Tainted love

Ask just about anyone on the street and they’ll tell you that you should be able to love whoever you want however you want. It doesn’t hurt anyone. Do what makes you feel good. Love is love.

In the course of time, Amnon, son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom, son of David.

2 Samuel 13:1 (NIV)

So what if Amnon loves Tamar? He should be able to love whoever he wants! Right? Well, if Tamar is the sister of a son of David and Amnon is a son of David, doesn’t that make Tamar, at the very least, his half sister? Not so lovely to love now, is it? But that didn’t matter to Amnon. He had to have Tamar no matter what. He loved her after all. He deserved to have her love him back.

So he came up with a plan to lure Tamar into his bedroom. Because Amnon was her brother, Tamar figured she was safe. Until Amnon made a completely inappropriate pass at her. She tried to fight him off.

But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”

2 Samuel 13:14-15 (NIV)

Amnon, in his obsession assumed that, by having what he wanted, his needs would be satisfied. Instead, his passions were reversed.

Aren’t we like that sometimes? We can obsess over something, love something, want something so bad that we are willing to do almost anything to get it. We should be able to love whoever or whatever we want, shouldn’t we? If it makes us happy, shouldn’t we do what we can to get it?

Just because we want something doesn’t mean we should have it. It doesn’t mean it’s good for us to have it. It doesn’t mean it’s ours to have. And it rarely means what we think it will mean.

During the hippie era, free love was the fad. In recent years it’s #LoveWins. We are constantly being told that if it feels good, do it. Love what you love. You can’t help who you love. In all of the noise, we as believers must remind ourselves of what love really is. We must recognise that the world, who has rejected Jesus and the God who is love, cannot really know or experience true love unless they acknowledge the single greatest act of love in the history of humankind.

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)

That is what love looks like. It certainly wasn’t the thing Jesus wanted most. It didn’t feel good. It didn’t cater to his wants or desires nor did it fulfill any fantasies.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV)

Amnon’s tainted idea of what love was fell short of nearly every point Paul made regarding love in his letter to the church at Corinth. His love for Tamar was all about himself. The love Christ calls us to has nothing to do with our own satisfaction, but is all about others.

Read: 2 Samuel 13-14, Luke 20:1-26

Amazing grace

Do you ever see yourself in Jesus’ parables? Maybe you’re the widow giving your last few cents. Perhaps you’re the servant who buried and hid what had been given to you for safekeeping. Or you could be the Good Samaritan, giving of yourself to a complete stranger.

Today, I am the brother who stayed at home with the father.

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of your was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

Luke 15:31-32 (NIV)

Sometimes, when I hear the stories of those whom God saved from lives of sin and destruction, I think, God, I haven’t experienced that much grace. Why has that person received so much from you, but I haven’t?

You see, I was born and raised in a Christian home. I was four years old when I made a decision for Christ, barely older than that when I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, and just eight years old when I was water baptised. My parents have both been leaders in the church for as long as I can remember, and my grandfather, until he moved to heaven, was my pastor. I started playing on the worship team when I was twelve, leading worship when I was sixteen, and have never looked back. I have literally lived my life in the church. I am the older brother who stayed home.

For those who have grown up similarly to myself, we see what God has brought some people out of and easily forget, like the older son, that God has given us the very same grace that He’s given to the greatest of sinners. The thing about grace is that it’s amazing no matter how it’s applied.

For me, I have to remind myself that I have been spared a lifetime of memories and regret that come with a worldly life. I have great memories from my childhood of God working in mighty and miraculous ways. Those things are because of amazing grace.

For those who have come to Jesus later in life, or have still yet to come, the grace you receive is just as amazing. While the grace I have received has allowed me to grow up knowing God and His infinite love, the grace you receive allows you to see the extent to which He will go to bring you to Him. The grace you receive covers your life of memories and regret. And you can live the rest of your life knowing that, like the prodigal son, your Father has welcomed you back with open arms.

Grace isn’t only amazing because it saves us from ourselves, it is amazing because it keeps us close to God no matter where we find ourselves in life. And what makes it even more amazing is that it’s the same grace that covers us all.

Read: 1 Samuel 19-21, Luke 15:11-32

The common denominator

Canada (and much of the world) was brought to its knees recently with the news of a horrific bus crash that took the lives of sixteen individuals on or working with the Humboldt Broncos, a junior hockey team. Prayers went out. Millions of dollars raised to cover expenses. The nation grieves. I know that some (if not all) of the victims were believers. It is impossible to make sense of the event. In some way, we all feel impacted by these senseless deaths.

Several attempts were made to kill a certain man. Eventually, in 1994, he was beaten to death. How does that make you feel? Do you feel a similar kind of grief that you felt when you heard the news of the bus crash? What if I told you the man who was beaten to death was mass murderer, Jeffrey Dahmer? Did he get what he deserved?

There is an account of Jesus with his disciples where a similar comparison is made.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Luke 13:1-5 (NIV)

I believe there is little to compare between Jeffrey Dahmer and the Humboldt Broncos, but it is a stark contrast and, when we think about our own responses, it sheds a bit of light on our attitudes.

The disciples shared an account with Jesus painting the Galileans as horrible sinners because of the manner in which they were killed. Jesus compared them to eighteen people who were killed in a tower collapse. By the disciples reckoning, those eighteen must also have been terrible sinners to have died in such a manner. While we might say that Jeffrey Dahmer deserved to die a horrible death, I don’t think anyone would say such a think about a group of young men entering the prime of their lives.

There is one common denominator between us all. Jesus went on to say not once, but twice that unless you repent, you too will all perish. Death is a staggering statistic. One in one will die. Ten of ten who are now living will die. No matter how you place the numbers, there is a 100% chance of death at the end of this life.

Our sin is not the direct cause of physical death, nor will righteousness spare us from it. It is not the manner of our deaths that will define us, but the way we live.

Repentance is the only true guarantee of life beyond this earth. A sinner can die in peace while a believer dies in violence. The only constant is that we are all guilty unless, like Jesus said, we repent. Upon repentance, we receive a guarantee from Jesus himself of life after death. Eternal life. Abundant life.

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

1 Corinthians 1:21-22 (NIV)

Read: 1 Samuel 7-9, Luke 13:1-21

His harvest

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Luke 10:2 (NIV)

It takes a lot of pressure off of what we do as Christians, as ministers, doing the work of the Lord when we focus on one simple aspect of this verse. We could very easily take it upon ourselves to do all of the work and bring in all of the harvest while worrying about how to plant, water, and grow it as well. But notice that Jesus calls it his harvest field. It is not our duty to worry about anything but bringing it in and praying for more people to help us bring it in.

Not everyone has had a revelation of who God is—they have not yet heard the Gospel, but according to Jesus, many have heard the Gospel and need help taking that final step toward salvation. It is up to the Church to go out and gather these people so that they may develop a deeper relationship with God.

All these things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Luke 10:22 (NIV)

Jesus chose not to reveal himself to the kings and rulers of the day. He revealed himself to the average person. He did not seek to attain political power, but humbly approached the lowly and simple. In doing so, he changed a nation from the bottom up. By the time the rulers discovered who Jesus was and what he was doing, it was too late to stop him.

There is no reason why our ministry now should not reflect what Jesus did in his time on earth. We should pray for our leaders. We should be leaders. But we don’t have to go out looking for the harvest. The harvest, God’s harvest, is among our peers and those with whom we do life with on a daily basis. It is those people we should be talking to, building relationships with, and showing them the love that Christ has already extended to us and to them through us. The harvest is all around us and we are all the workers God has called to bring it in.

However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Luke 10:20 (NIV)

As much as we long to (and should) see the power of God in signs and wonders, our greatest joy should be found in the fact that we are the children of God. That joy only grows when we are able to lead others to join us in our heavenly citizenship.

Don’t worry about how to grow the harvest. It’s not yours. Just go out and get it.

Read: Judges 15-17, Luke 10:1-24

We will possess

Now since the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right do you have to take it over? Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess.

Judges 11:23-24 (NIV)

What God has given, no man can rightly take away. God gave Israel an inheritance. A good land where they could live and prosper so long as they remained obedient to God. While I’m not Jewish, nor do I live in Israel, God has given me (and you) a great many things that no man can ever take away.

The trouble comes when believers live in shame, pain, poverty, foolishness, sin, and more because they don’t know what they have. So many believers haven’t taken the time to learn the promises of God and, in the words of my brother-in-law, live their lives broke, busted, and disgusted because they believe that is where God would have them remain. Not so!

Here are just a few of the things that we don’t need to ask God for—He’s already given them to us.

Eternal life.

And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.

1 John 2:25 (NIV)

Forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (NIV)

The Holy Spirit.

…how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Luke 11:13b (NIV)

Guidance and truth.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

John 16:13 (NIV)

Physical sustenance and clothing.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:31, 33 (NIV)

These are just a few of the many promises we have been given as children of God. But we often forget about them. Our focus turns to things other than God. We begin to worry and allow the day-to-day cares of this world to bring us down. We become like Israel—forgetting who we really are and what we have already been given.

Once God has given us something, the only one who can prevent us from obtaining it and maintaining it is ourselves. Whether it be by losing focus, getting distracted, a lack of faith, or all-out rejecting God, only you stand in the way of your promise.

So keep this in mind: if God has promised it, He will perform it.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

2 Corinthians 1:20-22 (NIV)

Read: Judges 10-11. Luke 9:1-36

Places, everyone!

Do you know your place or position? I hope you know your position at your job (it won’t be your job for long if you don’t). Maybe you have a place at the family dinner table. I bet there’s a place at the grocery store you like to park. Do you have a favourite position to sleep in?

Through much of our lives, we know our place and, most of the time, we’re prepared—if not willing—to take that position. So why is it so difficult for us to take our place in the kingdom of God? Sure, we’ve got a place once we accept Jesus as our Lord, but there is much more to it than that.

Way back in Judges, a woman—yes, a woman!—was judge over Israel. Through Deborah’s wisdom in hearing from God, Israel was able to defeat Sisera and his Canaanite army. Through her joy in victory, she sang a song.

When the princes in Israel take the lead,
when the people willingly offer themselves—
praise the Lord!

Judges 5:2 (NIV)

In modern language, I believe this verse could read something like this:

When leaders take their place and lead,
when the people willingly submit—
praise the Lord!

Deborah’s song goes on to describe the battle, then she closes.

So may all your enemies perish, O Lord!
But may they who love you be like the sun
when it rises in its strength.

Judges 5:31 (NIV)

In modern language, I believe this verse may read something like this:

No one can deny you, O Lord!
The Church will rise and endure
when those who love you take their proper place.

The only time things went well for Israel was when they had a leader who first submitted to God and led from a place of humility and a people who submitted themselves to their godly leader. Every other time in their history, Israel fell into slavery and war.

We may not be in a physical battle, but we are certainly in a spiritual war. Like Israel, the Church is never more victorious than when we take our proper places. Some are called to lead, but we are all called to follow.

To whom then should we be submitting?

God. No matter who we are, where we’re from, or what our place is, we must always submit to God over anything or anyone else.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7 (NIV)

Each other. If we can’t even love each other as members of the same body, how will we ever win anyone else over with love? The greatest part of loving someone is submitting to them.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Ephesians 5:21 (NIV)

Human authority. As much as it may pain us to do so, we are all under human law and authority. So long as we are not asked to go against the Word of God, we are expected to submit.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

1 Peter 2:13-14 (NIV)

And how is all of this supposed to help us to be victorious?

For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.

1 Peter 2:15 (NIV)

Nearly every argument the world has against the Church can be silenced if only we would live as we’ve been called to. If we take our places as children of God, submitting to Him, each other, and those in authority over us. It is only when we take our positions that we can truly wage our spiritual war and win.

Read: Judges 3-5, Luke 7:31-50

Methodless Man

Jesus performed miracles. Lots of miracles. Most people who do a lot of the same thing over and over again come up with a method for doing just that.

When I worked for the bank, my job title was Workflow Specialist. It was my duty to make our necessary processes run as efficiently as possible. We had methods of doing things. We did the same thing the same way every day so that it was easy to teach, easy to learn, and as easy as possible to do. Fewer mistakes are made when you get into a simple routine.

I don’t think Jesus knew about workflow specialists.

In Luke 7:9, Jesus healed a man’s servant simply because the man believed Jesus could do it. Jesus never even met the man he healed.

In verse 14, he touched the coffin of a dead man and the man was raised to life.

In verse 21, Jesus went all to cure many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits and gave sight to many who were blind.

Jesus was consistent in what he did, but now how he did it. Maybe he got bored with just touching people. A little spit and dust would certainly stir things up. Or maybe, he needed to avoid a particular method so that the Pharisees and other religious fanatics wouldn’t latch on to any particular way of performing a miracle and try to replicate the method.

Admit it. When something works out really well for you one time, you try to replicate the circumstances the next time you go to do it. If it works just as well the second time, you may start to refine your method for even better results.

Jesus didn’t do that. There is no one method we can use to get something from Jesus. That was the whole point. The only common strain that ran through all of Jesus’ miracles was faith. People went to him expecting a miracle. It didn’t matter how it happened, it only mattered that they got it.

If you want something from God, if you need a miracle, there are no surefire steps to take. To the man who wanted his servant healed and believed that if Jesus only said the words, it would happen, Jesus said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel!”

More than any one method, I believe it is the confident faith with which we approach Jesus that will see the greatest results. If God made us a promise in His Word, we can approach Him with all confidence that it will happen!

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 1:20 (NIV)

Read: Judges 1-2, Luke 7:1-30