If You Love Me

“If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15 NIV)

We have a 13-year-old beagle named Lucy, and she is a wonderful dog. During my coffee with the Lord this morning, John 14:15 “wiggled” on the page. As I reflected on this very simple, yet very profound, verse, Lucy came to mind. She’s not trained, but she’s very obedient–always has been. Her obedience isn’t the slavish, downtrodden duty of a dog that has been kicked into submission. Rather, it’s the happy, almost worshipful devotion of a dog that loves her master.

I remember when we got Lucy from a shelter. She was two and full of spunk (she still has the spunk at 13, it’s just a little slower). It seemed evident to us that she had been handled roughly by a man in her past. She was skittish around men, taking on a beaten-down posture of fearful submission and growling if a man came too close. We brought her into our basement, and I spent the next few hours sitting with her. At first, she wasn’t having any part of it, but after a while, she came around. Once I had her trust, I was surprised at how quickly she picked up on what I wanted her to do and did it. She wants to please, loves the praise she receives and is eager to obey (unless there’s a squirrel or a rabbit, then all bets are off).

God brought Lucy to mind as an illustration of what He desires from me. He doesn’t want slavish, downtrodden duty from a beaten-down broken-spirited servant kicked into submission. He desires joy-filled, loving, worshipful devotion from a child who loves his Father and wants to feel God’s smile. It’s not about doggedly following a list of rules out of fear, it’s about loving Jesus enough to figure out what He wants and do it. Why? Because that is the essence of love, pouring yourself out for another. That’s what Jesus did for us. His wish is my command, not because I need to check off my be-a-good-person checklist, but because I love Him. I follow Him out of love.

My prayer for the week is that God will whisper something to you, and you’ll spring into action with all the joy of a child running an errand for his/her Father (or a beagle running to the door for a biscuit, lol).

Here’s My Heart, Lord

“Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths.” (Proverbs 7:25, NIV)

Does God have your heart? Or does your heart wander? Does your heart stray? The key to victory over sin is not hating sin–let’s be honest, sometimes we don’t hate sin! Sometimes the reason why it’s hard to leave sin is that we like it… sometimes we even love it. But as much as our fallen human natures love the darkness, we can overcome sin with love for God. We may at times love our sin, but we love Jesus more.

Love is stronger than fear or duty. I may give God my will to do what is right, but unless I give Him my heart, it’s short-lived. Love endures when the will falters. Love compels when fatigue sets in. Love drives on when duty fades away. That’s why worship is so vital to the Christian life! It is in and through worship that we give our hearts to God, and when He has our hearts, He has all of us. This morning I was deeply moved by this verse and the song below. My prayer for the week is that you will make this song your anthem, and in so doing will find yourself more deeply in love with our Lord than ever before.

Photo above by Jamez Picard on Unsplash

This is the Most Excellent Way

I continue the series through 1 Corinthians with one of the most all-time well-loved passages of Scripture in history: 1 Corinthians 13, the “love” chapter. We’ll see that this passage isn’t about marriage, but rather about the pathway to spiritual greatness. Why is love the most excellent path to true spirituality? Listen and find out!

Sermon delivered at LakeView Church on 7/22/2018.

Sin Against a Neighbor

The Lord said to Moses: “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the Lord by deceiving a neighbor…” (Leviticus 6:1-2a, NIV)

In a court, lying to the judge will get you into big trouble because you’re not just lying to the judge, you’re lying to the State. Similarly, being disrespectful, disobedient, and disruptive during court proceedings can lead to being held in contempt of court. Again, this is because the judge, the jury, and the people involved are representatives of something greater–the rule of law, the State, and society at large.

Leviticus 6 makes it clear that deceiving or sinning against a neighbor is being unfaithful to God. As one pastor put it, “Sin against a neighbor is a sin against God.” Because we are made in the image of God, when we sin against someone else, we are sinning against God’s representative on earth, which is (at least indirectly) an act of rebellion against God’s authority and rule. When I sin against a fellow human being, I deface God’s image in that person. It’s like tagging God’s home with profane graffiti.

God is concerned with how we treat one another. We are called throughout Scripture to love–in fact, Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). And Paul said that love is “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). Every human being bears the image of God within them. The next time I’m tempted to lose my temper or raise my voice at my wife or kids, I need to pause and imagine that I’m getting ready to yell at Jesus Christ. That’s not to say I won’t discipline my kids or have that uncomfortable conversation with a friend. But how would my tone, my body language, and my attitude differ if I were having that conversation with Christ?

My prayer for the week is that we will find an opportunity to show love for another and if we have disrespected someone else, that we will seek their forgiveness and reconciliation.

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

Post-Easter Blues

Most pastors and church leaders will tell you that Easter is one of their favorite Sundays of the year.  I often refer to Easter as the “Super Bowl” of Christian worship.  Most churches pull out all stops with their Easter services–special music, a special message, special programming, maybe even a different venue.  Many churches add an additional service, and Easter is usually one of the highest-attended worship services in a year.  The atmosphere is one of excitement and anticipation, and for good reason.  What could be a greater cause for celebration than the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

You might think that a large attendance, a big production, a chance to passionately share the gospel, and an opportunity to rejoice because Jesus is alive would mean that pastors go home from Easter Sunday on cloud nine.  It may come as a surprise to learn that many, many pastors contemplate quitting the ministry the day after Easter.  The “post-Easter blues” aren’t logical, but they are real.  We lie awake Easter night wondering if all the work, the expense, and the production was worth it.  We are keenly aware of every little misspoken word, missed cue or other minor mistake.  We will have a list a mile long of ways it could’ve been better before the Easter ham has been eaten off our dinner plate.  While our kids are hunting for Easter eggs on Sunday afternoon, our minds are divided–still half-focused on the service, and wondering if any of the decisions to follow Jesus that were made were genuine.  We may be irritable and snap at friends and family members–only a few hours after exalting the risen Christ in worship!  And on Monday, the day after Easter, many pastors will seriously consider resigning from their pastorate to pursue a career in the “real world.”

I’m not writing this so you’ll feel sorry for pastors.  My purpose is to ask you to encourage your pastor this week.  He/she could use a kind word and a compliment.  Trust me, your pastor will hear plenty of criticism about the service–the music was too loud, we didn’t sing my favorite hymn, the sermon was too long, the coffee was too weak, we didn’t advertise enough, we shouldn’t embarrass people by asking them to raise their hands to accept Jesus… you name it, people will criticize it.  That’s why it’s important for you to break the mold and say an encouraging word to your pastor this week.  Here are just a few suggestions:

Write a thank you card.  You’d be surprised at how effective a simple handwritten note can be.  Knowing that you took the time to grab a card, physically write a message, and drop it off at the church office is like a ray of sunshine in the dark night of the soul.  A hand-written note is not an afterthought, and that makes it meaningful.

Send a text, email or Facebook message.  A lot of what we get via email and Facebook is negative.  A positive message will stand out like the first blossom of Spring after a long Winter.

Post on Facebook or Twitter about how much you enjoyed the service–and give the credit to God. Pastors are encouraged when we hear how God moved someone in a service, and especially when we see our members glorifying God in it.  Plus, your post is also an encouragement to all the volunteers who worked to create the service. And, it advertises to your non-church-going friends that you had a great experience in worship today, and they may be inclined to ask you about it.

Make a brief phone call. Be specific about what you thought went well in the service.  It doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t need to be over the top or flowery.  It can be short and simple and, most importantly, genuine.

Some of you may know how many hours your pastor put into planning and studying and organizing the Easter service.  It’s likely that he/she worked many late nights meeting with volunteer leaders and making sure the details were taken care of…  and then woke up before the sun to pray and study Scripture.  Your pastor’s family also felt the strain of Easter Sunday with a spouse/parent who was suddenly a lot busier and didn’t have as much time to help around the house.

In love, your pastor sacrificed a lot to bring about a great Easter Sunday worship service.  And, for whatever silly reason, your pastor may be struggling with the post-Easter blues, and may even be considering resigning.  So, I am asking you to throw a little love your pastor’s way this week, and let God use to you encourage one of His weary servants.  Thanks!

Photo courtesy of www.freejazzlessons.com.

Hell? Yes.

Objections to the idea of Hell have long existed, but have recently been stirred up in our culture with the release of a book by a very well-known former pastor of a very large church.  This book has reignited the discussion of Hell both in and outside the Church.  I recently had a conversation with someone who identifies as a Christian, and they suggested to me that,

“The very idea of God torturing his children for eternity is sick and sadistic.  It doesn’t square with a God who is identified as ‘Father’ and described as ‘love’ in his own book.”

I want to speak to that statement first and correct a very bad misunderstanding.  God is not going to torture people for eternity.  The Bible does speak about a place of everlasting punishment, called Hell, but it does not say that God is going to torture anyone.  If that was the claim made by Scripture, then we really would have a difficult obstacle to explain how this God of love could engage in torturing people.  But this is not the message of God’s Word!  Neither does the Bible teach that God is like a mugger in an ally holding a gun to your head and demanding all you have or else he’ll blow your brains out.  “Believe in me or I’m going to smoke you!”

Let me offer a different perspective.  Suppose that I am sick with a terminal disease that will eventually kill me.  Because I was born with this condition, I don’t even realize I have the disease, but I do experience its symptoms: pain, suffering, sadness, sickness.  It’s a debilitating disease that keeps me from living a full life, and yet I don’t even know I have the disease, or what a better life could be, or that this sickness is going to kill me.

God, who is love (1 John 4:8), desires that no one should perish (2 Peter 3:9).  And so, he writes a book in order to warn me about my sickness.  The first part of the book diagnoses my condition, and the second part of the book reveals the cure.  If I read his book, I see a glimpse of what life could be like without my disease, I realize that I am infected with this sickness, and I see the cure, which God offers freely in his book.  All I have to do is take it, and I will be healed and free to live the full life that my condition has kept me from living.  Better still, now I’m not going to die from this disease!

But, what if I choose not to accept God’s book?  What if I decide not to accept the cure for my disease?  Does God force it on me against my will?  No.  Whether or not I accept the diagnosis and the prognosis is my own decision.  If I choose not to accept the cure God offers, then I stay infected and eventually I die.  Is God a horrible monster because he allowed me to choose not to accept the cure?  Is God sadistic because I chose to reject his message and in so doing chose to remain sick and weak and to eventually die?


MRI machine

Friends, this is the condition of our world.  We are born in sin (Ephesians 2:3), infected with a sickness that causes pain, suffering, sadness, and eventually death (Romans 6:23).  Because of his great love for us, God gave us the Bible.  The “Law” (think Old Testament) is like an MRI that diagnoses sin in each one of us (Romans 3:20).  If we didn’t have God’s Word, we would never know we were sick with a terminal disease that would end in our death!

But, God’s Word doesn’t just diagnose sin in us.  He also offers a cure: his Son, Jesus Christ.  Through Christ, we can be set free from our sin (Galatians 5:1) and achieve victory over death (1 Corinthians 15:57).  All we need to do in order to be cured of our sin-sickness is accept God’s cure.  We simply need to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

This is a decision each one of us must make.  To be sure, there are some who will reject God’s cure and remain infected with sin.  That sin will eventually end in their death and eternal separation from God (they don’t want to be with God anyway) in a place called Hell.  God is not going to force himself on anyone who does not want him.  But the fact that someone chooses to reject the cure, remain sick and die doesn’t mean the doctor offering the cure is a horrible sadistic monster.  It simply means the person who rejects him is, sadly, a fool.

If you were dying of thirst in a desert, would you turn away the hand offering a bottle of water?  If you were dying of hunger in the wilderness, would you turn away the hand offering food?  If you were dying from a terminal disease, would you turn away the hand offering a cure?  If you are dying in sin, will you turn away the nail-scarred hand offering salvation, freedom and eternal life?