I received my first Bible at the age of five, a picture Bible. I remember growing up loving the stories in Scripture, learning them, and kind of contending to the faith a little bit like Jude. I took it with somewhat of a prophetic chip on my shoulder.
When I went on to seminary, I did my thesis on the apostle John, the Son of Thunder, because I wanted to be a son of thunder. But John went on to became the apostle of Love. The Bible tells us that when John became old and couldn’t walk, they would carry him from church to church to speak, but all he would say is, “My little children, love one another,” and he would repeat it three times. When asked why he would say no more, he responded with, “This is the Lord’s command. If this is done, it is all sufficient.” So what happened to the son of thunder? Was he being too simplistic, or did he really discover the profound to be so simple? That is what this little book is all about.
This is the primacy of our faith. If you miss it, your marital relationships, your family relationships, and your personal relationships will suffer.
I have always believed that mental health is not so much the absence of being quirky, but rather… we are all a bit quirky. Knowing where that quirkiness comes from helps us see that we each have some prejudice which affects everything we see, hear, and read. In my classroom, I teach my students that unless they can argue the apposing views, they do not deserve to hold a theological position in anything. Only then do they have a chance at purging those biases and being less quirky when it comes to reading the scriptures. So what is your strange quirkiness?
When God’s word can truly transform
Would you get angry if one day I told you the Bible doesn’t work? Well, before you come to take me down, relax and put down your pitchfork. “The word of God is alive and sharper than a two edged sword,” the writer of Hebrews tells us. It can slice into our souls if we let it. James tells us, “Do not be affectional hearers, but effectual doers. For this one shall be blessed in whatever they do.” You see, the Bible works when it is obeyed. Have you ever heard that at times, people no longer do what they are told or live what they profess to believe? Think of the dumbest thing you did last week, and I’ll tell you why you did it. You did it because at the moment it made sense to you. We always do what makes sense to us. When the Bible starts to make sense, and we see the wisdom of God, it changes our lives. When you read the scriptures, are you reading to obey the wisdom you will discover? Because if you do so, you will then come under His blessing.
What’s really on the inside
Do you remember the WWJD, “What Would Jesus Do” campaign some time ago? Some chided that it should have been, “What would Jack Daniels do,” but I digress. I remember wondering how I would know what Jesus would want me to do. I could fake it, and often I did. Then it hit me, what I do really begins with how I respond to things around me filtered thru the battle between my ears. The real battle is my response to the world around me. I’ve said that if you want to see what is inside something, bump it and watch what spills out. It’s in our responses to people that Christ’s likeness is seen. So what might that response be, you ask? Well, when Jesus was bumped, love spilled out. Maybe a new campaign would be HWJL, “How Would Jesus Love?” You see, it’s in loving others that Christ’s likeness is seen most evident. So I ask you, what spills out when you are bumped?
When it’s not all about ME, it can become all about others
Do you know how John got his nick name, Son of Thunder? Jesus gave it to him. One day when the Samaritans were passing thru a village and came across Jesus, they were very rude to him. Luke chapter 9 says that John got so angry with the Samaritans that he wanted to call down fire from Heaven on them. John, being the son of a wealthy fisherman, pretty much got whatever he wanted when he wanted it. John was used to self-serving, self-pleasure self-importance, etc. He was pretty much the center of his planet, and yet it would be this same John that later, in his first letter, reminds us that it all comes down to love. John is the one that said, “If you don’t love others, then you don’t love God.” It’s not all about me, rather it becomes all about others, and that’s when you begin this journey of Love.
Maybe this is how we are filled by the spirit of God
When I’m asked how am I doing, I usually respond with I don’t know. I don’t go there much anymore. You might think I’m kidding, why would I say something like that? Well first to get your attention, but then to get to the real issue. I do better when I am not thinking about how I am doing, and I remember people never come to my pity parties anyway. When I’m absorbed with the well-being of another, I am left with a sense of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness. In a sense, it’s like backing into being filled with the spirit of God. When I realize me, myself, and I are not the blessed trinity nor the center of the universe, why would I want me to be the center of my world? Get your eyes off yourself and onto others and you’re going to see the difference.
God tells us how he wants us to love him
A lawyer once asked Jesus, “What’s the most important thing God ever said?” Jesus answered, “Love God with all your heart, soul, and your mind.” But then Jesus added, “love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s interesting later when Paul refers to it in Galatians 5:14 when he said, “Do you want to keep the whole law?” His response was “Well, love your neighbor as yourself.” What happened to loving God first, did Paul have a senior moment? Well, if he did, James did too in James 2:8 because when he asked “Do you want to keep the royal law of God?” his answer was, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
What happened to loving God first? Well, here’s what happened. God knew that if He left it up to us to figure out how to love him, we would come up with all kinds of religions and rituals and ceremonies. Some would even embrace violence all in the name of loving God. God tells us here how he wants us to love Him, by loving His own, His children, those who bare His image, and by loving your neighbor. We’ve got to remember that in order to keep things really simple, you keep the main thing the main thing, and the main thing is loving God by loving your neighbor.
Can the will of God be seen by everyone who views you?
I’m told that I was made in the image of God. Have you ever wondered what that really means? It means I have a capacity, that no other creature has, to express the personal likeness of my creator. Look at the sun, the moon, and the stars, and you can see the eternal power and divine nature of God. As Paul says in Romans 1, God is huge, God is powerful, and God is smart. However, if you are ever going to see His personal attributes like love, mercy, forgiveness, and kindness, you will only see them in vessels created for that purpose, being in His image. God is looking for some good PR down here and he’s not finding it. This is why Paul begins Romans 12 by begging for us “to present our bodies a living sacrifice,” to prove that God is love. So here’s the question. What do people think about God after getting a good look at you?
What does your spouse need
Do you know when a woman feels loved? It’s when she feels safe, and she feels safe when she feels protected and honored. You see, a man feels love when he feels supported and respected. I know a lot of women do not like the word submission, but it has more to do with support than anything else. This is all about a woman loving a man and a man loving a woman. When a woman supports and respects her husband, it is an expression of her love, and when a man protects and honors his wife, it’s an expression of his love.
When Holly and I have our struggles, we always come back to the four questions: 1) How can I make Holly feel more protected, 2) How can I make her feel more honored, 3) How can Holly make me feel more supported, and 4) How can she make me feel more respected. And after we respond to these questions, it’s like falling in love again, and again, and again, and again!
The flesh is our addiction to self
My father had a drinking problem when he was younger, but he remained sober for most of my life. He was fine for 20 years, but I will never forget that night after he received a fifth of whiskey for a Christmas gift. He decided, for old time sake, that he would open it and he proceeded to pour himself a jigger. He threw it down like it was water and he reached immediately for another one. My mother grabbed his hand to stop him and, to his own great embarrassment, it was like he had never stopped drinking. Ask anyone who struggles with addiction whether it be drugs, alcohol, food, or pornography, this is what addiction does.
In Romans 7, Paul speaks of a similar addiction, but he calls it the flesh. Flesh is our addiction to self. Our self-pleasure, our self-importance, our self-absorption. You may be a Christian, but the flesh is very real and it has it’s own jigger of temptation waiting for you.
Now that’s parenting
Let me ask you something, do you like kids? I’m starting to. God gave me Holly, and Holly gave me two sons, and my two sons gave me two daughters, and my two daughters have given me six grandchildren. I’ve learned how to love my wife and I’ve learned how to love my sons and daughters. I’m learning how to love my grandchildren, but it takes me back to when my sons came into this world. You see, they share the same human nature that their dad had, they were born with the presence of something and the absence of something. The presence of self-willfulness and the absence of any sense of self-worth.
Paul warns us to not exasperate our kids, which means to instill bitterness, that is to deeply disappoint them. We fail our kids when we do not do anything about the abundance of self willfulness or the lack of self worth. You see, we curb the self willfulness by making them submit to authority as they are going to have a lot of it in their life. It’s a gift we can give to them. But at the same time we confirm that remarkable worth that God has placed on them because they bare his image. I’m not going to tell you how to parent your kids, but I will say this, addressing self willfulness and self-worth is where parenting begins.
To Love like Jesus is the primacy of the faith
The world calls us Christians and that is not normally meant to be a compliment. I don’t always know what they mean in calling us that, but I know what it means, it means we stand for Jesus Christ in this world. So are we left on our own to figure out what that means?
Oh no, Jesus gave many instructions but when it came to giving a command, he really only gave one,
Love one another as I have loved you, by this all men will know you are my disciples.
Later he would pray to the Father that we would be one so that the world would know that He came from the Father and He could actually change lives. Change lives how? By transforming them from self love to loving God. There is nothing greater than this, but like I said before, God wasn’t going to leave it up to us to define how we would love him. If left to ourselves, we would create religions and all the trappings, and some would even embrace violence and define it as loving God, but God says no, I will tell you how you will love me: with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind. You are going to love me by loving others as yourself. See, this is Christlikeness.
This is the primacy of faith.