True love doesn’t wait

Back when I was a teenager, the True Love Waits movement took youth groups by storm. All over North America, teens were filling churches, halls, and stadiums making a commitment to stay pure (virgins—gasp!) until marriage. I have no issue at all with saving oneself for marriage. I myself have made the commitment—as countercultural and archaic as the idea may be. What I do have a bit of an issue with is the title given to the movement. It would imply that,you must wait in order to truly love someone. Nothing could be further from the truth!

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

Luke 10:25-28 (NIV)

Who is the neighbour in this situation? The original text refers to anyone who is nearby, not just those who live within physical proximity. In this case, anyone and everyone you come into contact with on a daily basis can, and should, be considered your neighbour. J.A. Findlay said that the question is not “Who is my neighbor?” but “To whom can I show myself a neighbor?”

But before we can love our neighbour, we must first love God.

No one will ever love God and his neighbour with any measure of pure, spiritual love, who is not made a partaker of converting grace.

Matthew Henry

It is impossible to truly love anyone without first loving God and allowing our hearts to be changed by Him.

What then does true love look like?

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 the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

Jesus followed up is explanation to the expert in the law with the parable of the good Samaritan. In this case, his neighbour was his enemy. But that didn’t stop the Samaritan from showing love. There was nothing in it for him, and that is the foundation of true love. As soon as we make the offer of love expecting something in return, it is no longer true.

True love, the godly kind of love, the love that is patient and kind, does not wait. It should not wait. It should readily spring forth from a heart that is overflowing with love for and from God. The act of loving one another is not something for which we need a specific instruction from the Lord. It is something we’ve already been commanded to do. So don’t wait. Love. Love truly.

Read: Judges 18-19, Luke 10:25-42 

Treasured

Has anyone ever said something so complimentary or encouraging to you that you took those words and filed them away in your mind so that you could remember them when things weren’t going so well? For some, a simple word of encouragement said in passing could become a lifeline later on.

Still recovering from childbirth, the shepherds—who had heard about a savior from a heavenly host—came to praise and glorify God in the presence of the baby Jesus.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2:19 (NIV)

Later, when Jesus was a boy, Mary and Joseph realised he’d been left behind in Jerusalem. When they finally found him, the boy Jesus didn’t seem at all concerned.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:49 (NIV)

Jesus obediently returned to Nazareth with his mother, Mary and her husband Joseph.

But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Luke 2:51b (NIV)

I imagine that, as Jesus grew, that there were more instances like these where Mary was reminded that Jesus wasn’t like her other children. He was more. And, as she treasured up these moments, I doubt she knew how greatly she would need them in the years to come.

When her son was arrested, beaten, hung on a cross, and laid to rest, I am sure that many of these words would have come rushing back to her. Though her baby boy was gone, she knew that there was purpose in his life, death, and eventual resurrection.

Most of us will never have to go through anything like what Mary went through as a mother, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t treasure up things in our hearts.

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

If words from family, friends, or peers can serve to comfort us in difficulty, how much more will the Word of God bring to us? Not only is the Word comforting, it is Life. The more we treasure in our hearts, the greater access we have to it when we need it most.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:21 (NIV)

Read: Joshua 7-8, Luke 2:25-52

They are your life

They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.

Deuteronomy 32:47 (NIV)

How often do we read through the Bible and see nothing but words on a page, a combination of letters, spaces, and punctuation that may or may not carry any meaning for us? God did not merely say a bunch of things so that we could have a big book of nice platitudes. He gave us, through His word, life.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

John 1:1-4 (NIV)

Far more than just ink on a page, the Word of God can bring life to us. It can bring hope in a hopeless situation. It can bring joy in sorrow. It can be light in the darkness. God’s words are never just words, they are your life.

And the closer we keep those words to us, the more effective they will be for us.

No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Deuteronomy 30:14 (NIV)

Neither God, who is life, nor His words, that bring life, are far from us in any moment.

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.

Deuteronomy 30:11 (NIV)

God, and the life we receive through his Word, are never out of reach.

Read: Deuteronomy 31-32, Luke 1:1-23

16x

Read: Leviticus 18-19, Matthew 27:32-66

Some days, I have the memory of an elephant. I remember minute details about things that happened over a decade ago that never really mattered, even while they were happening. Other days, my memory has the lifespan of a gnat. I think that, for the most part, the Israelites fell into this latter category.

Through much of the Pentateuch, Israel gets reminder after reminder. Sometimes I read a passage and have to go look back because I am positive I’ve read it already. Today is no different.

Leviticus 19:2

After this verse, the words the Lord your God are repeated fifteen more times within the chapter. Sixteen times within thirty-seven verses, Israel is reminded that the Lord is their God. If repeating something three times is important, how important is sixteen?

The number sixteen in the Bible is often associate with love. In the Old Testament, sixteen of the various names and titles for God specifically signify His constant, never-ending love for the children of Israel. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul lists sixteen distinct qualities of love.

When questioned about the most important commandment, Jesus wraps it all up.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Mark 12:30 (NIV)

I find it interesting that, for as many qualities as Paul uses to describe love, God reminds His people that He is their Lord. Far more than God wanted Israel to follow a strict set of rules, He wanted them to love Him. From a pure love, obedience flows. God wants the very same for us.

Even as I write this study, I wonder for myself how much would change in my life if I were to intentionally remind myself daily of God’s lordship in my life. The Lord is my God. He is my Lord. I believe that this is what God was doing with Israel. He was working to renew their minds to His way of thinking.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Our love for God should be, like Jesus stated, with our whole being. But it all starts in our spirit, followed by our mind. If the mind does not conform to the spirit, our strength cannot follow suit. Our spirits know and love God, but it is the daily reminder of His lordship in our lives that will cause everything else to conform.

So remind yourself that God is your God. He is your Lord. Do it sixteen times if you have to.

Heart not head

Read: Exodus 25-26, Matthew 21:1-22

Once Israel had been set free from the Egyptians, it was time for them to seek God in earnest. All other gods and worship had to be cast aside. God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was to be worshiped. Set apart because He had set Israel apart. A place, a tabernacle, needed to be assembled as a place for the presence of God to rest.

This wasn’t to be any old tent. God had given Moses a lot of very specific instructions that needed to be met exactly. Materials were required. Israel didn’t have a building fund. They didn’t have time to set up a donation campaign. No fundraising events were held.

Exodus 25:2

A freewill offering was taken up and work began to fulfill the specifications for the tabernacle. Nowhere in the text do we find a scenario where the supplies were not enough and a second offering had to be received. The people gave according to the prompting of their hearts.

What does it mean to be prompted by ones heart? Does it mean that we give when we feel like it? Are we generous only when we have the means to do so? Or is it simply a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit?

I believe it is the latter. Webster’s 1828 dictionary says that the heart is the seat of affections and passions. Israel had just been freed from centuries of slavery. It’s probably safe to say that they were passionate about their freedom and the One who had brought it about. Their generous offerings were a part of their worship.

Giving is worship. Worship should be inspired not by how we feel or what we have, but by whom we worship.

The only way [we can] worship in spirit and in truth [is] to know the One whom [we are] seeking to worship.

Kevin J. Navarro, The Complete Worship Leader

The more we know God, the more we will be in tune with His Spirit and the more we will be prompted to give generously. Giving is the only area in which God actually asks us to test him.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

Malachi 3:10 (NIV)

In any sort of worship—from song to giving—we must be dependent on our hearts, the seat of our affections, for direction. We must listen closely to that part of us which is joined with God. Our heads will always lead us away from generous worship, but our hearts will always lead us toward it.

The overflow

Read: Genesis 38-40, Matthew 12:22-50

Whether it’s intentional or not, things are going in and out of us all day every day. I’m not talking about food here. Or maybe I am. But it’s the spiritual sort. We read an article. We drive past a billboard. We watch a TV show. We have a conversation with a friend. We pass by a stranger. It’s all stimulation and it’s all being absorbed one way or another. And what goes in is what will come out.

Matthew 12:34

Since there are a lot of things that go in that we have no control over, the situation may seem hopeless. But, as we discussed yesterday, there is always hope. Just because we can’t control all of the bad things doesn’t mean we have no control whatsoever over the good things. We just have to make sure that the good stuff outweighs the bad. It may be as simple as changing the radio station in the car on the commute to work, or putting down one book in exchange for another. In some cases, it may take a little more effort.

For me, it’s getting up earlier than my schedule requires so that I know I will have time first thing every day to spend in the Word of God. I can carry that with me all day.

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

Jesus said that a tree—that’s us—is recognized by its fruit. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Every once in a while, it does us good to take a look at the kind of fruit we bear. We cannot assume that it’s always good. And, once we’ve determined our produce, we may need to take a look at what we’ve been feeding it. Even if you believe you have pretty decent fruit, keep in mind it can always be better, and the better it is, the less chance there is of it turning on you. Your fruit affects those around you even more than it affects you.

So, what’s your overflow?

Tear your heart out

Hearing stories of the war and destruction that make up a lot of the Old Testament, many people who don’t know God are eager to paint Him as a tyrant. A big bully who destroyed entire nations (and even the earth once) on a whim. What they fail to see are the dire warnings that preceded all of that. Every time. Before death and destruction came warnings from men of God pleading with the nations to turn from their wicked ways and return to the Lord. God wanted to show mercy, but because man always seems to know better…

That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is still time! Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief; tear your hearts.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful. He is not easily angered. He is filled with kindness and is eager not to punish you.

Joel 2:12-13 (NLT)

Does that sound like a tyrant to you? If God is eager not to punish you, why then do we make him the villain of the story?

Because we don’t want to have to name the real villain. You. Me.

If God is truly gracious and merciful like He says He is, that would mean that we are the true bullies. We taunt God with our hearts and our love and then withhold them from Him. Put yourself in His place. You’ve created something so that you’d have companionship. You give that creation free will so that they will love you because they want to, not because they have to. You give them everything they could possibly need. And yet they still turn away from you. Again. And again. You must punish their evil deeds, but you don’t really want to, so you give a warning. And another warning. All with the hope that they will turn back to you and you won’t have to punish them. They come back for a little while. And then they leave again.

Be honest, how many opportunities would you give your creation to return?

God has given us infinite opportunities to return to Him. He doesn’t want to punish us. He wants to love us. He wants to shower us with His grace and mercy, but we have to put ourselves in a position to receive it.

We must tear our hearts. Our minds and our attitudes must be changed, our old patterns destroyed and replaced with a new way of thinking. Until we rend our old, stony hearts and allow God to replace that ugly mess, we cannot expect to experience all the goodness that He has planned for us.

So don’t be afraid to tear your heart out because God has a new one waiting for you.

Daily Bible reading: Joel 1-3, Revelation 4