For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John? 3:16? NIV??)
During the Advent season we celebrate the gift of God’s son, Jesus. Born to a virgin and lived a perfect life, with teachings that are as alive today as when they were spoken. With further stories written by those that witnessed His walk, as well as were taught personally by Him, who foretold of the coming of the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4), who will grant the crown of glory that will never fade away, upon those that trust in Him. But…. the true follow though of His love for those who trust in Him, through grace alone, is the love portrayed by sending His only Son, to the cross, to die for all that believe, even if ONLY one, God would have sent Him. Love beyond comprehension.
All You Need is Love
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but the actions and in truth. (1 John 3:18)
“ All you need is love”, “Love is the Answer” were a couple of popular songs of my youth. And although there is a lot of truth in these titles, they are also incomplete in helping us understand what true love really looks like. John tells us that the without actions and truth words are meaningless. I don’t think he is saying that we don’t need words because many times we need words and speech to explain the why of our actions. And sometimes we do so called acts of love for others when we aren’t willing to do the hard things, to confront sin or destructive habits in our loved ones lives(we enable). This is not loving in truth.
I remember seeing love in action when I was in High School. My father began to experience some unexplained health problems. After a series of doctor visits and even an unnecessary surgery we learned he had cancer and he didn’t have long to live. My mom cared for and supported my Dad through this difficult time of first not knowing and then knowing the worst. And then God was merciful and my Dad went into remission for several years.
Then one day he began to have unexplained pain and it appeared the cancer was coming back. They still didn’t know for sure what was going on but my father was requiring a lot of pain medication. As he continued to request relief from his pain, they began to believe that he was addicted to the pain medication and that there wasn’t anything physically wrong with him. This may have been one of the most difficult times in our family’s life. I observed my mother as she wanted to stand by her husband and yet not knowing how to help him, not sure whether to be tough or show compassion(she did a little of both).
Many times, this is how love is. The way is unclear, and the path is difficult. Without some kind of guidance and truth we would despair. Thankfully, God gives us some guidance. Understanding the First and Second Great commandments of loving God and our neighbors is a start(Mt 22:37-40). But there is a lot more written in the Bible about love. As Christians we need to rely on these truths with Holy Spirits guidance to guide us through life and its difficulties.
My mother did not love perfectly but I believe she did the best she could through these difficult circumstances. In a few months they discovered that the cancer had entered my father’s liver and that was the most likely cause of his pain. Not too long after that my father passed away.
I am convinced it is in the most difficult circumstances that we learn what true love is. Is has a way of separating the words and speech from actions and truth.
Love Like Your Dog Does
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matt: 22: 37,38)
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Eph. 5:25)
Alyson and I adopted a dog last week (and Bingo is his name, Oh…). He is such a loving little guy! One of the highlights of my day is coming home at the end of a long and tough day and having Bingo run up to me and shower me with unconditional love! His tail is thumping, and at that moment, I’m the most important thing in his world!. And no matter how stressful my day has been, I love that little guy back! But you know what dawned on me? Sadly, too often, I don’t do the same thing with my wife! If I’ve had a busy or emotional day I’m more likely to gripe or complain to her rather than showering her with unconditional love. Yet God tells me I should love her as Christ loves the church–meaning, I must be willing to die for her. The bottom line: we must always be willing to give our “best” to our spouses!
But what is even more important: we must even be more willing to give our best to God! In Leviticus 22:20, and Malachi 1: 6-9 God chastises Israel for offering Him defective animals for sacrifices. How often do we do the same thing? Do we give our best in our prayer lives? How about in our worship? How about in our giving?
The late Dr. J Vernon McGee coined the term “sloppy Agape” to describe the less than genuine love we give God or our family.
Let’s all change that this Christmas season and coming year! Let’s resolve to give God and our family members our very best when it comes to love and devotion.
Pitch a Tent
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Every few years the youth group goes on a backpacking trip outside of Durango, Colorado. Every trip is amazing and insightful, even when the trips are brutal due to the physical abuse and/or emotional strain. Nonetheless, it’s my favorite trip because intimacy is fostered every time our kids are pushed to the brink together. Plus, we always have the best conversations, especially within the confines of our three-person tents. Outside of sharing body odor, it’s impossible for us not to learn intimate details about one another. I guess the same is true when it comes to body odor but that’s a story for another time.
As I think about Christmas and the love Jesus brought to earth, my mind automatically goes to John 1:14. Jesus made his “dwelling” among us. The Greek word for “dwelling” is esk?n?sen, which can mean, “put up his tent”. Isn’t this amazing? Jesus didn’t sit out a trip to earth because he knew it would be messy and hard. Instead, he entered right into our world and “pitched a tent” next to humankind! Then he gave us an up and personal view of what love looks like when it’s given undeservingly and when it hits you smack-dab in the middle of your face with hard truth. Jesus loves you enough to “pitch a tent” with you and to show you the perfect balance of grace and truth. Love doesn’t get any better than that!
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
How has Jesus made his dwelling with you?
How can his presence encourage you this Christmas season?
How can you “pitch a tent” in someone else’s life for God’s glory this week?
7 But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. 8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”[a] 9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. 10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Peter 4:7-10).
The word for hospitality that the apostle Peter uses in his letter is actually a compound word. It is the Greek word philoxenos. Philoxenos is a word that means to love or befriend a stranger. In the word philoxenos, we have philos which is part of the Greek word we use for philadelphia (brotherly love), and xenos a Greek word used for strangers, foreigners or non-citizens. Today, some folks might refer to them as illegal aliens or undocumented persons or refugees. These are also people with whom we have little or no deep knowledge. Philoxenos encapsulates the second of the great commandments. Love your neighbor as you love yourself (Mark 12:31). Now I’m sure that most of you are more familiar with the NT verses that challenges us to this higher standard of living, but really this is an OT concept – a post-exodus ordinance.
In Leviticus 19 we can see this very clearly.
33 ‘And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. 34 The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Lev. 19:33-34).
God commands Israel to be hospitable to the stranger. He commands His people to love the strangers. Not just to serve them tea or put them up for the night, but to treat them like a native born Israelite. To treat them like they are God’s own covenant people. That’s powerful!
Howard Thurman, the late civil rights leader and mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, says that
“the first step toward love is a common sharing of a sense of mutual worth and value. This cannot happen in a vacuum or in a series of artificial or hypothetical relationships. It has to be in a real situation” (Jesus and the Disinherited, p98).
What Mr. Thurman says here is that before I can truly love you, I must first see you as I see myself. I must recognize that just as God has placed value and worth within me, so has He placed within you this same value and worth. We are all created in the image of our God. Our bank accounts cannot change that. Our skin color cannot change that. Our social and political position cannot change that. A person’s citizenship, or lack of, cannot change that. My worth and your worth are rooted in who God says that we are, not in who the world says that we are!
So, who is the “stranger” God is calling you to love today? What neighbor do you need to show hospitality to this season? Whoever that person is, remember what the Apostle Paul said, your “Love must be sincere” (Romans 12:9).