Lovers. That’s what we are deeply wired to be. God, whose very essence is love (1 John 4:8), created mankind in His image. While there are various dimensions to reflecting His image, ultimately, we are designed to give and receive love. Vessels of love is what we are created to be. Because of that, it seems that love should be easy. The reality, perhaps for many of us, is quite different. Love is hard.
The older I get, the more I see how much of a struggle it is to love well much of the time. This is true even in the best of times. The reason is that love means putting the interests of others ahead of our own. That regular practice of prioritizing others instead of self can be a massive challenge because it involves dying to self. One writer says this about love: “We are repeatedly disappointed in love. We realize that we are hopelessly inadequate in love” (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection).
Loving well becomes even more challenging in times of difficulty such as a pandemic in which the rhythms of life are radically altered. Perspectives on how to respond and move forward are wildly different. What one person deems appropriate may be viewed as threatening or harmful to another.
Add to the mix nationwide protests resulting from hatred and injustice and the command to love can feel especially burdensome. Remembering to love can easily be relegated to a lesser place when interacting with others, especially those with whom we disagree. In that case, our primary interest may be proving a point and correcting an opposing argument.
It feels like the comfort of our routine in life has been turned upside-down and shaken the last few months. Nerves are frayed. Perspectives are varied. Tension is high. While we need to be people who think and reason well, to be sure, may we also remember what ultimately defines us is more than just intellectual capacity. It’s love. Here’s how one author/theologian puts it: “It is not our reason or emotion or volition that defines our personhood. Ultimately, it is our love…” (Robert Saucy, Minding the Heart).
The reality that we are ultimately defined by our love can be a painful truth. I am far more cognizant of my failures to love well than my successes. As a fellow ‘love struggler,’ let me close by suggesting that this matter of love become an extended conversation with the One who knows our hearts. Prayerfully ask the Lord to search your heart (Ps. 139:23-24) with regard to love. Some questions to consider are:
When you think about the last few months, with the virus restrictions and protests, what sort of reactions do you notice in your heart?
To those with whom you disagree, can you still view them as those who bear the image of God and deserve to be loved?
To those who may mock or malign, can you respond in grace, truth and love instead of with vitriol?
In what ways have you done well over the last few months, loving sacrificially and selflessly?
In what ways is there needed room for growth in love?
What is hindering a freer flow of love to others (understood as sacrificial love, putting the needs of others ahead of our own)?
As you prayerfully consider these questions, may you first remember that you are passionately loved by the Lord (see Eph. 3:14-19). May you rest in His love and acceptance of you. May His love fill you and flow through you on an increasing basis.
Wonder. It’s a concept that seems to come naturally to children. For those of us who are Jesus followers, life should be a constant exploration of wonder. Author Mark Buchanan writes, “God intends the holy life be an odyssey of wonder” (Things Unseen). It’s a concept easily lost, however, especially as one gets older. The wonder of God, of life with Him, wanes with time. The demands and cares of life slowly erode that childlike sense of wonder. Even Bible teaching can lack the transcendent sense of wonder when it gets reduced to propositions and information. Eugene Peterson writes, “…no matter how much knowledge we acquire, if we fail to cultivate wonder we risk missing the very heart of what is going on” (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places).
That said, how do we avoid missing the very heart of what’s going on? Two thoughts to share. The most obvious place to cultivate wonder of God is in Scripture. We need to train ourselves to look for His wonder in all of Scripture. We are used to reading for information, but do we ask God to also reveal to us wonder? How does any given text, mundane though it may appear, contain evidence of God’s wonder and His amazing ways of working and moving? I can’t help but think that God’s wonder fills every page, even every word, of Scripture. Our responsibility is to search for it. That involves praying, asking the Spirit’s help in seeing the wonder behind the words, stories and teaching. This is a learned process. It won’t always be quick or easy. Still, I’m convinced that heaven will be an experience of never-ending wonder. Shouldn’t earth help prepare us for that? May we passionately pray for and seek the wonder of God in Scripture and in the events of our lives.
The second sphere of wonder exploration is life itself. It’s prayerfully training our eyes to look for wonder as we move through our days. Children do this naturally. It doesn’t take much to capture their attention… a puddle to play in, the wind blowing leaves around, a kitten to pet. Wonder comes easily. While we do live in a world marred by sin, God’s wonder is not eradicated. That which God repeatedly labeled as ‘good’ on the days of creation is still around. Do we take enough time to revel in the beauty of a sunset? As we are eating, do we actually notice the various tastes and textures of that which we ingest? When was the last time we took time to notice the various shades of green in creation or the different colors in flowers? This, too, requires a level of intentionality. It’s a willingness to observe… then thank the God who created such wonders.
May we be passionate wonder seekers. May we look for the wonder of God as we read His word. May we look for His fingerprints as we move throughout our days. May we increasingly see His wonder even in the ‘ordinary’ aspects of life.
A healthy lake has at a minimum two things: a flow of good water coming into it from a stream or river as well as a flow of water out of it, also in the form of a river or a brook. Without both of those, a lake dries up or becomes stagnant.
Likewise, something similar is true of us when it comes to generosity. God wants His people to be generous. In other words, there should be an outflow of generosity from those who are God’s children. The Lord regularly reminds His people of that throughout Scripture. For example, the Israelites were told to be generous lenders and givers (Deut. 15:8, 10). Proverbs has a reminder, “He who is generous will be blessed…” (Prov. 22:9). Timothy instructed the church “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18). “Generous” should describe Christians the way that “white” describes snow or “beautiful” describes Yosemite. Anything less is a distorted image of what it means to be a Christ-follower.
The only way to have that outflow of generosity, however, is to have it result from an inflowing of God’s generosity toward us. All good and healthy traits find their source in God Himself. We let His essence, His being, flow through us to others. This is true of generosity as well. Generous acts don’t begin with us. God is the initiator of all good things, generosity included. We are the recipients. We pass along what we receive from Him. That’s how the writer of 1 Chronicles reflected on the exhortations to generosity:
“But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (1 Chronicles 29:14).
While generosity includes the use of monetary resources, it can be more—being generous with words of encouragement, the gift of time or simply the gift of presence. All of us can be generous, even if the bank account is low.
While Old Testament saints were able to be generous because of the Lord’s generosity toward them, those of us who are New Covenant believers have even greater evidence of the lavishness of God’s generous nature in the person of Jesus, the One who left the riches of heaven to come in poverty, that we who are poor might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).
That said, here are some generosity ‘inflow’ and ‘outflow’ questions to prayerfully consider:
How much would generosity be considered a distinguishing characteristic in your life? To whatever extent it may be lacking to some degree, prayerfully ask the Lord to help you see why that is.
How frequently do you recognize, and think about, the ways that God is lavishly generous to you? How frequently do you intentionally look for ways that God is generous with you?
To whom can you practice generosity this holiday season?
In Colossians 1:15-23, Paul wrote an amazing hymn about the person and work of Christ. Paul wrote that Jesus not only created all things (v. 16), he also stated, “… and in Him all things hold together” (v. 17). What this refers to is the fact that in this incomprehensively vast universe, Jesus holds every part together—every galaxy, every star, every comet, every molecule, and every atom. Given the scope and complexity of the universe, that’s an immense number of things to ‘hold together.’ The amazing thing is that holding the entire cosmos together is not difficult work for Jesus. Just as He effortlessly created the boundless universe of visible and invisible, so He effortlessly sustains it. There is no difficulty in it for Him. He doesn’t get fatigued by it. He has it completely under control.
This is more than just an academic truth, however. It’s actually very practical. Not only does Jesus hold together the unfathomably vast cosmos, He holds together our lives. Yours and mine. He who effortlessly sustains every facet of this complex universe is also keeping an eye on every aspect of our lives and issues. There’s not a single element of which He is unaware. He ‘holds together’ every facet of our lives.
More and more I’ve thought of this as I’ve crawled into bed at night, still carrying burdens of the day. Those burdens can easily threaten my sleep. I have been reflecting more on the fact that Jesus is currently holding the universe together. Because He’s doing a more than adequate job with the universe as a whole, I realize that He is more than capable of holding together every detail of my life… and the lives of others I care about. I sleep better when I think that way as I wind up the day. Reflect on the reality of Colossians 1:17 if you go to bed burdened. It’s a way better than a sleep aid.
There are surprising texts in the Bible, but one that has to rank toward the top of the list is the first part of Acts 5. It’s shocking to read about two people—even more, two church members—falling dead at the feet of Peter. It seems so antithetical to the portrayal of God throughout Scripture. Rarely are there instances of God taking the lives of people as immediate judgment. Perhaps such punishment would be more understood for egregious sins, but Ananias and Sapphira were ‘only’ guilty of lying. Sure, they should not have fudged on the actual sales price of the property they sold, but at least they contributed something to the cause. All in all, the judgment of them falling to the ground dead is a head-scratching problem for many.
While there are questions attached to this text that will always be difficult for me to answer, I can’t help but ask another question: What’s the real surprise in this story? Is the biggest surprise in the fact that Ananias and Sapphira died, or is it that all of humanity doesn’t pay an immediate price for our sin? Given the fact that we all sin (Rom. 3:23) and the fact that sin is worthy of death (Rom. 6:23), God would certainly be justified in immediately responding to our sin. Ananias and Sapphira actually got what sin deserved. We have become so accustomed to the incredible patience of God, however, that we are taken aback by immediate judgment.
Perhaps a more appropriate response to Acts 5:1-11 should be thankfulness for the incredible patience of God and the gospel. We should be thankful for the amazing love of God that doesn’t immediately judge every instance of sin with a death sentence. Instead, we should be awed by God’s unfathomable love and patience toward us. In addition, we should be thankful for Jesus who took the penalty for our sin upon Himself. This certainly doesn’t answer every question to the surprising events in this text, but maybe it helps us look at this text with a needed perspective that results in gratitude.