoever to do with emotions. Instead, it has everything do with attitude and actions.

To love your brother or sister in Christ means to put their interests ahead of your own. If your brother or sister is in need, we are to take care of their need before we take care of our need. We are to be willing to set aside our cares and hurts to see to the needs of others… just like Jesus did. If we see our brother or sister hurting, we do something about it. Jesus saw us hurting from sin and death, so He did something about it, setting aside His own personal needs…that is, unless you’d claim that He really needed to be tortured and murdered.

This is the attitude that makes the Body of Christ possible. If we were to approach the Body (church) as our little plaything or as our chance to be important, or in the way humans often approach things, then the Body will fight and divide. Hmmmmm, we might think about that one! If we approach it as people who love one another and put others ahead of ourselves, the Body is the most amazing and awesome thing this side of Heaven, as they say.

History is rife with religious-persecution, Jews versus Christians, and Catholics versus Protestants, and yet they have always claimed to love and serve the same God. Muslims and Christians claim to serve the same God of Abraham, and yet Muslims slaughter Christians frequently, and Christians can’t get let off the hook either. Which one really loves God, and which one really loves their religion instead?

So, can we do it? Sure we can! We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. It begins with a commitment to follow Jesus, and it carries on when we are more satisfied in His presence than when we are any place else. Need help or guidance in this? No problem, seek Him, and follow where He leads. You’ll know what to do.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in Ruth – Going Back Home

When we left Naomi, Ruth and Orpah last time, all three women had lost their husbands, so they were widows. Naomi was a foreigner, so she was left with no way of supporting herself, and even though Ruth and Orpah were “natives“, they weren’t going to find husbands on their own. For a woman, or three women, to be left alone in the world without a man or an extended family in those days meant that one of three things would very shortly happen: The woman would find a man to marry, she would become a prostitute, or she would starve. Thus Naomi, Orpah and Ruth were in very deep trouble. What will they do?

There was only one solution, for Naomi to go back home to Bethlehem, and for Orpah and Ruth to go back home to their families.

It wasn’t going to be an easy journey, because no matter which route they took, it was going to be about seventy-five miles long. Moab was separated from Israel by the Salt Sea, the Jordan River, and a range of mountains, so they were going to encounter rivers to ford and mountains to cross. Unless they had pack-animals to carry extra goods, such as a tent, they were going back with little-more than the clothes on their backs. Were the routes even safe-enough for three women to travel alone? There were SO many unknowns…

Naomi Returns with Ruth
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread. 7 Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” (Ruth 1:6-9)

Even though God’s judgment was over, the famine was lifted, and prosperity was being restored in Israel, Naomi still had grave-concerns about how she would be treated when she got home. Would she be welcomed with open-arms, or would she be ostracized for having left the country? She was even more concerned for her daughter’s-in-law because they would be strangers in a foreign-land. The relationship between Israel and Moab hadn’t always been very good, even though they were distantly-related. If she was ostracized, her daughters-in-law would be ostracized too. She was prepared to “go it alone“, but she didn’t think it was a good idea for them to go with her. They were going to be better-off going back home to their families.

So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.”

Parting company with ones we love is hard to do, which is why we prefer to say “See you later” rather than “Goodbye“. I went up to see my dad just a few weeks before he died because mom had told me that he had been unresponsive all week. As I drove up there, I was afraid that this would be the last time I saw him alive, and I was correct, but he “woke-up” for a few minutes while I was there, so rather than having to say my final “Goodbye“, I was able to tell him “See you later“. He died a few weeks later, so that was the last time I saw him alive, but I was spared that final “Goodbye“. I know that we will be reunited in Heaven, so I WILL see him later and he will no longer be suffering from the devastating diseases that killed him.

11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, 13 would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!”

Once again Naomi appeals to her daughters to go back home to their families, for their own good. They were still young and would more-easily find husbands in their own communities, while she was beyond the age of bearing children, and even if she could, she didn’t expect them to wait long-enough for her sons, if she did have sons, to grow up. No, they would be better-off going back home, and if we didn’t know “the rest of the story”, this would seem to have been “wise-counsel”.

How many times have we received what seemed to be “wise-counsel” which turned out to be “bad-advise”?

Who does Naomi blame for their predicament? God, of course. SHE had been faithful to God, but SHE had still suffered the same fate as the rest of the Jews, a famine. How could God do that to her? How many times have we blamed God for our struggles and problems?

14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

Orpah finally heeded Naomi’s appeal and went back home, but Ruth was stubborn. We don’t know anything about Orpah’s fate, but we do have the rest of Ruth’s story. Which one made the right decision?

15 And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said:
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
17 Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”

Once more, Naomi appealed for Ruth to go back home, but Ruth wasn’t going to be deterred from continuing-on with her. We start seeing Ruth’s character in her response:

1. Her unyielding-devotion to Naomi.

2. Her desire to worship the God of Israel.

3. Her promise to go wherever Naomi goes.

4. Her willingness to share whatever their future may bring.

For whatever reason, Ruth declares that she is in it for the long-haul. Seeing Ruth’s determination, Naomi gives in and lets her travel with Naomi to Bethlehem and an uncertain future. Ruth was staking her future, as uncertain as it was, on believing that the God of Israel would take care of her. That was remarkable faith for a person who had come from an idol-worshiping culture.

18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her.

Has anyone ever given you the “silent-treatment” when you said something they didn’t like? It was going to be a long trip…

19 Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”

Far from being ostracized, the people in Bethlehem were excited that Naomi had returned. Some of them may have been wondering about her since she and her family left over ten-years ago. They didn’t have the kinds of instant-communications which we so heavily-depend-on, nor was there a “postal-service“, so any communications had to be entrusted to someone who was traveling back “home“. We also don’t see them asking why she has this “foreigner” with her. They were just glad that Naomi had made it back home safely.

20 But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

Many names in the Bible had special-significance or meaning, which was why Naomi (pleasant) wanted to be known as Mara (bitter). She is still blaming God for what has happened…

22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. (Ruth 1:6-22)

When they got to Bethlehem, the barley harvest had just began, which sets the stage for our next encounter.

Sola Deo Gloria!

“HATE” Is NOT An Option!

We live in tumultuous-times and we are facing an election which may “make” or “break” America, so it is no wonder that emotions are running very-high about this election and its candidates. Many people have already chosen “their” candidate, and if it looks like “their” candidate is losing…well, there is plenty of blame to go around. While vitriolic and hateful speech from unbelievers doesn’t really surprise me, it REALLY distresses me when it comes from professing-Christians. Christians are supposed to be “new-creations“, not “religionized-heathens“. We are supposed to be “different“…

The way we were…
Before the grace of God got a hold of us and released us from our bondage, we were enslaved by “the ruler of this world“, the “father of lies“, the being that hates even God’s image, the most evil being in the universe, Satan. We acted like that “master” acts, we talked like that “master” talks, and we had that “master’s” values. We were like our “master“, Satan, because we were in bondage to him. It should come as no surprise to us that our world and society are in shambles, because all Satan can do is destroy, and he is VERY-GOOD at destroying. He destroys everything he touches. We see his destructive “handiwork” all around us.

We were born into the kingdom of Satan, and unless God intervenes in our lives, we will remain citizens of Satan’s kingdom for all eternity. Unlike national-citizenship, which a person can renounce if they leave that country permanently, we are NOT free to renounce our citizenship in Satan’s kingdom. We are “stuck“. Some people are simply “stuck“, while others are citizens by choice because they have chosen to serve Satan and his interests.

We have a different “Master”…
When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we are set-free from the bondage to Satan. We not only get a new “address“, we get a new “identity“. We have renounced our “citizenship” in Satan’s kingdom and we have been made part of a different kingdom, the kingdom of God, and not unlike a person renouncing their US citizenship and taking up citizenship in another country, we have a new “leader“, new customs to learn and even a new language to learn. Part of learning that new language is learning which words we used to say are no longer appropriate. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29) We can’t continue to talk like the world while we are claiming to be Christians.

Along with learning a new language, we have new customs and new values to learn also. Make no mistake, God can “save” us from anything, but unless we leave the old way of life behind with its values and customs, we are little more that “religionized-heathens“. We may “look-good” and “smell-good“, but we are still rotten to the core. We can’t have one foot in each kingdom. Following Christ is an “all-or-nothing” lifestyle-change.

A person may think that they can be a “Christian swinger” or a “Christian homosexual“, but “Christian” and swinger or homosexual are mutually-exclusive. They are trying to keep a foot in each “kingdom“, and that doesn’t work. Yes, sanctification IS progressive, but progress in sanctification is stunted and held-back if a person refuses to let go of their old habits and customs.

Hate” is another “custom” we must let-go of, because we have a new Master with a new set of standards. Jesus not only said “Love your neighbor as yourself“, He also said;
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

We see two distinct commands; “love your enemies“, and “pray for those who persecute you“. They are NOToptional“, because ignoring them has consequences, while following them brings blessings; “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven“. Jesus also gave us a reason; “for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” If God gives grace even to those who don’t “deserve” it, how much more, as those who have been given grace, even though we don’t “deserve” it either, are we to extend grace, even to our enemies. As such, “hate” is NOT an option.

A world at war…
Yes, this world IS at war, but it isn’t just on the ground, it is a cosmic-battle, a spiritual-battle, a battle which has been raging since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. It is a war of “evil” versus “good“, of Satan versus God. Satan has been trying to dethrone God since before he was cast out of Heaven. What is going on, on the ground, is a “symptom” of this cosmic-battle.

We are to wage spiritual-warfare also, and one way we do this is by NOT acting and talking like unbelievers do. This is where “the rubber meets the road“; because it should affect everything we do, including what we say and what we post on Facebook and other social-media sites.

Tall orders…
Maybe we need a refresher on God’s “tall-orders“;

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly before your God? (Micah 6:8)

In Christ,
Steve

Rejection

What is rejection? Rejection is telling someone by your words and actions that they are not important. Rejection is telling someone by your words and actions that what you want is more important than your relationship with them. Rejection is telling someone by your words and actions that they are no longer a part of your agenda…THAT THEY NO LONGER MATTER TO YOU. Rejection is telling someone by your words and actions that you really don’t care what kind of hurt you are causing them, because you no longer care about them.

What do I know about rejection? In a word…a LOT. Being rejected by others has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a kid growing up, we moved around a lot, so I was always the “new kid on the block“…the “new kid in school“. I might make a friend or two, and then we would move – again.

Because of my Tourette’s, I was teased a lot in school. I was called “twitch“…and worse. Other kids made fun of me by imitating my facial tics. I was a book-worm, and read encyclopedias in my spare time, so my nickname was “Brit” or “Encyclopedia“.

Even my parents rejected me… Probably the worst case of my young life was on my eleventh birthday. My grandfather died on that day, and his death was more important than celebrating my birthday. Rather than celebrating my birthday, dad drove to Illinois to be with his family for the funeral. He couldn’t wait a couple of days, and be a part of his son’s life, before he went to the funeral. His family, and the funeral, were more important than his own son. Maybe that seems trivial, but it isn’t. It was to become a pattern, repeated at various times and various ways.

By about my thirteenth birthday, mom no longer came into the bathroom and talked to me while I took my bath. Perhaps that was to teach me “modesty“, but in the long run, it taught me that she no longer cared enough about me to take special time for me. Sure, I was getting to be a “big-boy“, a “young man“, but other than the fact that my sexual equipment was getting bigger, and getting hair around it, I was still the same kid she had brought into the world just a few years later…but I wasn’t to her. As I got older, my parent’s lives got busier and busier, and they had less and less time for me. I no longer “mattered“. I was rejected. When I didn’t do well in English, dad simply grounded me until I got my grades up. Never mind that he had been a college-English instructor, and could have helped me, but he didn’t have the time. I didn’t matter, just my grades.

After my sophomore year of high-school, we moved again, so my dad could pastor a church in Oklahoma. Again, I was the “new kid on the block“…the “new kid in church“…the “PREACHER’S KID“, and I wasn’t welcome. Sure, there were other kids my age in the church, but they already had their own clique, and I wasn’t welcome. Whether it was in church, or elsewhere, I didn’t “fit-in“. I was an outsider looking in. I vividly remember those interminably-long church-bus rides between Oklahoma and church-camp in Colorado. The rest of the kids carried on, cut-up, and generally had a gay old time…and sang “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love“, while I sat…lonely and rejected. I hated that song for many years, because it represented what they should have been, but weren’t…loving. Even at camp, about all the people that had anything to do with me were other pastors. One particular pastor stands out in my mind as having the kind of love that I wasn’t getting elsewhere.

After I graduated from high-school, instead of going to college…like all the other kids I graduated with did, I went into the service. Once again…out of sight, out of mind. I was just a fleeting shadow, and not worth keeping up with.

After I got back home from my time in the service, I met and married a lovely young lady. She supported me through two years of college. I got recruited right out of college, so we moved to where my new job was.
Along the way, we had four kids…three girls and a boy. That presented its own unique set of challenges, because particularly when they were young, my wife’s full attention was devoted to them. While we did have some “us” time, it was never the same. I was “dad“…I was the “provider“, but the husband-wife relationship had been seriously disrupted. After we had been there about a dozen years, my wife started getting home-sick. She was very close to her family, and being over five-hundred miles away made that difficult for her. When I saw the handwriting on the wall, that the work for the group I was in was being seriously curtailed, we decide to move back “home“. That really was the beginning of the end of our relationship and our family.

Things seemed to hum along for another couple of years, and then my work started taking more and more of my time. I worked a lot of overtime due to me responsibilities. My wife and kids spent more and more time with her family, and less and less time with me. Her mom got to the point of needing 24/7 care, but her family was unwilling to put her in a nursing home, and the only person in the family that didn’t have an outside job was my wife, so she became her mom’s caregiver. Not only was our husband-wife relationship stretched from having four kids, but it got stretched thinner by her caring for her mom. I was no longer her #1 priority. At one point, she even demanded that we buy her mom’s house and move in with her. I refused that demand, because it wouldn’t have been good for anything but her being able to take care of her mom even more. The house was also way too small for our family. I saw less and less of my wife and family.

My wife started realizing what her actions had done to our family, but by then, the damage was all but irreparable. Her health was also suffering, and she refused medical help. She also refused any form of marriage counseling. She took her own life shortly thereafter. I am sure that she thought her death would unite our fragmented family, but it totally destroyed it. Suicide may be the ultimate form of rejection, because it is totally self-centered. Suicide tells those affected that they aren’t worth living for…

Because her family blamed me for her death, the very people who should have rallied around me didn’t. Old friends and family became mortal enemies, and they did everything in their power to destroy me. One brother-in-law even threatened to kill me. I had to move out of the community because I was no longer welcome there. Her family even poisoned my own kid’s attitudes towards me, so that they didn’t even want to see me or have anything to do with me. It has been over eighteen years since their mom’s death, and they still refuse to have anything to do with me. My oldest daughter threatened to call the police if I tried to contact her again. I am still not welcome in that community. The bitterness and hatred still run that deep. BTW…those people even call themselves “Christians“. Where is their love?

About a year later, I remarried, and shortly after we got married, we moved completely out of the area. The first place she started rejecting me was in the bedroom. Even though we didn’t have a truly-active sex-life, it went to non-existent…from sex every few weeks, to sex once every two or three years. That marriage lasted until I lost my eye. She decided that I was no longer part of her agenda, and she divorced me. She couldn’t even be bothered to send me a “get-well” card, let alone come and be with me in the hospital. I was thrown away with yesterday’s trash.

A few months after that divorce, I met another lady, and we started courting. I had a steady job, and she was disabled and unable to work. We got married, and as long as I had steady income, I was the greatest guy in the world. After she got her disability, and I lost my job, I became expendable. I was no longer part of her agenda…no longer desirable…thrown away with yesterday’s trash. Oh, we can’t forget that she had promised faithfully to NEVER do to me what my previous wife had done, but she did…

Maybe I should have gotten wiser, and avoided further romantic contact, but I had never been a “happy single“. I was “wired” to be married, and that was how and where I was happiest.

After being divorced for about two years, I met another lady. She had been down many of the same roads I have been down, including being a widow. She seemed to be the “ideal” wife. At least she talked a good talk. We got married in December 2013, and less than six weeks later, she moved out…while I was out of town at a doctor’s appointment. All she left was a note. We had sporadic contact for a few months, and then abruptly she wanted to move back home with me. That lasted exactly two weeks, before she moved out again. A couple of weeks later, she texted me and told me that she is in love with another man, and would be filing for divorce shortly. Oh, we can’t forget that she had promised faithfully to NEVER do to me what my previous wife had done, but she did…

Perhaps that is the most unkind cut of all…leaving me for another man. That tears at the very heart of who I am as a man. It is rejection – in spades. She has thrown me away with yesterday’s trash, because I am no longer what she wants in life. I was a brief interlude, but little more. She claims she is sorry for what she has done to me, but her actions show that her remorse is only superficial. She is unwilling to do what is necessary to start undoing the hurt she has caused.

Do I know a bit about rejection? I could probably write a book on it, but what would that accomplish?

Rejection – when a person willfully and deliberately hurts and discards another person who trusted them to never do that. Someone else knew quite a bit about rejection.

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
3 He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

4 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
9 And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53)

One of His close associates, Judas, betrayed Him. Another close associate, Peter, denied him, not just once, but three times, after he swore that he would NEVER do that. When He was arrested, only Peter and John tagged-along behind the mob to His trial. John is also the only disciple who was there when He was crucified. All the rest had turned-tail and ran. Mark fled the scene of His arrest naked.

Yes, Jesus Christ knows a few things about rejection, and He keenly-feels our rejection with us. Who better to turn to in our pain?

In Christ,
Steve

Missing Love…

Have you ever missed an opportunity to love someone? Have you ever been so busy pointing out someone’s faults that you forgot to love them? Do you ever judge someone else so that you feel better about yourself? If we are honest, we have all missed opportunities to love someone because we are too self-centered to lay aside our judgemental-attitude long enough to do what we are supposed to do, love them. How many relationships have we destroyed by being judgemental?

I wish I could say that this is rare among Christians, but it isn’t. I had a sad experience recently which has hammered this point home to me. I was at a Bible-study, and since our usual leader was out of the country on a missions trip, his parents joined us to share what God is doing in their lives. They have been missionaries with Wyckliff Bible Translators for many years, and God has done some phenominal things through them and in their lives. When I got ready to leave, I told them I am in Christian nudist missions, and his response was “You can’t be a Christian and a nudist.”.

Someone else in the group had already told them about me, so they had already prejudged me before they even met me. What could have been a beautiful friendship between fellow-laborers in God’s kingdom was destroyed in an instant. Judgement eclipsed love…

That brings us to 1st Corinthians 13, the beautiful “Love-chapter”
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it his not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

Wisdom…
He who answers a matter before he hears it,
It is folly and shame to him. (Proverbs 18:13)

A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city,
And contentions are like the bars of a castle. (Proverbs 18:19)

He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. (Proverbs 17:27-28)

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Final thoughts…
As I have thought about this for the last several days, I am not going to make any further analysis of this situation and these Scriptures. Instead, I am going to heed the words of Proverbs and the wisdom of the old rail-splitter and hold my piece. With David, I will simply say:

“May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.” (1 Samuel 24:15)

In Christ,
Steve