BUT I say to YOU!!!

43″You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 ESV)

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This passage from the Sermon on the Mount gives a new take on love, and a new take on enemies, but even more so a new take on what God requires of us. God’s call to love those around us stretches beyond just the people who are easy to love, but rather love EVERYONE. Love doesn’t belong to us, and we don’t get to determine a person’s worth, God gives them value, we need to love them. Unfortunately, we commoditize love;  when someone gives love, we give love; when we give love, we expect love in return.  This is the way of the world, which is easy… sort of.

In this worldview, a ledger exists. We can examine our lives and determine whether we are in a love debt, or whether we have a love balance in our account. The only problem with this type of world is that we are constantly opening and closing accounts that it could get extremely complicated to figure which accounts are positive and which accounts are negative. In my experience, when paying love forward, and it doesn’t get paid back, those people either become enemies, or even worse they get forgotten. We all have limits with how high we will let our accounts get, and when our accounts get too low sometime shame leads us to running away from them.

God wants more! There are NO LIMITS to God’s love, which we need to emulate. God’s love pours out on everyone. Jesus died to show how far God will go to LOVE!

Tear up the ledgers. Treat everyone like they are family. Let the blessings flow! If you try to live out the love ledger, you don’t understand God’s love, and I venture to say that you are exhausted trying to keep it up. We will never even up the ledger with God, we will always be in debt. Even worse, I have family and friends that I wouldn’t even come close to clearing out my love debt. I am thankful for them, and I am thankful that God has let me pile up this debt without casting me from the bosom of the Almighty. I am not worthy.

However, at the end of this passage that one command trips me up, “BE PERFECT!” Not that God’s love will be withheld for a lack of perfection, but our constant striving must be perfection. Love God with every inch of your being, may you live your life out in worship to God. Love one another to the furthest extent possible. Love as if you are in a love debt to everyone. If you ever get to a point where you stop and think that you have loved enough, love some more. Strive for perfection in the way you love God, strive for perfection in the way you love every person with which you come  in contact! This is Shalom.

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10 ESV)

Even Greater Gifts

Now that the holiday season is past and the gift giving has ended for a while, I looked back at one of my deepest joys was getting the opportunity to look at the face of my son as he opened his birthday gifts earlier in the season, and Christmas gifts. For his birthday I decided to give him a skateboard (with a helmet and pads), and I was filled with so much glee that he wanted to go out and immediately put on the pads and go ride his skateboard. That feeling was only to be topped by “Christmas” morning, and he woke me up to tell me, “I got a kitchen daddy, I got a kitchen!”, when the night before I was up until 2 AM putting it together, but his excitement made the sleep deprivation worth it.

Although I am not always the most astute person when it comes to getting people gifts, I knew what it was that would bring him a great deal of joy. Certainly, the excitement of getting gifts is enough to bring joy, no matter what the gift might be, but there is a certain gleam in his eye when he gets some particular gifts. I was overjoyed that the gifts I picked out for him were those special gifts. Even when “Santa” gets the credit for bringing the gifts.

However, no matter how good I was at picking out gifts, God is better at getting us just what we need at the right time. At the same time, God is pleased to give us what we need, and sometimes we also get those wants. We are blessed, we are bestowed with gifts, and God expresses love to us in diverse ways. God wants a relationship with us no matter what, and has gone to the cross to show us the extent of that love.

Jesus teaches us about God’s gift giving in Luke’s Gospel,

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks fore a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13)

One of those great gifts God blessed me with after Christmas was snow. On Sunday after church the snow started coming down, and it kept going until the next morning. I was just in awe of the beauty with which God has blessed us. Although I never would have thought to ask God for snow, I hope that the worship filled response I had toward the snow, allowed God the same joy I had when I saw the excitement in my son’s face.

 

Happy New Year

I want to thank my readers, my friends, my loved ones, and all those who have touched my life this past year. There is so much for which to be thankful. I have a family that loves me, friends that offer me so much support. I pray that this year is marvelous, and prosperous for everyone of you.

With every new year we think of new beginnings, but I pray that we not forget where we have been because those things help shape us into the people we are, and help guide us and instruct our path as we move forward.

With much love, hope, and wishes for peace and wholeness, I wish you all a Happy New Year!

Monday Morning (Halloween Edition)

Sunday was Halloween, the holiday filled with candy and costumes and tired parents. I include myself in this mix. My almost three-year-old son really got the idea of trick-or-treating a lot more this year than last year, and he has a better understanding of the greatness of candy.

However, neither of us were really prepared for the effects of the candy. It was nearly impossible to get him to take a bath, brush his teeth, or stay in bed on Sunday night. While he eventually did crash, the sugar high had to end, I felt as if I was dealing with a completely different kid.

This frustrated me and tired me out a lot more than usual. However, I also knew that there was an opportunity and an obligation to walk the line between grace and discipline. This is probably the line God walks with us, or at least me, a lot!

Monday morning was difficult as I had to get him ready for school, and myself ready for work. We dragged, I was tired from the battle, and he was tired because he didn’t get as much sleep as he usually does and he had a night of a lot of activity. We were both extremely cranky, and probably would have done better with another hour of sleep, but then out of nowhere, he gave me a hug.

That was love and grace as if directly from the Almighty God.

We continued to forge on and finished getting ready, and although we continued to struggle, and it took three times longer to get through the door, non of that matters because, I KNOW I AM LOVED, and I have the opportunity and responsibility to respond to the love of God, by loving my son.

Happy Reformation Day

The popular belief is that on this day in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, and sparked the Protestant Reformation. Later today it is my task to preach the Word of God. I feel obliged to include in the presentation of the Word, the actions of Martin Luther in 1517.

Ultimately, the importance that we find in scripture, and in history, that no human institution or human action is worthy of worship or praise, but rather it is God Almighty alone that has the power to save us from anything. Therefore, the important thing to understand is that through the prodding of the Holy Spirit, God granted Martin Luther the boldness to present this argument to the church. Certainly, Martin Luther had to respond to the prodding, but it is the Holy Spirit who reforms us, not an action by a single human, or human institution.

When we lose our way, and begin lifting up the institution above God, or even at equal position with God, we lose sight of the reforming and transformational character of God. This breaks God’s heart, because the Almighty loves us so much that when we fall into the traps that trap us in thinking that God requires a special formula, or the right “hocus pocus” to be effective, we become stagnant in our worship, and restrict ourselves from taking a step back and breathing in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. When we do this, God laughs and cries because we simply miss the point that God is God, and we should strive to be more like God, and less stuck on our own patterns and ideas about right and wrong worship.

The Almighty God alone judges. God is bigger than our churches. God seeks to grant us each a deep and true Shalom, wholeness, prosperity, peace, and completion. Only if we are willing to come together as the Church, are we going to see the true Reformation. However, that starts with our own personal expression.

God desires a personal relationship with each of us, and that relationship takes time and effort on our part. How do we respond to the grace that is present for us before we do anything? We are called to respond with JOY, GLADNESS, THANKSGIVING, and SERVICE. This has nothing to do with being Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, etc. This has to do with God, and coming together to be the true church.

I think it odd that Jon Stewart reminds us that we have more that brings us together, than that which pulls us apart, but if we amplify our differences, we wont be able to see our similarities. God loves you, God loves me, and because of that we should respond by loving one another.

It never was Luther’s intention, nor the desire of God, for the result of the Reformation to split the church into a million different denominations. In fact it was intended simply to be a corrective, and a call for the church to remember that which God’s calls us. We are called to be the salt of the Earth, and to bring the love of God to all of those lacking hope. Therefore, I pray that on this Reformation Day, we as the Church of God can come together and participate in the Reformation of the World.