Thursday, December 30, 2010

Agape love - "Regardless of circumstance"

Our word LOVE has some serious limitations. I say "I love you" to my children and "I love your shoes" to a stranger. I say, "I will love you forever" to my groom on our wedding day, and "I love the color on these walls" to a visitor. In common ancient Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, there are four words for "love" :

agape - Agape love is unconditional love, love that "brings forth caring regardless of circumstance," sacrificial love.  

eros - Eros love is passionate love, with sensual desire and longing, as between two lovers.

philos - Philos is love between family and friends, a "brotherly" love.

storge - Storge is affectionate love, like a parent for her child.

For this posting, I'm going to focus on agape love. In my personal study, I wanted to find the times in the New Testament that talked about God having agape love for His children, for me. I'll discuss four times when agape love is directed from God to man.

1. Mark 10:17-22

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
       “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
      “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”  Jesus looked at him and [agape] loved him.    
        “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  
        At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
What amazes me about this passage is that  Jesus looked at him and [agape] loved him. Jesus knew that this rich young ruler was NOT going to give up his wealth to follow Jesus. In a sense, the rich young ruler failed. He chose money over Jesus. He did not have faith. He was greedy instead. He chose to worship wealth instead of worship God. He was an idolater and a sinner, and worse, he thought he was without sin. He thought he had kept all the commandments since [he] was a boy. Yet, Jesus looked at him and loved him.

This illustrates agape love so well to me. Jesus looked at this young man and loved him. The love of Jesus was not dependent upon the rich young ruler's obedience or faith. How comforting! I fail again and again. I sin again and again. I worship idols other than God, yet... Jesus loves me. I know that God is pleased when I obey, when I smash my idols before Him, and when I walk in faith, but when I fail... Jesus still loves me. It reminds me of the verse:

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.     Romans 5:8

This just proves to me in Scripture, with both passages, that Jesus' love for me is not based on my performance. I could never earn His love. While I was still sinning, Jesus still chose to die for me! That is truly love. May the love I have for my husband, my children, my extended family, my friends, and even my enemies, be love that "brings forth caring regardless of circumstance."  

2. John 3:16

For God so [agape] loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Most of us have heard or read this verse a million times, and it's almost lost its impact because of its familiarity, so let's make it personal.

God loved ME so much, even while I sinned and failed and rejected Him, that He was willing to send His only child to earth so that He could die a horrible death and take the punishment for MY wrong-doing. He did this so that I could live forever when I put my faith and trust in that Son, Jesus.  

The thought of giving up my firstborn son to suffer a horrible death in place of someone who doesn't deserve it makes me want to throw up. I love my children. I hate it when they scrape a knee. I don't wish any harm on them. Yet God sent Jesus, and was willing to let His Son to be whipped and mocked and crucified for ME while I was still sinning.

That's love. Agape love.

3. John 11:5

Jesus [agape] loved  Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

I read this verse first when I was closely studying the interaction between Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42. And it made me weep. In summary, Martha is fussing over the details of having Jesus and his crew in her home, and Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet, learning from him like a disciple of a rabbi. Martha gets frustrated because she is doing all the work and asks Jesus to make her sister help her. But Jesus rebukes Martha, and tells her that Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:42) 

A couple observations on this passage: Jesus had female friends. Mary was a female and sat at the feet of Jesus, learning like the male disciples. And even though Martha didn't make the right choice this time, Jesus still agape loved her. And Mary. And Lazarus.

Do you see the connection between all these passages? The love of Jesus is not based on a person's actions.  Jesus loves me, "regardless of circumstance."

4. John 13:23

One of them, the disciple whom Jesus [agape] loved, was reclining next to him. (NIV) 
                                                                                                            ... was leaning against His bosom. (KJV)

The disciple John is repeatedly referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved. We've already established that Jesus doesn't play favorites (see Jesus and Favoritism - Dec 2010), but John was probably Jesus' best friend on earth. He was certainly in the "inner circle" which included Peter, James and John. Imagine being your Savior's best friend. Wow.

What is radical about this verse, is that John, a grown man, is leaning against Jesus' chest. Maybe he was leaning back against Him, or sideways with his head on Jesus' chest. Either way, they were snuggling! We know Jesus was perfect and without sin, so this was love expressed with all purity. How radical! Jesus' love was even demonstrated with physical affection.

This so blew me away that I taught it to my children the morning that I saw it for myself. It puzzled them at first. Jesus snuggling with His disciple? It certainly changes the preconceived notion of Jesus always sitting away from them, teaching them, always in a posture of composed Rabbi, with some distance. No! Jesus was in relationship with them, friendship even, and they were being affectionate!

Make any of you a little uncomfortable? OK, then put yourself in the arms of Jesus. Lean YOUR head against His chest. Let His arms fall around you. Snuggle up to Jesus. Now do you want to just weep?

Our Lord and Savior is personal and intimate and close. His love is not from afar; it is right where you are. He is not a removed teacher, or distant priest. He doesn't withhold Himself from you. He freely gives you His body, His affection, and His love. And that agape love is not dependent on what you do. Though He desires our obedience, His love is not dependent upon it.

Agape love is "unconditional love, love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance." This is how God loves us. "Regardless of circumstance."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Spiritual Gifts and the Samaritan Woman

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”        John 4:39-42

The Samaritan woman was an evangelist. After a brief, but powerful encounter with Jesus, she quickly goes out to tell others about this Jesus, who "told [her] everything I ever did."

How will God use you? What is your spiritual gift? Who does God intend for you to be?

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.                                                                                                                           Ephesians 4:11-13

This passage in Ephesians is one of the "gift lists." It lists 5 spiritual gifts:

1. The apostle - This is the man or woman who goes out from home to share the good news of Jesus. A missionary can be an apostle because she leaves her home to share the gospel.

2. The prophet - A prophet or prophetess hears God's voice and shares it with others to comfort, encourage and build up others.

3. The evangelist - An evangelist also shares the good news of Jesus. An evangelist is different than an apostle in the way that the evangelist shares the gospel to those right around her: friends, neighbors, coworkers. The Samaritan woman was an evangelist because she talked about Jesus to the people in her town (and they believed!).

4. The pastor - A pastor is a shepherd, one who cares for the sheep in his or  her flock. This is a man or woman who cares for the emotional and spiritual needs of those around him or her. This "pastor" is not necessarily what we think of as the leader of a church. Though many Pastors have a "pastor" gift, they may also gave the other spiritual gifts. My pastor, for example, is an evangelist and a teacher.

5. The teacher - A teacher explains and expounds the Bible in simpler terms, makes connections between Scriptures, and applies the Word to our daily lives, all with intention that the listener or reader is changed by God's Word.

I think it is really important to notice WHY God gives us these gifts. And please note, when you have committed your life to follow Jesus, He does give you a spiritual gift. If you dont know what that gift is, ask the Holy Spirit to fill you, and to reveal to you what that gift is.

Back to WHY:

1. equip his people for works of service... (Eph. 4:12a)  We are given spiritual gifts in order to serve one another effectively. These gifts are not for us, but for others, to be given away, for God's glory, and not for our own.

2. ... so that the body of Christ may be built up... (Eph. 4:12b)  God's goal for us as we use our spiritual gifts is to build each other up. To build someone up is to make her or him more effective, more useful, stronger.

3. ...until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God... (Eph. 4:13a) We are each given different spiritual gifts. When they are all used together, unity is created. Oneness. A common goal is reached through different means. We are each useful. One part of the body is not more important than another. The result is unity. A church is a group of people all intending to serve God as He created them. When we are actually doing that with humility and intent to serve, unity results.

4. ...and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  (Eph. 4:13b) When we use our spiritual gifts as God has given them to us, in order to serve others, build each other up, and with the goal of unity, maturity will result.  We will grow stronger  in our faith and in our knowledge of God.

May the Holy Spirit reveal to you your spiritual gifts. May you use them for His glory and not your own. May you use your gifts to serve and build up the body with the goal of unity. And may God bring maturity to your spiritual life as you serve Him as He designed you.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

Jesus and favoritism - The Samaritan Woman, John 4

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. James 2:1-9

Jesus didn't care that Jews dont normally associate with Samaritans, or that Jewish men certainly didnt hang out with women who were not their wives. Jesus didn't play favorites. He still doesnt. God does not favor one race over another, one gender over another, one economic status over another.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.   
Galatians 3:28

The people of the town of Sychar thought the Samaritan woman was trash. She had been married (and likely divorced) five times, and was living with a man not her husband. Though common today, this was scandalous in that time. The woman was at the well drawing water at the hottest part of the day. Women usually drew water in the morning or evening because it was cool. This is like deciding to go for a run at noon in the summer when it is 90 degrees and sunny outside. Better to go in the morning when its 70 degrees and the sun isnt yet blazing.

The woman (we dont even know her name) was avoiding the others. They were probably terrible to her. Who knows why she had been with so many men. But the people of the town treated her terribly because of her life decisions.

She probably thought she was trash. A brazen woman who didnt care wouldnt not have avoided the others. A brazen woman would have drew water confidently in the cool of the day, and probably mocked the "righteous" women who were there at the same time. But this woman couldnt bear the mocking. She probably believed that she had no value, just like everyone said.

Something was different about this Jesus. He asked her for a drink. He talked to her. He didnt mock her. He didnt ridicule her. He just asked for a drink. And His intentions for her were so much more...

Its not that Jesus didnt know who she was. He asks her where her husband is, knowing full well that she had none. He wanted to let her know that He knew exactly who she was before He entrusted her with deep truth and used her in mighty ways to further His kingdom.

What holds you back? How do you see yourself? Unworthy to be used by God because of your past? your present? Do you think that God somehow doesnt see all that you do today, and have done in the past?

God has a plan for each of us, regardless where we have been, what we have done, who we are, and how other people view us.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."      Jeremiah 29:11

The Samaritan woman became an evangelist. Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him [Jesus] because of the woman's testimony... John 4:39  She who was was "trash" became Billy Graham.

Jesus doesnt play favorites. Arent you glad?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Isaiah 28-33

This week in BSF we looked at Isaiah 28-33. The verses that blessed me the most were:

In repentence and rest is your salvation.

in quietness and trust is your strength...    Isa 30:15      and

The fruit of righteousness wil be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.    Isa 32:17

These passages reminded me of Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
and ever-present help in trouble...

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.                Psa 46:1, 10

This week was anything but a restful week for me. I worked hard at home, and for some reason, God prevented me from going out and doing some of the fun things I had planned, like MOPS, places where I saw as rest for me.

Yesterday, as I drove home from BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to show me what He has been trying to teach me this week. Let me start by sharing my lecture notes, and it will all come together.

In Isaiah 28-33, there are a series of "woes" that Isaiah gives to the people of Isreal/Judah. These woes are warnings to the people, warnings that their behavior does not please Him, and needs to change. But God in His amazing grace, tells the people what to do instead. He has a response to the woe. He tells them that they need to change their ways, but he also tells them how.

What a good God we serve.

Isa. 28  
woe - pride
            drunkenness, self-indulgence, living for their own comfort, living for self instead of living to please the Lord

This was the first one that hit me between the eyes. I did obey God this week. When He said stay home, I stayed home. But I was angry about it. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. My heart was  resentful towards God. I was more interested in my own comfort than pleasing Him. I wanted to find rest in my friends and social events. I didnt run to the Lord for my rest.

In repentence and rest is your salvation...

I saw that I had placed idols before my Lord. The Holy Spirit also showed me that I didnt trust in God's goodness. When God asked me to do something that I didnt want to do, I was angry. That wasnt my plan.  I didnt trust Him, that when He asked obedience of me, it was for my own good. God had good planned, and I didnt trust Him in it.

in quietness and trust is your strength...

 This is what grieved me the most. I want to know and believe the character of God, so that when He asks me to obey Him, I do with total trust in the goodness of His character, as well as the good He has planned for me. 

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord,
"plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future."                Jeremiah 29:11

Lord, help me to trust you. Help me to trust in the goodness of your character and in the good you have planned for my life.

reponse - repent and return to God

Isa 29:13
woe - a 2nd hand relationship with God. The people were relying on others to teach them, show them, lead them, and not going to God individually. They were hearing the Word, but not applying it.

Oh, this one spoke to me as well. In BSF, you have 6 pages of notes and questions that you are to read and answer in one week's time about the passages selected. Then, in discussion group, you are invited to contribute if you completed the homework. Otherwise, you have to pass on answering the question. Its a challenge to complete the homework. But I learned how to crank through it so that I could contribute in discussion. Unfortunately, I was learning so little about what I was actually reading in the Scripture. My pride did not allow me to slow down and truly meet God in the Scripture. I was just answering questions, not letting God change me through His word. I was hearing the word, but not applying it.

My response to this woe is to repent of my pride, and approach Isaiah with the intention of meeting God and truly learning from the Holy Spirit. If I dont get the homework done, it will bother me. But how much more important that I meet with my God??? and learn from the Holy Spirit what He would have me learn?

Here is how Isaiah reponded to this woe:

Isa 32:1
response - JESUS. He tore the veil in two with His death. He removed the barrier between me and the Father. His death on the cross and resurrection to life allows me free access to the Holy One of Isreal, not because I myself am holy, but because I am made holy through my belief in Jesus Christ.  

...we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.   Hebrews 10:10

Lord willing, more to come.