Part 3: Speaking God’s Language of Love
1 Corinthians 13:3 “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Of all the three verses of “love comparisons”, this one to me is the most shocking and the Scariest. In the other two we could grasp people competing with their words or with their gifting—but could we actually “sacrifice” and yet it mean NOTHING because of not being done from LOVE?? Does not sacrifice only come from a heart of love?? Is not sacrifice the proof of love?? How could giving it all up still count for NOTHING?! Could I be so spiritually blind that I would do such altruistic things like giving all to the poor and even sacrificing myself on the altar of martyrdom and YET it has just turned into another parade of my Ego?! Do the coins clink as I drop them in like the Pharisees? Could the platform I mount where I am to be totally sacrificed to Jesus only become another platform where I publicly declare my worthiness because of such great sacrifice??
The most dangerous form of blindness is spiritual blindness. A person who is physically blind realizes it and uses all their other senses and resources to compensate. The person who is spiritually blind DOES NOT realize it; there is no compensation. In fact there is only continual self-justification and resentment for anyone who offers help because they CAN SEE that the person is blind. How sad that I could spend all those years “Building the Kingdom” to see it go up in the smoke of realization that I was really “building my own kingdom.”
The Bible in some passages sets forth giving to the poor (James) and dying a death of martyrdom (Hebrews) as demonstrations of true religion. What could be more loving then giving my own stuff away? What could be more loving than giving my life for the Lord? YET this verses warns that even the most Self-less acts can become Selfish if they are done for a motive other than LOVE.
You can sometimes see hints of this in Ministry today. Someone makes a suggestion to us about an activity or ministry. We kindly (or not) inform them that we have been doing this “before you were even born”! We may not say this, but we are thinking it behind that nicely constructed smile/snarl.
Someone offers to help us but we wish they could see that God has done such a wonderful job of gifting us that their contribution would be quite irrelevant and annoyingly redundant: “I think God needs you somewhere else.”
“Of course I love the Lord, why else would I have given myself so sacrificially to such ungrateful people for so many longggg years??”
All these kind of reactions can reveal a heart that is not loving. Service and sacrifice have been substituted where there may have originally been a heart of Love--- but no more. What used to be the fruit of Love: sacrifice; has now been substituted for the Love itself. Where love puts the emphasis on how much I love sacrificing for Others; it has now become how much others owe Me for all I have sacrificed. Jesus warned the Church of Ephesus that service and sacrifice can never be a substitute for Love. The sad part is that the substitution can fill the spot where love should be and so I don’t even miss it!
GOD SAVE ME FROM MYSELF!!
Too many times today Christians are talking about important issues from “my point of view” or “what I think”. Another viewpoint is “what makes the most sense” or “what works in this case”. This assumes that I as a person will evaluate things by how it strikes me in the moment (existentialism) or what works for me (pragmatism). Biblical Truth is not to be put through the screening of either of those mindsets. Truth is to inform and even correct how I feel about something. Truth is upheld whether it is practical or works out for me at the moment.
Daniel had served the Secular Babylonian government with a clear conscience. His Rivals carefully crafted a test Daniel COULD NOT pass. They knew his integrity to his God would supersede his loyalty to the earthly king. The Government changed the rules while Daniel was serving faithfully at his post. His loyalty to the King was not called into question; in fact, the King expends all means possible to “save” Daniel from the consequence of his clear conscience before God. Daniel did not resign. Daniel did not hold a rally- He went home and prayed with the windows opened as he had always done. The Government had Changed; Daniel had not and would not!
When Peter and John are ordered to no longer preach in the Name of Jesus, they do not hesitate to inform the Council: That’s not going to happen! They did not take their preaching “underground”. They did not find a substitute name for Jesus so as not to be offensive. They went right back to the Temple Court (town square of our day) and preach publicly the Name of Jesus.
Nebuchadnezzar makes an idol and orders all to fall down in worship or die. The Government enacted Laws once again that had nothing to do with the competence of its subjects or the work ethic of its workers. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not resign. Their convictions were the same as Daniel’s. The Government’s demands had changed; they would not change. The King offers them multiple chances to Comply. They basically tell him the multiple chances are a waste of time because every chance to bend over will be another demonstration that they will stand in the integrity of their only devotion to God.
American Evangelicalism is so used to asking the wrong questions that we often are unaware of how skewed our reasoning has become. God does not ask us if we think He makes sense to us; He calls us to Obedience even when it does not make sense or will cost us. My integrity and conscience are not determined by whether “it works for me” or not; my trust is in a sovereign God who knows I will often pay earthly consequences because I serve the Heavenly King.
It is time for Believers to “Bible up” in our thinking. We must gladly embarrass ourselves to remain loyal to our Higher Calling!
When Daniel knew the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had his windows open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God AS HE HAD DONE PREVIOUSLY.
Neither the decision of a secular government nor the threat of his opponents caused Daniel to change anything when it came to his worship and conduct before God. Daniel did not wait until the document had been signed to decide how he would react—that decision had been made long before when he had determined in his heart not to defile his conscience before his God (Daniel 1:8).
Daniel did not open his windows as a reactionary move so the people could see his “defiance” of the edict; he opened them because he ALWAYS had opened them and was not going to change his behavior because now it carried consequences.
It is not time for Churches and Pastors and Christians to DECIDE what to do in response to our own secular government; that should have been DECIDED long ago.
Edicts and consequences do not make up our minds; Truth and Conscience is the answer and will continue to be!
I am a Pastor. We have many Military families in our Congregation. We have two National Cemeteries fairly close to where we live and worship. We have local Heroes from our towns with numerous bridges and streets renamed in their memory just within the last decade. I am glad that our two towns: Patchogue and Medford still have their own Memorial Day Parades.
There are some other Memorial Days that I have attended and, at times, officiated: the funeral service of a military family. Veterans from all military branches now laid to rest with their fellow comrades in life - and now in death. What tremendous reverence and solemnity have I been able to witness on such occasion! The details of each may vary but the Respect and Honor remain the same: “Here is Someone who gave their life-or part of their life- in Service for us.”
From police escorts or honorary motorcycle motorcades or the seal of their military branch on the side of the funeral hearse, the memo is clear to the living: “Make way for this honored Hero! You may be in a hurry to get to your next appointment or just in a hurry in general but get over because this One cared enough to go make a difference while the Rest of us just went on with our regular lives and Freedoms.”
How sad it is to still see people cut in-and-out of these funeral processions as they make their way to Calverton National or Long Island National Cemetery annoyed that they had to actually slow down for the funeral procession of a Veteran! I was thrilled to be a part of one such procession where the on-ramps to Sunrise Highway in front and in back of the procession were completely blocked so that we were the only ones on that section of the highway.
Attend the funeral of a veteran. Hear them play “Taps”. Watch the Honor Guard fold the Stars and Stripes. See them salute its triangular-shape: a salute of honor to the Dead. Watch them present the Flag to the widow, widower, or child. Watch them salute the family member and that flag now hugged to their chest: a salute of thanks to the Dead and to the family for their sacrifice. Watch the tears roll down the cheeks of those around you. Tears of sorrow but also tears of grateful pride to have this family member honored in this way!
Remember this Memorial Day that for many families this day is very personal. They have stood at the graveside of someone who gave their life in Service of this country. Whether their family member has died in combat or died after leaving their military service, they have still have had a very personal memorial day.
Thank you for your Sacrifice!!
God’s representative to His people was to be the High Priest; but Eli was not listening. In fact, God had to send a prophet to speak to the high priest to tell him that his sons’ behavior offended God—but they were not listening to God, they were not listening to Eli either. God had to select a young boy name “God Hears” –Samuel- before He actually had someone who would listen to Him.
Eli and His Sons were priests in the Tabernacle of the Most High but theirs was a more self-styled kind of religion. They didn’t want sacrificed, boiled meat; they wanted pre-sacrificed roasted meat. The sons were not content to serve a Holy God and have a wife, they slept around with the ladies who served in the holy place of God. Eli himself became fattened with the food confiscated by his sons that should have only belong to God. The prophet warned Eli, Eli warned his sons, Samuel warned them all but nobody was listening. GOD had only become a symbol to them and a convenience of how to get the life they really wanted. God had been reduced to a Symbol.
But then Israel went to battle with a real enemy- the Philistines. They were getting slaughtered. “Hey, someone go, get the Ark of the Covenant. We’ll show the Philistines Who is on our side!!” It really is hypocritical to call on a God to answer you who you have regularly ignored. The two carrying the Ark- Hophni and Phinehas. They were the “heroes” as the carried their Symbolic God into the Israelite camp. The camp began to shake with cheers as the Philistines quaked with fear. Did they expect real help from the Real God or symbolic morale boost from the God they had relegated to symbolic?! They got neither- the Ark was captured and the sons died in the battle, Eli died hearing the news—God will not honor those who do not honor Him.
The Philistines put the Ark of the Real God in the Temple of their make-believe god, Dagon. The next morning Dagon was found on his stone face before the Ark of the Real God. They had to lift their make-believe god back on his feet. Dagon the next day was found decapitated and hands chopped off again laying in front of the Real God- and the whole town broke out in tumors and rats. Tumors on their bodies and rats in their homes. They moved the Real God to another town- same result. They moved Him to another town—the people broke out in panic as they saw the procession bringing the Ark of the Real God. ENOUGH!
They sent the Ark of the Real God back to His own people! His own people joyfully received back the Ark but 70 of them forgot how REAL He really is because they tried taking a peek inside the Ark of the Covenant and were immediately struck down.
Our God is REAL. He is not to be “dusted off” when the moment seems appropriate. He is not to be ignored except when we could really could use the symbolism of praying to a God that the rest of the time we have ignored. He received more respect from the pagans than from His own People.
Do you serve the Real God where for many God has only become symbolic? God will have His Glory even where His people misrepresent Him. Many in our Society and even Churches have reduced God to a symbolic role—a role GOD will never accept.
All during Jesus’ Ministry I followed Him—that is I followed what was happening BUT I never was his Follower as Peter or John; I watched from the shadows. The Shadows are from where cowardly souls watch lest they step into the light of Recognition and Ridicule. Even Nicodemus had to visit Jesus by night to avoid the crowds around Jesus and the critics nearby Jesus. We both serve on the Council and identifying with the Galilean could earn us the same critical disfavor they heaped on Jesus.
At first our fellow Pharisees and Council members viewed Jesus with jealous annoyance. They were hoping He would fade as a passing public figure or charlatan; this was not happening, in fact his fame and authority skyrocketed. There was no denying that the miracles he did could only be from God—until our Council decided to say they actually came from Beelzebub. I watched with growing admiration and conviction that indeed He was the Messiah. At that same time, my colleagues were certain that he must be stopped! I guarded my admiration and my conversations with Nicodemus.
Caiaphas spoke in frustration at one of our Council meetings that Jesus must die for the sake of the nation. What Caiaphas really meant was that Jesus must die so he and the rest can keep their privileged position with our Occupiers: the Romans. Their own self-interest and self-seeking ways were constantly being challenged and exposed by this One who only spoke the True Words of God.
One night we were called to an emergency meeting. I was stunned to see Jesus there in chains. I was much lest surprised to see Judas lurking nearby. Imagine selling out your own Master for the price of the slave! But then again, how could I cast a stone who could not find his voice to denounce this injustice? They tried to find an accusation to stick but kept coming up empty. The tension in the room escalated. “Fools!” I wanted to cry; “you cannot convict an innocent man because He IS innocent!” My silence convicted me as guilty. Finally Caiaphas asked Him if indeed He was the Messiah. Ask Jesus the very question about which He cannot and will not lie. Did their unbelief make it then a lie? Is one guilty of blasphemy if he speaks the Truth?
The vote was called. Nicodemus and I abstained. I should have yelled “NO” but the most I could do was refuse to vote. Even with that, Nicodemus and I earned accusatory stares of the most ugly kind.
They beat Him. They blindfolded Him. They mocked Him. I died of shame. He took it in dignified silence; I withered in guilty silence.
They took Him to Pilate to get the verdict they wanted but only a Roman governor could legally give- the Death Penalty. I could not stop anything now. My feeble protest would have been drowned out by the cries, “Crucify him. His blood be on us and on our children!” My silence added my name to list of those who were now bearing the guilt of his death. Why had I not said something when it might have made a difference; when cooler heads might have stopped for a moment?? Too late. I watched Pilate go through the sham of washing his hands and looked down at my own with a shudder.
I couldn’t stop myself—I watched him die. They never stopped the continual tirade of ridicule and abuse. The soldiers joined in, the criminals joined in, the whole world despised and rejected Him. Jesus prayed for their forgiveness.
Noticeably absent were His disciples—His Followers. Guess following him to the Cross somehow had not made the itinerary! At least He had known they were His Followers!! He would never even know I had thought about following Him. I caught sight of John and Mary, Jesus’ Mother. Poor woman: the whole world hated her Firstborn. I admired her love and courage to show up here to witness the shame and grief as her son died. I saw her collapse sobbing into the arms of John and then it was over! “IT IS FINISHED!” – and it was. Jesus was dead.
Who’s going to bury this One? His mother was collapsed into the help of John; she had no grave anyway. None of his other Followers were there to claim their Master’s remains. The soldiers usually just threw these bodies into a common grave. The shame of their death continued into the after-death of an unmarked grave. The whole world was better off not remembering these kinds!
“Give me Jesus; I will bury Him.”
I finally found my voice! I was not going to let Him be thrown away as if nobody cared. I could not claim you in Life, Jesus, but I now claim you in Death! I am your Follower though your days of leading are over! I give you my personal Tomb though I wish I had given you my allegiance when you could have known it.
Joseph of Arimathea’s Tomb became famous not because of its Occupant but because of its Emptiness! Tradition tells us he was thrown off the council along with Nicodemus and lost all his family wealth due to persecution. BUT Jesus did know He was a Follower!
STEP OUT of the Shadows and claim your Master!! Stop hiding in your Silence.
Jesus was never known to be extravagant. We often slept in the open fields or were cramped into small groups throughout the home of Peter or one of the other local guys. When Jesus told the crowd that He had nowhere to lay His head- that was not just “poetry”. Since He had nowhere to lay His head then neither did we. We were so poor that one day Jesus had Peter pay His temple tax with a coin taken from the mouth of a fish Peter had caught; and, by the way, there was no change left over.
Over the last number of weeks Jesus had told us over and over that He was going to die. This made NO sense! He was Jesus. Demons feared Him. Storms obeyed Him. Food multiplied in His hands. He even called Lazarus out of the Tomb! We most often just tried to change the subject, but He found some way of bringing it up again and again.
A few days ago we stopped in the home of Simon the leper. He is still called that because that is what he was before he met Jesus! We were all having a fine meal when this lady barges in and makes a direct line for the Master. We expected to hear some kind of plea for Jesus to leave for another sick or dying child; we had gotten used to this over and over. But she was not here looking to get anything from Jesus. Instead she pulled a perfume flask from the folds of her dress and broke it open. Instantly the room was filled with the strong scent of the pure nard! She poured the entire contents over Jesus’ head. It ran in little rivulets down His hair, down His beard, and then droplets fell down onto His clothes and feet. She began to weep. Her tears mixed with the perfume and fell on His feet. She looked at a loss but could not contain the tears and had nothing with which to dry the “mess” they were making. So she used her own hair!
This was wrong on so many levels: what a waste; that vial was worth a whole years’ wages. This woman was known in town and was not of the right kind- if you get my drift. The Poor would have benefitted from the sale and donation of the proceeds of that jar … and Jesus would have benefitted more by not being cried over by a woman like this – especially in the home of a Pharisee!!
We waited for Jesus to command her to stop; to push her away. Instead He added to the whole confusion by saying the most unexpected thing: “Leave her alone; she is anointing me for my Burial.” Then it struck me where I had most often smelled this particular scent- it was at funerals. The mixture would vary a little here and there but there was no mistaking the strong incense that was used to cover the smell of Death.
This woman had braved the stares of our dinner party, the insults of our “wise stewardship”, and the sarcastic remarks about her character because she knew something we did not grasp: Jesus was dying—soon! Simon may have been cleansed from his leprosy but this woman knew a cleansing from Jesus none of us could ever have appreciated.
When Jesus died most of us were not even there. Only John; and he was busy with Mary and his aunt who were weeping uncontrollably. It fell to Nicodemus and Joseph to do what rightfully we should have done: bury our Master. They had little time and only the burial spices that they had on hand. But Jesus had been properly anointed with burial spices, with tears, and with gratefulness by a woman who is famous even though we are never told her name.
If you had been caught in the very act of adultery and dragged out by a crowd, you would have expected them to head for the closest city gate out of Jerusalem and the closest pile of stones. But instead you find yourself being dragged towards the Temple. Why can’t you drag me outside and get it over with?!To the Presence of God Almighty was the last place you want to be headed when you know already you are as guilty as Sin. But this particular mob was not as interested in this adulterous as they were intent on the Man who was presently at the Temple. This woman was a pawn in their scheme to discredit Jesus. They had no care for her shame nor did they even care for justice—the Law demanded the man to be taken out and stoned as well. Conveniently he had been left behind—could it have been that he was a friend or family member of one of this mob?
Force Jesus into a situation He cannot side-step. “Should we stone her, Jesus? Moses said we should.” If he answers YES then Rome can blame Him for carrying out an Illegal capital punishment under Roman law plus risk losing the title of “Friend of Sinners.” Sinners don’t need friends; they need Judges! If He answers NO then He is guilty of speaking contrary to the Law and Moses (our Hero) will stand as His judge.
The Woman is sobbing. She has not only been dragged to the Temple but now falls before Jesus who everyone knows is a Prophet. Surely He knows her sin without having to be told. HER sin which is about to condemn them both.
Her shame is multiplied as she stands in the circle of her condemners who curiously have also somehow put Jesus at the center of this circle. One looking in on the scene might have thought of a pack of wild dogs salivating for the certain kill.
Jesus ignores the pack and starts writing in the sand. Is this a stall tactic while He collects His thoughts? Does He think that He can wish them away by ignoring them? Nobody knows for sure exactly what He was writing—not sure that anybody really wanted to know!
“He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone!” The woman briefly raises her gaze wondering which one of these accusers will bend to pick up one of the many stones that lay around the Temple area; some had even carried stones with them.
But Jesus is the Same one who had said, “But I say unto you that anyone who looks at a woman with lust in his heart is already guilty of adultery!” Which one of these accusers was sinless?? Had even some of them looked at this woman in that way??
One-by-one the crowd was decimated by their own guilt. Some of the Younger ones held on wanting to still see this through to the end; but when they saw their Elders file out, they knew it was over.
The Only-One-Without-Sin looked up: “Where are your accusers?” Their exact location was no longer a concern: to accuse you have to be present! “Is there no one left to condemn you?” YOU could, Jesus. You could be my lone Stone-thrower! “Then neither do I. Go and sin no more.” The only one who could have condemned me, forgave me!
Very soon many of that same crowd would condemn the Only-One-Without-Sin. He would bear the Shame that we might all be forgiven.
– Easter is not just Another Day –
Almost two years ago the whole world took notice as a Royal was born to the throne of Great Britain: An heir born to the House of Windsor in an age of Parliamentary Monarchs. With the amount of media coverage and popularity it would have seemed that we were back in the days of Henry VIII or Queen Victoria! And now the whole media machine is just starting to crank up as William and Kate have less than a month for the next Royal(s) to be born!
The birth of a “Royal” is different from almost any other birth. Most babies we look at we look with a smile as we think of how cute and innocent they are. We wonder what their future holds. We dream dreams on their behalf hoping that some of those dreams will come to be! What Role will they fill? What role will they take in our family history? What role will they fill in our Community? What role will they fill in History? The word that best captures this moment is Potential.
Not so the Royal—they are born into a predetermined Role. The weight or shine of a crown can already be seen on their head. The hopes of the father have been confirmed and he now has an heir! Ask Henry VIII about how crucial this concern was to a monarch. A nation can collectively breathe a sigh of relief as now there would be a smooth continuity of reign from father to heir instead of the political upheaval that has often accompanied the death of a ruler who has had no direct heir. The eyes of wondering and hopes for the future will not be looking at Royal; this baby has been born with official titles and documents. The word that best captures their moment is Responsibility.
Jesus was born a “Royal”- in fact He is The Royal! He was born with titles: Son of the Most High, Savior, Son of David, Messiah (Christ) the Lord. He was born with responsibilities: saving His people from their sins, sitting on the throne of His father David, ruling a kingdom which would have no end, fulfilling the hopes of Israel. He was the child whose destiny had been set not only before His birth, but even before the creation of the world!
It is revealing to look at Jesus The Royal through the eyes of two people in Luke 2, Simeon and Anna. Jesus was brought to the Temple just like any other 8-day old Jewish boy. It was the day of Presentation and Circumcision. Jesus was just one among many to have been born eight days earlier. But these two servants of God picked Him out from the rest by the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit. Simeon had been told his life would not end without this meeting taking place. For Anna it was her devotion to God which brought her now face-to-face with “God Among Us”, Emmanuel. Their deaths were postponed until they would witness His birth: the birth of The Royal. But even in their declarations of the glory of His birth, they gave testimony to the ultimate destiny of this One: His death. These who could now “die in peace” gave testimony to the turmoil that would follow Jesus throughout His life and strike a sword through the heart of His mother one day in his death. A destiny set for Him by God the Father. A Royal birth that would one day make me an heir as well. The Royal who was born to die so He could give me a birth into the Family of God as an heir of righteousness and salvation!
- Never One to back down from a GOOD Confrontation –
When many Christians think of Jesus as the “tender Jesus: meek and mild”, they are misrepresenting the Savior. Jesus was Humble and submitted to the will of the Father but He was not mild and His submission to the will of the Father often brought Him into direct conflict with others. Had He submitted to others’ opinions, He would have been out of line with the will of the Father.
Over and over again in the Gospels this scene plays out: a blind, lame, or sick person comes across Jesus’ path- but it is the Sabbath! “It’s the Sabbath, Jesus, are you going to heal him – huh?! You know you not supposed to, so are you goin’ do it- huh?!” It says that they would often gather round the sick person just waiting for Jesus seeing if He would heal the person so that then they could confirm to themselves how ungodly Jesus was to be a Sabbath- breaker. (Examples: Matthew 12, Luke 6, John 5, etc.)
Jesus could have saved Himself a lot of grief if He just did not heal these people on the Sabbath. He could have avoided further alienating the “good people” of His day. He could have slipped His card to the withered-hand man, “Hey, if you drop by Peter’s house on Monday, I can take care of that hand for you. No sense just upsetting a lot of these well-meaning Sabbath police.” He could have led the blind man out of the eye of the public and healed him in private. But Jesus never chose this route. In fact He often added a comment that just further infuriated them. “You all pull your donkey out of the ditch on the Sabbath (as allowed by the Law), so why can I not “pull” these out of their ditch?” “My Father works on the Sabbath and so do I.”- ever think about that?? God still caused them to draw a breath on the Sabbath; He kept the sun and moon in place on the Sabbath. Then Jesus really tipped them over the edge when He said “I am the Lord of the Sabbath!” (Matthew 12, Mark 9, Luke 6).
One guy just couldn’t take it any more: He was NOT going to have any of this Jesus healing on the Sabbath while he was around and especially not on his watch in the synagogue!! Notice what he did in Luke 13:14 – “ But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, ‘There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.’” Do you get what he just did? In our day it might sound something like this: “All right folks, this healing time is Over. Go home. If you want to get healed, you have Sunday – Friday. Sabbath healings are finished. Jesus is doing the wrong thing and we are shutting this thing down.”
Is this the Jesus you would have expected? If Jesus had allowed their opinions or attitudes to dictate His conduct, there would have been a lot of people that would not have been healed. Worse: He would not have been in compliance with His Father’s will. Jesus did go looking for confrontation but nor was He one to avoid it.
We live in a time where more confrontation will become necessary. Some Christians believe that any form of conflict is ungodly. “Go along to get along” has become the mantra of a growing number of Christian circles. Jesus did not go looking for confrontation- it came looking for Him. We should not be those who go looking for confrontation for the sheer joy of a good fight; BUT we must not be those who back down from confrontation that finds us because we, just like Jesus, are insistent on the will of the Father. Compliance is compromise.
Pastor Stephen Willoughby
Pastor Steve grew up in Columbia,South America, where his parents served as missionaries for 25 years. After graduating from Capital Bible Seminary, he was invited to serve as Assistant Pastor at FBCP. He has served in that capacity for twenty years before taking on the position of Senior Pastor.