Friday, March 23, 2018

Should You Love Your Neighbor if You Don't Like Him?



I found a treasure this morning in a place I least expected. It was more like a jeweled dagger than a pot of gold, however, because the word went straight to my heart like a blade. The story of Ananias and Saul has been the focus of my daily reading for the last week or so, and I thought I’d mined it pretty well. This morning, I read the story again and was struck to the core by one simple word. (Acts 9:17

Brother.

This word literally means united as brother of the same mother or father or united by a common cause. In this instance, it means both. Because God claimed Saul as his own, Ananias accepted kinship with Saul even though he appropriately feared this well-known terrorist who, a few days earlier, had intended to imprison him. 

Looking past the past.

Ananias didn’t disregard Saul’s past. It terrified him and he voiced his concerns in prayer. “Lord,” he said, “this man came here to arrest us all.” His valid complaint did not stop him from obeying Jesus. Love your neighbor as you love yourself isn’t a touching suggestion. It’s a command. (Matthew 22:39) In the story of Ananias and Saul, we see it lived out in despite-his-fear boldness.

Saul’s days as a terrorist were over, but Ananias had no way to know that when he met Saul and called him brother. All he knew was that God had chosen Saul and intended to use him in a mighty way. Ananias stepped over Saul’s past and their differences to embrace this man God loved, and so should we. 

He loved anyway. He accepted anyway. Despite the past.

Only God can replace a heart of stone.

It wasn’t Ananias’ job to change Saul, and it would have been futile to attempt it. Only God can change a heart and transform a life. Ananias’ job was to pray and lay hands on Saul in person, and that’s exactly what he did.

The first word Ananias spoke demonstrated the decision he’d made. It was a “nevertheless” kind of word that said, to Judas, Saul, and to God that he had chosen to see Saul through the filter of Christ’s love.

What does my first word say about my obedience?

My initial impression of people radically different from me is not always one of having positive intent or as being beloved by God. It should be, and I wish it was. Sometimes, though, I see people through the filter of their past. The drug addict or alcoholic who’s been through rehab numerous times doesn’t always look like my brother and sister at first glance. I don’t always see how God plans to use them from the beginning. It’s the same for the serial… whatever the sin. 

Sometimes, I see the sin before I see the sinner, just like Ananias did, but I don’t always make it to “beloved brother” or “precious sister” as quickly. This morning, I’ve repented of that sin, for I should be willing to love the one Christ loves as my brother or sister from the start. 

I was not required to prove myself in order to be redeemed, and no one else is, either. 

What about a relapse?

Ananias went to Saul and called him brother without a promise of change on Saul’s part. He had no way of knowing Saul would become Paul, nor about the missionary journeys he would make. Would a potentially murderous relapse on Saul’s part have changed Ananias’ responsibility for obedience? No. Ananias’ imperative to obey had nothing to do with Saul’s.  Nor does mine or yours.

Even “tough love” begins with love. The difference between loving the sinner and enabling the sin is distinct and important to recognize, but that’s a topic for another day. 

Our job always beings with love.

The greatest commandment is to love God, the second to love others. The new commandment Christ gave, to love others as He loved us, reinforces one truth. (John 13:34) We must view everyone through the lens of love. If we are obedient to the royal law of our King, the law of love, we live with everything done in love, and our lives filled, focused on, and radiating love. How radical is that in this me-first world in which we live? 

For today, let’s that a deep look at our own hearts. Are they filled with love for all, even those who are different? If not, why not and what do we plan to do about it? If we lack love, change is required, so let’s get started. 

“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” John 15:13

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Worship at the Judas Rock: When We Identify With the Betrayer



One of the most unusual things I encountered in Jerusalem was in an out-of-the-way church on the Mount of Olives. It was adjacent to The Grotto, and filled with beautiful artwork. Some of the paintings appeared to have been restored, while others were nearly obscured beneath centuries of grime. 

I made my way around the room as I looked at the paintings and finally arrived at a glass-enclosed shrine. Inside, there was a large rectangle of rock. 

The Judas rock.

It was (reportedly) the rock on which Judas stood when he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. (Luke 22: 3-6, 47-48) A narrow opening under the lid was just wide enough to allow a piece of paper to slip through. The rock was covered with randomly scattered money and hastily written notes. I stared at the slips of paper and money and wondered…

 Why is there a shrine to the betrayer?

Why identify with Judas? Why leave letters on the Judas rock? Why leave money?

I struggled with this for days. Did people think Judas could answer their prayers? That the money would redeem their sin? It took me a while to come to the conclusion that no one wants to identify with Judas. We already identify with him because we, too, are betrayers. 

Our focus, like Judas, is all too often on money, possessions, success, and prestige. We put what we want before the call of Christ. Pleasing ourselves comes before our relationship with Him. 

I include myself in that corporate "we," for, though I hate to admit it, I still put my own desires before Jesus. My first thought is, far more than I’d like to admit, what I want in a particular situation, rather than what Christ wants. Although I usually find my way to seeking God's will, the first burst of "Leanna worship" is a betrayal of the higher call to the will of God. Neither dollars nor letters of contrition can change that. 

Only the grace of God is sufficient. 

It's the greatest paradox that our Holy God would exact the price for our sin from Himself, but He did, and He offers that redemption to all who will receive it. 

What can wash away the stain of sin? The black shroud of betrayal? Nothing. Nothing but the blood of the spotless Lamb of God. 

Today, let's choose to love God first and love others as we love ourselves. In so doing, we live as those who have been redeemed. 

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

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Monday, March 19, 2018

When the Hand of God Restored My Hope



My appointment with the cornea specialist was scheduled for 2:30 pm. I planned to leave work early enough to have time for a quick lunch near the doctor’s office. 

“You should get something good,” one of my coworkers suggested. “What do you like to eat?”

“I’ll probably find a salad somewhere. I prefer Middle Eastern food, but how likely is that to be near the doctor’s office?”

“Not likely,” we both agreed.

A surprising series of events begin to unfold.

GPS took me straight to the office in less time than I’d expected. I drove into the parking lot and found a huge surprise. A stone fountain in front of the building bore the words of one of my favorite verses in bold letters.
Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

I stopped the truck and stared. “God is in this,” I thought, as I sat in stunned silence. It felt like a sign of blessing. 

I intended to have a light lunch before the appointment and get something more substantial on the way home. My early arrival meant I had time for a sit-down meal. The “Around Me” app listed restaurants in the area. 

A Middle Eastern restaurant was next door.

The waiter greeted me with a menu and a little surprise. “I have some very tender lamb if you’d like a kebob today.” 

My favorite meal.

After lunch, I returned to the doctor’s office to check in. The receptionist greeted me with the usual clipboard and papers to complete. To the left of her desk were a chair and table. A large-print Bible was positioned prominently on the table with a stack of smaller Bibles to the side. 

God’s hand was evident. 

By the time I took my place in the waiting room, the sense of God’s hand at work overwhelmed me. The Middle Eastern restaurant next door, my favorite meal, the verse on the fountain, the Bible on the desk — any of it was possible, but all together? It was more than a coincidence. 

I knew it was the hand of God.

Every person in the office treated me with kindness and understanding, including the specialist. Despite his frightening words, “We’ll use this medicine for a year…chronic…remission is possible…might recur…,” I felt blessed when I left. 

Hope returned.

In the midst of the seriousness of the eye disease, the hope I didn’t realize I’d lost surged in my heart again. Four seemingly-random things, so perfectly aligned with my preferences and desires, restored my sense of God’s watch-care. 

Our omnipresent God was with me. 

The Omniscient One saw me.

My loving Father cared for me.

Fear fled in the presence of Hope and left an overwhelming sense of peace. The following days were not all easy. My eye still hurt a while longer. The medicine was hard to tolerate at first.

Could I do this hard thing for a year? Until I was gently reminded of an important fact, I wasn’t sure. I don’t have to do the next year today. I need only live one day at a time, and I have all the strength I need to do just that.

Fear not.

Fear not. It’s what angels always say when they greet someone with terrifying circumstances. Those words are worth remembering.

Fear may be a natural and easy response to the storms of life, but for those whose trust is in Christ, we have a choice. Fear or faith. 

There’s no need for fear. Our circumstances have not caught God by surprise. He is not powerless, even in our most difficult situations. 

No matter what we face, we don’t tackle it all at once. We do it one moment at a time. It’s not too much for us, even when it’s horrible and hard, because we are not alone and we need not rely on our own strength. We have One who loves us, is with us, and helps us. He will carry us through.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” Isaiah 41:13 nasb

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