Excerpt from NEW Devotional Book — Going Forward in Love

[I’m finishing a new devotional book: “Heart Journey 2: Going Forward in Love.” I plan to publish in November. Here’s an excerpt!]

Day 14

Greet the Lord as one who is dependent upon His love today.

Settle down in the presence of the One whose essence is Love. And you are His most prized possession. You have been bought for a very high price and He wants to meet with you! As you address the Lord today, express your heart to Him. No matter if you are feeling awesome or defeated or neither. Share with Him how you feel.

Read and reflect on the truth of God’s message for you.

The Apostle John wrote this letter to all people who were following Jesus. In some ways, it his gleanings from spending so much time with Jesus and being at His side most of the time. John is sharing from his personal wealth, guided by the Holy Spirit to help us live in the complexities of life and relationships. You can see John’s tenderheartedness in the language he uses to talk about the Lord and us.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:7-21 ESV)

Read the passage one more time and write down a thought or two that particularly resonates with your heart.

You might want to reflect on just a few truths as you consider what this means for you.

You might want to focus your reading on a phrase at a time and read them a couple of times. Let’s do this together.

Two truths struck me. The first is “abide.” John tells us, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” If we abide in God, we are following and obeying Him. It has to do with respect and trust. There is a time aspect that shows up when abide is used as an adjective. God’s abiding love lasts for a very, very long time. So, we have this parallel in John’s letter that if we confess that we trust Jesus then God will stay with us forever. If we abide with Him, He will abide with us.

How does that make you feel toward God?

Do you feel pressure or anxiety? It’s possible you may feel both of those emotions. Take your feelings to God and see what He says.

The second truth that pushed me was the precept that it’s not about a hollow love or abiding. John is very clear that we can’t say, “Hey, I love God, but pretty much everybody else can take a hike!” If we say we love God and abide in Him, then we’re going to love our brothers and sisters. We’re going to take on the same love that God has for people. That’s how we show our “abiding” and “loving.”

This is a bit more difficult. I don’t naturally love everybody. How about you?

Let’s talk to God about that, too.   

Going forward in love

As you can see, this passage really brings the theme of these reflections home. “Going Forward in Love” is our mission. We don’t want to go forward pushing our own agenda and running over people. There’s no proof of our faith in Jesus in that style.

Let’s ask the Lord who needs our love today. We need His love, but who needs our love.

Lord, help us to abide and love as we go forward!

What is biblical meditation?

“Through meditation we can let the words of Jesus descend from our minds into our hearts and create there a dwelling place for the Spirit. Whatever we do and wherever we go, let us stay close to the words of Jesus. They are words of eternal life.” — Henri J. M. Nouwen

Meditation is used to describe a variety of exercises, behaviors and activities for the person seeking to grow their spiritual or inner life. We hear the extremes when meditation is being described, which go from thinking about nothing and clearing your mind to filling your mind with spiritual words and the writings and quotes from the Bible and other books considered sacred for us. One could say that it is a combination of clearing our minds of the clutter of the mundane messages regarding cleaning products and automobiles so that we can focus on the truths from God that apply to all of life. As Henri Nouwen describes in the quote above, “through meditation we can let the words of Jesus descend from our minds into our hearts.” That is the goal of our times of daily reflection with the scriptures in this book.

It is as if we want to allow God’s words to go from the reading to the transformation of our thinking and acting. For truths to affect our wills, we have to contemplate meaning, truthfulness, applicability and outcomes. We may ask ourselves questions that address all of these topics. Questions like, what does this mean? What happens if I do this? What will be the results if I act on this principle?

Jesus spent time daily in prayer to His Father. Jesus often said that He was only doing what the Father had told Him to do. It was as if Jesus checked in constantly to see how His activities were matching up with what the Father and Spirit wanted Him to teach and do. Observing this daily habit of Jesus, led Nouwen to say that solitude — being alone with God — was the furnace for change. We connect to God through the Bible. We hear His words as we read and think about all that He has done for us as we meditate on His words. All of this leads us to change how we think and act. Otherwise, we have no truth coming into our lives. Jesus needed a daily time alone with the Father. Are we any different? Are we just as needy?

God gives us instruction as far back as Genesis concerning the need to meditate, but the book of Joshua is perhaps the most specific and simple concerning the absolute necessity of meditation.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8 ESV)

If this were the only thing that God ever said about meditating on Scripture, it would be enough. It is quite clear that if we want to experience success in life — according to God’s economy — then we need to meditate on the laws of God. That was Jesus’s pattern and it was the Lord’s clear instruction for Joshua. Of course, the Psalms of David are full of promises regarding meditation. In fact, when David thinks about preparations for war, he chooses meditating on God’s truth instead of developing battle strategies. He says, “Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.” (Psalm 119:23 ESV)

Let us join together, then, daily to listen to God’s wondrous works and allow them to change our minds and hearts as we ponder, answer questions and think about how to go forward in love!

— From my forthcoming book, “Heart Journey: Going Forward in Love” due to be published in December, 2017.

The Intensity of Love

In April, I shared about the Intentionality of Love and today I’ve been reflecting on the Intensity of Love. This sprung from some reflections on Jesus’ reply about what is most important. What is the “One Thing” to use the vernacular of Curly in the movie “City Slickers.”

The Intensity of Love

“… as yourself.”

One of the more challenging and perhaps misunderstood, but often quoted sayings of Jesus was the reminder that we love God, love our neighbors and love ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-39) The common interpretations are around the sequence, which purports to be the key to a humble life, if not a loving one. The common application goes something like this: If we put God first, others second and ourselves last, then we will be a loving person. Lately, my interpretation or application is more about intensity and purpose than sequence.

If we love God will all of heart, soul and mind (or our will, worship, emotion and intellect), then we develop the capacity of understanding that God loves us so much that he is accomplishing his will by loving us and he can, in turn, use us to accomplish his will. That is, that we can love our neighbors and realize our place in God’s heart.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux describes as the highest degree of love the love of our selves for God’s sake.

When we get to the point that we realize, accept and rest in the knowledge that God is accomplishing his own vision and purpose by loving us, it seems impossible to not experience a heightened degree of love for ourselves. Of course, our own patterns of selfishness and self-indulgence can keep us from living the love that we desire to express, but our intense love for God and his purposes empowers us to love our families, co-workers, and neighbors. Transformation takes place as we focus on loving and pleasing God. By listening to God we are drawn to his heart, which is a heart overflowing with love for all of his children. Do you see how that overflowing could even flood our hearts, souls and minds to the point that we love all of his children, too?

When Jesus said that the second commandment was like the first, it was not so much a simile as it was a literal connection. It’s not that the two are about love, but that they are both about God’s heart. They are like each other in intensity and connection to God’s purpose.

Put simply, start with focusing on God’s love for you. Put on the love as an oxygen mask and be engulfed in the overflowing rush of God’s purpose that you are inextricably a part of. Receive God’s love and let it flow through your heart to Him, your neighbor and yourself.

The Intentionality of Love

March 3, 2015

If we want to grow in love, we might need to plot and meditate on how we want to love those we encounter. It has struck me recently that the hardest area of growth for me is showing love when I’m surprised by an opportunity or encounter. Even though we love someone from a volitional and intellectual standpoint and want to bring wholeness to a person’s life, our response emotionally to an unexpected situation can look like criticism, indifference or even rejection.

So, how do we learn to show love to those we truly love?

For starters, we have to develop patterns of behavior that come from a strategic and rehearsed place of consciousness. The idea that we will naturally give or receive love is not likely or is, perhaps, naïve. I had this reality come crashing in on me recently.

I returned home one day after a meeting and some errands and my son asked me to come to the garage to see how he had put away the case of bottled water that he purchases each month. When he proudly showed me his work, I responded by pointing out that he had put all of the bottles on one side of the refrigerators_freezers_general_use_3763shelf in the refrigerator, which pulled the shelf loose on one side and was pressing on the drawer below. His face saddened and he was crest fallen saying, “I just wanted to show you that I had put them all away.” He was looking for a “well done” and I gave him a “poorly done.”

My heart sank, too. I tried to recover with words of praise and explaining my comments, but the damage was done. I had wounded him. And I had learned a valuable lesson. Of course, this was not the first time that I had done this. But it was the first time that I had grasped the gravity of what I had done. And I also shared the story with my wife.

Later that day, my son invited me to the garage, again. This time I was prepared. And he was, too. Perhaps even more proudly this time, he opened the refrigerator door and showed the perfectly balanced shelf of bottled water. “Twelve on each side and the grease jars in the middle,” he said.

I smiled, and said, “Great job!” We fist bumped and then hugged. It was a sweet moment. We savored the experience and went back inside the house. He smilingly shared with his Mom the “twelve and twelve” good deed he had done.

We discussed later how God had given us a “do-over.” We don’t always get a second chance to restore love and acceptance. In fact, it is rare. But, it allowed me to rehearse how I should’ve responded initially and how I’d like to act in the future. I have often shared the principle that solitude is the furnace of transformation. And the corollary is that we need to prepare in advance to do the right thing.

The more we practice love and the more our hearts are connected to our actions, the more likely we are to do the deeds of Jesus.

The Other Love Chapter

Too often we label things for convenience and it ends up undermining impact. I think that is true of different books and chapters in our English Language Bibles. We categorize I Cor. 13 as the love chapter and Rom. 12:1-2 as the commitment verses when just the opposite could be true.

While 1 Corinthians 13 is more like an argumentative essay convincing us that love is the best approach in matters of faith and community. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

I can’t remember if I’ve ever tried to decide between love and speaking in tongues or prophesying, but I’m sure I’ve chosen selfishness over loving many times. Upon closer examination, I’m surprised at how much play chapter 13 has received over the years as the headline on godly love. Truly, it uses such “insider” language about technical church business that I would’ve thought it a distraction to non-church folk. I guess those simple adjectives in verse 4 are a strong enough catch phrase that they carried the rest of the chapter into their wake.

Meanwhile, Romans 12 is much more about how we actually “do love” and put it into practice once we decide it’s a good idea. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve memorized verses 1-2 of this chapter and thought there was nothing else important in this chapter. I thought it was about “renewing my mind” and thinking more “Christianly” about social, political and marketplace issues. I’m embarrassed, as I’ve realized that I’ve been missing such practical and life-giving teaching available for the Holy Spirit and I’ve been skipping right over it. It’s about the transformation that occurs as the Spirit transforms our minds AND hearts. I’m not saying that chapter titles are evil, but they’re not inspired. And it is not surprising that the new Bibliotheca project looks like a success. It reminded me of doing manuscript Bible study where there were no chapter and verse delineations. And certainly there were no book or chapter titles!

Read these words from Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (ESV)

I’m just thankful that on a recent morning when I had nothing to read during a coffee break that I pulled out my iPhone version of the Bible and read Romans 12 and was captivated by the words of truth that I could live by today. “Weep with those who weep…, Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.” Sound like Jesus. Sounds like love.