John 15:12-13 – Real Love

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:12-13ESV

I remember when I was a student, living abroad in Japan and studying at a university in a suburb of Osaka. There were over 350 foreign exchange students at the campus from all over the world. I was hanging out with a group of them in the cafeteria after school, talking about who knows what. It was during this conversation we started comparing notes on dating woes. In a foreign exchange environment among college students, it wasn’t an uncommon conversation. Everyone was excited by the allure of being around so many people from all over the world. In the course of this conversation, someone offhandedly said to me, “Ruth…I think a lot more people would want do date you if you weren’t Christian. It’s kind of a turnoff. I mean, they know you’re not going to have sex.”

The conversation stuck with me for a long time. While I’d certainly grown up committed to only dating Christians, I’d never considered other people might not date me because of my faith. I’d just assumed if people didn’t have religious convictions, they wouldn’t care if I did. A naive assumption, according to the revelations that day.

But isn’t it interesting that a willingness to have sex was the heart of the issue? In fact, I would argue, the real issue is the constant cheapening of what we call “love” in our culture. Love in our culture seems to be:

  • What makes me feel good
  • What the other person does for me (emotionally OR physically)
  • How much fun I have with that person
  • How much that person affirms me

Now…that list doesn’t seem to be so bad, and honestly…it’s great to have those things in love. However…that list is only about what another person gives me. It is a selfish love, based on the utility of another human being; about what they can do for me.

In direct opposition to this, Jesus says in John 15:13ESV, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” What is love about here?

What you bring to the table for those you say you love.

Love is about serving others, prioritizing the well-being of others. Not just being willing to lay down your physical life for someone else, but also portions of your life. Being willing to sacrifice that promotion to be home more with your family. Setting aside some dreams so you can support your partner in pursuing theirs. Coming home right after school, instead of doing an extra baseball practice to get in good with the coach, because your mom is having friends over and could use the help getting the house ready.

In fact, when Jesus calls us to love, the standard He uses is the very love He demonstrated in His life and death. This love:

  • Held people accountable for sin (Matthew 18:15-17)
  • Modeled radical forgiveness of sin (Luke 15:11-32)
  • Was extended regardless of social censure (John 4:1-42)
  • Met the needs of others (Mark1:34)
  • Faced down the devil, himself (Matthew 4:1-11)
  • Died for a crime He did not commit (John 19:4)

As John puts it in his Gospel account, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25NIV).

The love we are called to is radical because it is socially unacceptable. Jesus did it first. He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7&8ESV). 

The love He demonstrated cost Him His life. But because of that love we can truly and deeply love others and truly and deeply be loved by others. We can forgive. We can give 100%, even when the one we love’s 100% looks more like 60%. We can call those we love to a higher standard than this world sets for us.

Jesus shows us what real love us. Not a cheap cultural construct, but an eternally deep well poured from the heart of the Creator of the World into our wounded hearts…and into all the world.

  1. How have you defined love in the past?
  2. When you have experienced “Christ-like” love?
  3. How does “Christ-like” love impact you, compared to cultural love?
  4. Challenge for the week: Pay attention to the dynamics of the “loving relationships” in your life. Instead of focusing on where the other person is failing to be loving toward you, pray for God to show you opportunities to bring Christ-like love to that person. When He shows you an opportunity, take it!

2 Corinthians 1:3-11 – We Can’t Handle It

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-11ESV

Have you ever heard the saying, “God will never give you more than you can handle”? If you’re like me, you’ve heard it more times than you can count. A lot of people believe this is actually a quote from the Bible, and it’s often stated in the face of horrific, challenging circumstances that seem insurmountable, intended as a word of comfort to “bolster” us against the hardship.

The problem with this statement is life will absolutely give you more than you can endure. Someday you will find yourself like Job in Job 16, sitting in the ashes of your life. There will be no easy out, no escape route from the agony, just the inevitable struggle stretching ahead of you to the horizon. If in that moment, all we have is “God will never give you more than you can handle”…what hopeless despair is our only gift from God! What rage would rise up in you to hollow you out inside and leave you empty! If that statement is true, God has burned our world down around us and left us up to our necks in the ashes of what we once loved intentionally. He destroys us and demands we handle the fallout alone. What a callous judge!

Imagine being the parent of one of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. Imagine finding out it was your child the gunman found; it is your precious youngster, whom you still remember reaching out to you with sparkling eyes and a big smile as they stumble through their first steps, who will never come to your arms again. Imagine the heart-rending agony…and in the face of this statement you understand the God of the Universe conspired to murder your child and expects you to drag yourself from the cesspool of loss by your own sweat and labor. Such a God stands back from our spinning, blue globe and strikes us down, then with crossed arms observes us struggle through with judgement in a heart that feels no compassion.

Praise be to God this is not the God of the Bible. Christian…this is not the God we follow. This statement never appears in the Bible, either directly or through inference. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, our God is exactly the opposite of this smiting, demanding, disappointed, cosmic parent. Our God is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3b-4a).

When our world burns down around us, our mighty God isn’t the one holding the match and gas can, nor looking at us in frowning expectation this is “within our grasp” to handle. Our God, rather, enters into the pain with us. He suffers with us. He sends His people, His Church, as His arms of love and support as we experience a snapshot of Hell on earth (2 Corinthians 1:4). He knows we cannot handle the agony of this life alone, nor are we designed to (Genesis 2:18). Fall into the arms of the Creating, Father God we worship. Lean on His strength. He is the “God, who raises the dead”. His nail-scarred hands are there, no matter what, not to deliver affliction…but to carry us through it.

  1. Have you ever been told “God will never give you more than you can handle”? How did you feel when you were told that?
  2. Why do you think so many people think this phrase is in the Bible, when it’s easy to discover it is not?
  3. What difference would it make in a difficult situation to know God is there through it?
  4. Challenge for the week: we all have at least one friend or loved one going through hardship. How can you be the “comfort of God” to that person this week?

Luke 2:8-12 – He’s Not Santa

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’” – Luke 2:8-12ESV

When you think of symbols of Christmas, if you live in America there are a few things that probably universally come to mind: Christmas lights, Christmas trees, presents, and of course, Santa Claus. He has become so synonymous with the Christmas season, he has even found popularity in countries with little historical connection to Christmas, such as India and Japan.

In America, this red clad, jolly man slips into homes on Christmas Eve, via the chimney, to deliver brightly-wrapped Christmas gifts to good girls and boys. But for the disobedient children, Christmas morning provides something different from the joy and hope of the season. For them, rather than presents under the tree and overflowing stockings, Santa leaves only a lump of coal – a reminder of the ways they have failed to meet his expectations over the last year.

Isn’t it horribly ironic the figure also known as “Father Christmas”, a figure so tied into the season we celebrate Christ’s birth, should have as part of his very nature the very opposite intentions of God come as the baby in the manger?

In Luke 2:8-12, the angels appear to shepherds outside Bethlehem to announce the birth of the long-awaited, Jewish messiah: Jesus. In the dark, star-lit fields, the night was split by the shining “glory of the Lord” as an angel appeared, joyously announcing God’s message “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 8:10b-11ESV).

Now the angel could have stopped there. Lights out. Show’s over. Back-to-Heaven-we-go. He had announced the fulfillment of God’s millennia-old promise fulfilled. He had done his job. God surely didn’t need to prove Himself trustworthy to these men. God had done that over-and-over to the Jews throughout their history. Not to mention, God has every reason to demand the trust of humanity. He created us and everything we’ll ever perceive. Everything belongs to Him. His will and power are the last word on reality.

Yet God knows His creation. He knows what we are…our limitations…our fear and weakness and doubt. And unlike Santa, He doesn’t demand our obedience in order to experience His goodness. So… the angel had more words from God for the shepherds that night: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 8:12ESV).

The God of the Universe bridges the gap between our doubts and His faithfulness. He draws near to us, saying, “Come! Look at this! Hold me! Know me! Look into my face! I am here!” God offered the stunned shepherds not just words, but proof His promise had finally been fulfilled. This long-awaited Messiah could be known and seen in a newborn, wrapped and lying in the most unlikely place: a manger.

And He still invites us to see and touch and know Him today, in every day. Not just in the sharing of the Last Supper of Jesus at Sunday worship. Not just in the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism. But in our love for one another. In the wonder of natural creation and the brilliant creativity of the human mind. In the thousands of tiny whiffs of miracle spilt from God’s hand in every day, overflowing around us. May we have the eyes to see His fingerprints in every day, the ears to hear His delighted laughter. This Christmas, may we feel Him draw near to us, not because of our own hard work, but because of His declaration of endless love over us in the person of His son: Jesus the Savior.

  1. The Christmas season is full of “busy.” How has some of the “busy” commandeered your heart’s attention away from Jesus?
  2. It’s easy to view God as the critic-in-the-sky. If you’re being honest, what is one area in your life you are constantly (and maybe secretly) trying to prove you’re “good enough” for His love?
  3. Thinking back over the last month, think of one “whiff of miracle” God has provided. Thank Him out loud for it!
  4. Challenge for the week: once each day, pause and write down one way God might have “drawn near” to you during the last 24hrs. At the end of the week, look back with joy on all the little “I love you” moments from God!

Matthew 20:25-28 – Kingdom Culture

“But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'” – Matthew 20:25-28ESV

I grew up in rural Colorado, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. When sunset would come, I remember running outside to climb the fence and then up onto the roof of the chicken shed. I would sit there, knees tucked up, watching the sun set fire to snow-capped peaks and blue hills. The whole world seemed to still, gaping in wonder at the shouted evidence of God’s creativity and love of beauty. I made up a thousand songs of worship above the sleeping chickens; I cried out the glory of God as fire faded to twilight, a yellow line along navy peaks as the stars began to flare to life out of the veil above me. When I finally climbed back to earth, I carried with me a stillness…a quietness… I knew I had just sat in a privileged seat to watch God at play. It was as though Jesus and I sat for a moment to enjoy wonder together.

In John 1, we learn Continue reading