Tag Archives: Love

Where are the nine?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn His way to Jerusalem, somewhere between Samaria and Galilee, Jesus encountered ten lepers on the outskirts of a village. News of who Jesus was had reached these unfortunate souls, and so, staying at a distance as was their lot as outcasts, they cried out to Him for mercy. In response, He instructed them to go and show themselves to the priests. As they did so, all ten of them were healed. How kind is our God, loving indiscriminately, and curing the incurable.

The incident is recorded in a way that uses words economically, yet it is richly nuanced for those with enough background to read between the lines. The only fellow who made the effort to thank Jesus was a Samaritan, and the way in which Luke phrases things strongly implies that the other nine were all Jews. Jews and Gentiles were reluctant bedfellows, but these men had found community in their leprosy. Therein is a parable, for all men regardless are united in their sinfulness, and sin is nothing other than leprosy of the soul.

The ethnic divide in the group infers different priests and different temples – the Samaritan to Samaria; the Jews to Jerusalem. Does this not again speak to the modern church in penetrating ways. We, who were united in our lost-ness, are often divided in our found-ness, as church affiliations define us in polarising ways. This is so disturbing given that our very lives rest in a common salvation. A further noteworthy nuance is the way in which this incident blends into the broader story. Jesus was often rejected by Jews, yet received by the Samaritans and other Gentiles. Self-righteousness is indeed the enemy of faith, and Law is a ministry of death. It is so to those it disqualifies, and in another way it is also so to those who deceive themselves and permit their religiosity to craft and nurture pride within. Nothing quite carries the stench of death like fetid self-righteous arrogance, don’t you think?

10-lepers-slide2But Jesus healed them all! He healed the half-breed Samaritan who flung himself at the feet of Jesus in gratitude. He healed His Jewish brothers, whose testimony remained within the confines of the religious community in Jerusalem; the same community that campaigned vociferously for Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Romans. How ironic. Nevertheless, Jesus healed them all. Is this not an essential lesson for all who love to bless and minister to others? Love them all, no matter how leprous or self righteous they are. Love the grateful and the ingratiate equally. This is grace.

I’m not suggesting that loving and expecting nothing in return is easy. The only way to travel down that path, albeit with stumbling steps, is with the help of the Spirit, and in the recognition of that being the way in which God loves us. Perhaps those who struggle the most with this are church and ministry leaders, for the success of our churches and ministries depends on others being willing to sacrifice alongside of us. For us, giving and giving without substantial return on investment spells vocational disaster, and so we – the professional lovers – are somewhat surprisingly the most likely to resent the “other nine”. When Jesus drew attention to these other nine (the account is in Luke 17:11-19), He was shaping our personal responses to grace. His philosophy of ministry remained unchanged – He healed them all. And so should we. But let’s you and I be like the one, responding to grace in faith and gratitude, and allowing these to move us. In doing so, we will be those who give praise to God in all things.

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Loving Jesus well

imagesJesus loved us well. He laid down His life for us. In His death we find our redemption and our true value; no one pays that high a price for junk.

Loving us with unconditional extravagance includes not treating us as our sins deserve. This is an extraordinary notion, for everywhere else, at least in measure, the converse is true. The Scriptures reassure us of this – we will reap what we sow. This universal law is less than comforting in a fallen world where sin, weakness, carnality and lawlessness are interwoven into the fabric of life. What it means is that on a macro level what goes around comes around, and that we all experience an unintended proliferation of weeds come harvest time.

Not so with the Lord. Thanks to the cross, we are the recipients of unmerited favour. We do good; we get good from God; we do bad, we still get good from God. The mystery of grace is that this transforms us. We love because we are loved. We love Him because He first loved us. Little by little we are moved from living for ourselves to for living for Him. Little by little we move towards that place where the deepest desire of our hearts is to lay down our lives for Him; to live for the proverbial audience of One. This was how Jesus lived; this is how Jesus would have us live; this is how Jesus helps us to live; and living this way is how we find meaning in life.

Living surrendered to the Lord Jesus is not complicated or difficult. It’s not something that we figure out or strategise for. It’s not about obeying laws, fulfilling demands or meeting requirements. Neither is it grandiose, elitist or only for the super-spiritual. It’s not even of necessity unpleasant, even though it is a way of life defined by sacrifice, because it is after all for another, and inevitably for the benefit of others. It is life in the moment, naturally supernatural, and extraordinary in the ordinary. It’s a cocktail of kindness, mercy, generosity, encouragement, embrace, joy, peace, miracles, signs, wonders and gratitude. In it all the universal law of sowing and reaping – which in the lives of sinful men and women must inevitably present as the law of sin and death – elevates to giving and receiving, which is the law of Spirit and life. To live for the Lord is to live by grace; not by just desserts, but by unmerited favour, and of doing unto others what Jesus has done to us.

Music_WorshipThe saints you and I most admire are inevitably only doing what Jesus tells them to. They’re following the Spirit, walking in the grace they’ve been given. This was true of the heroes of the faith whose stories pulsate on the Bible’s pages, and it is true of those who provoke us to love Jesus more by the way they lead their lives alongside us day by day. Let’s join them today, walking in the grace that is ours in Christ Jesus, and simply doing what He tells us – no more; no less. This is worship in it’s truest sense. This is loving Him well.

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Rodriguez

rodriguezThe sultry PE evening turned turgid with sounds rich, mellow and pleasing. The middle-aged crowd stood and swayed appreciatively as the legendary Rodriguez rolled through his playlist. I puzzled over the urge to grow my hair again as I soaked up the atmosphere. None of us cared that the star was past his prime. Those of his caliber have nothing left to prove, and the obvious challenge of his deteriorating eyesight only increased our respect for the beloved septuagenarian.

The unexpected delight of the evening, though, (and there was much to delight in), was the man’s one-liners. Randomly tossed to the audience with casual aplomb, I found myself eagerly snatching them from the festive atmosphere with unexpected glee.

“Long live Nelson Mandela”, he said, reminding us of what a wonderful nation this could be, and of the attitudes it will take to make us that. “It’s descriptive, not prescriptive”, he said of Sugarman, a song extolling the virtues of recreational narcotic use. “Don’t do drugs”, he added. “Don’t start”. Sage advice from one likely more knowledgeable than most of us. And towards the end of the evening, “thank you for giving me a life”, in gratitude for South Africa’s role in turning talent to stardom; obscurity to adulation. The way in which it was said left us in no doubt that Rodriguez is grateful. Humility is an attractive virtue, we learned.

12662725_10153960076916757_6119109403535790055_nBut the uncontested pearl of the evening, in this blogger’s book anyway, was when Rodriguez preached the Gospel, even though it’s possible that he did so inadvertently. “I know it’s the drinks”, he said, “but I love you too”. We might never know the specifics on this, but it is the Gospel nevertheless. Allow me to illustrate it this way: When a fellow Christian tells me that he or she loves me because Jesus says they must, it assures me of two things. a) They are under law, and b) They don’t love me at all. But fortunately there are other brothers and sisters who really do love me. They a) Never have to persuade me that they do, and b) It’s not because they are under orders, but because of what God has done in their hearts. They’re not trying to love me; they do love me. Big difference! This is why the Scriptures encourage us to be filled with the Spirit as a superior alternative to being drunk with wine; the result is authentic Jesus. Yep, Rodriguez said it well – it’s because of the drinks that we love each other!

 

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SMGN guest post by Ros Otte

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Enjoy this guest post by Ros Otte. She was recently seen lurking on the fringes of a writer’s group, and once this indomitable encourager had been identified as a possible aspiring author, her rubber arm was easily twisted for a contribution. Here Ros muses, from the perspective of a parent, on the superiority of grace over law.


 

It has been said that the role of a parent is to prepare a child for the next level of life, and that is true. The means by which we do this include imposing rules and regulations, instituting boundaries, and ensuring that there are consequences for non-compliance.

Some parents, in doing so, are tyrannical and brook no opposition. Other so-called “helicopter” parents hover protectively over their children and monitor each and every move. For many children, acceptance is based on performance rather than on love. Other parents simply throw in the towel at the first hint of opposition or rebellion. The result is often a deep seated sense of insecurity in the child. This is the essence of Law. It sets rigid boundaries, and in its consequences for obedience or disobedience, it can be both tyrannical and “helicopter”. Behaviour is either right or wrong. Choices are limited and obedience is mandatory. Sadly, those under it develop few coping mechanisms, little sense of worth, and often a minimal sense of self control. Then, if there is rebellion, law has no means of recovering the rebel.

Grace, on the other hand, is at once fluid and constant. It operates within a framework of love and acceptance; it allows for getting it wrong; it never lets go, even in the face of rebellion; it sets free and permits individual choice; it unties the apron strings without letting go; it encourages and picks up the pieces when there is failure and brokenness; it enables progression from the tentative, tottering steps of a toddler, to the confident stride of a long distance runner. It says, “Come as you are”, not “clean up your act first”. Grace provides the ultimate security.

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I have the privilege of living in a home with a magnificent river view. There are three fish eagles that live in the surrounding cliffs. It is a joy to watch them and the amazing thing is that I have never seen them flap their wings. They glide effortlessly, reaching great heights or almost skimming the river. They find and catch the thermals, whether the wind is howling or it is completely still, yet have no fear of falling or sense of abandonment. That’s what grace does. It is by grace that we catch the wind of the Spirit, Who keeps us secure whether there is a gale blowing or it is quiet and still. It is by grace that we walk thorough life with confidence; it is by grace that we can make choices, knowing that we are firmly placed in the thermal of the love of God. It is by grace that we are set free from the fear of failure or abandonment. It is by grace that we are loved and accepted for who we are, and not by what we achieve or how well we perform. Grace enables us to be the best we can be because it is never disapproving or judgmental. If we had to read 1 Corinthians 13:4ff – the matchless passage on love – and substituted “Grace” for “Love” nothing would change in terms of the heart of what was written. That is because grace has a name, and that name is Jesus.

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Meanings have words

words

Words have meanings and meanings have words.

We can get so focused on the former that we lose sight of the latter. I’m not suggesting for a moment that we cease to do due diligence in our approach to the Bible, but we can get so caught up in intricacies of the language and grammar that we miss the point entirely.

Jesus is the Word of God. He is what the Lord has to say. To us. Today.  And what a message He is!

Words have their place, of course, and I’m a strong proponent of responsible Bible interpretation. The Spirit and the saints of old went to great lengths to ensure the integrity of our Bibles, and so to treat the text as anything other than accurate is to insult its heritage. But let’s not allow our emphasis on accuracy to lead to our being blinded by the details.

It’s the Pharisee in us that nudges us towards majoring in minors in this way. They even tithed on their herbs, which was the kind of behavior that Jesus described as straining out gnats while swallowing camels. Don’t you just love the imagery there. In literary terms its called hyperbole, i.e. making your point by being a little over the top. Do you know how small a gnat is? Have you ever ridden a camel.

And so it is that our Christianity can spiral into mountain-molehill confusion. We can berate ourselves and other for all the praying, Bible reading and church attending we’re not doing. Chapter and verse can be applied to everything and everyone, everywhere. Our Christianity can be so perfectly packaged in what we do, where we go, what we say and who we hang out with, that when it;s all said and done we can’t help but impress ourselves. And in paying close attention to all all these details we can consummately miss the point. Hair-splitting hypocrisy is within reach for all of us should we lose sight of keeping the main thing the main thing.

So, what is the main thing? What is God saying in Jesus? The answer to that question could fill many a book, but it can also be bundled into just one simple sentence. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”. The degree to which our Christianity declares that message is the degree to which we’re marching to the drumbeat of heaven, and the degree to which our Christianity obscures that message is the degree to which we’re bumbling around the dance floor with two left feet.

Words have meanings and meanings have words. Remain true on the meaning, and our lives in Christ will find appropriate words and actions with which to express it. From time to time we may be misunderstood; Jesus was. But that never changed His message, and neither should it alter ours. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in and through Jesus, are loving and redeeming their world, and we are a part of His redemptive plan. This is our story. This is our song!

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