The Final Test Of Love

“The final test of love is obedience.  Not sweet emotions, not willingness to sacrifice, not zeal, but obedience to the commandments of Christ.  Our Lord drew a line plain and tight for everyone to see.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                    – A.W. Tozer –

             At times, the Bible confronts us with things we don’t naturally like to hear, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  Obedience as the proof of love for God is one such example.  In each of our sinful natures, there exists a self-willed spirit that resists submission or obedience to others.  We see it in varying degrees in our relationships with others as we live day to day.  Somehow in our society obedience has become synonymous with weakness.  But we must face the fact that our love for God is measured by just that; obedience.  I love this quote from Tozer because the other things he mentions: emotions, sacrifice, and zeal are all good things which result from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  But in and of themselves, they are not the final test of our love for God.  It is only obedience:  

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word…” (John 14:23a) 

“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words…” (John 14:24a) 

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.  And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) 

            Though obedience is proof of our love for God, it is wrong to think that it is how we gain His love.  He loved us first; proving it at the cross.  Our obedience is an offering we make in return that serves to bring glory to His name.  In all things, let our hearts say to the Lord, “not my will, but yours, be done”.

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Father To Son

“Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in His ways and keeping His statutes…” (1 Kings 2:2-3) 

            Father’s, how many times have you failed your son?  How many times has your advice been less about him and more about your own pride?  Or how many times have your failures made you feel inadequate to give advice at all?  Of all that Scripture testifies about concerning David, Israel’s greatest king and “a man after God’s own heart”, it never claims his greatness as a father.  In fact, in many ways, David’s greatest afflictions were his children.  Those difficulties were often consequences of his sinful actions.  I imagine due to instances in which he strayed from God’s will, failing to trust in a given moment, at times David must have felt unworthy to offer his children advice.  Do you share that feeling?  If past failures cause you to question your right, but more importantly, your sons need for godly advice, be encouraged.  Be encouraged because though David shares many like experiences with you and me, he never stayed in the place where guilt kept him from doing what God would have him do.  And you don’t have to either.  

            “Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in His ways and keeping His statutes…” As David aged and neared death, it was Solomon, his son who would be Israel’s next king.  In this passage, David sought to encourage Solomon as he prepared to assume the throne.  He knew that the challenges Solomon would face would require bravery, but he also knew that blessing would only come by faithful obedience to the LORD. 

            If in all the advice you’ve given your son, you have never given the advice David gave Solomon in this passage, know that it’s never too late.  Although he lived the consequences of his past failures, David always pressed on, understanding the completeness of both God’s forgiveness and faithfulness in spite of his own lack of both at given moments.  You may be living the consequences of your past failures as a father.  If so, accept them and start anew.  Don’t miss the opportunity to leave your son with the most valuable advice you can give him.  Your responsibility is not that he accepts it; Solomon didn’t heed all of David’s.  It’s only that you give it.  It doesn’t take a perfect father to instill Christian values in a son.  It takes a committed father who begins each day asking his Heavenly Father for help.  So, tell your son to be strong, to show himself a man, to keep the charge of the LORD and walk in His ways.  And when he does, tell him to expect God’s blessing because our Heavenly Father keeps all His promises.

 Prayer

Father, failure is part of being an earthly father.  I admit my many failures through the years and thank you that you have given forgiveness.  Help me LORD to understand as David did how faithful you are in keeping your promises.  Help me to seek to be in fellowship with you each day so that the counsel I give my son will be in accord with your will.  Thank you for your grace and goodness each day. 

“Lord, Why Did You Send Me?”

“O Lord, why have you done evil to this people?  Why did you ever send me?” (Exodus 5:22) 

            Never think for a moment that God’s call on your life will be easy.  Moses’ call was anything but easy.  Though receptive and faithful to God’s call, it didn’t mean Moses never questioned it.  In fact, it happened almost immediately when the LORD told him he was to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt.  But God was gracious to reassure Moses of His power, provision and presence each step of the way.  So with those promises, Moses returned to Egypt, went to Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go”.  Enslaved for four hundred years, was freedom in sight?  Was Moses the man to lead the salvation the LORD would bring Israel?  Upon Moses’ request for freedom, Pharaoh not only responded negatively, but then ordered the work to be made even more difficult.  This brought a response of anger and complaint from the Hebrew people, questioning Moses ability to lead them.  In turn, Moses complained to the LORD and questioned Him.  

            “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people?  Why did you ever send me?”  The Hebrew translation for evil is “trouble”.  From the very outset of Moses carrying out God’s call on his life, he encountered uncertainty and then questioned God.  Have you ever done that?  When God calls you, do you hesitate?  And when that call is great and consequences are difficult, do you question Him?  We often do.  When God calls you and your life is radically changed, you can count on two things:  First, people will doubt you; second, there will come a time, perhaps many, in which you will doubt yourself.  As we read about Moses as he led the Hebrew people, we know this occurred more than once.  When God calls a man or a woman, Satan is always there throwing up obstacles, creating doubt in an attempt to paralyze each of us from being used to further the kingdom of God.  But do you know what?  God is also there and you can count on Him to remove that obstacle in furthering His glory.  His call always comes with His promise to be with us.  We know the Bible’s testimony of Moses is a great one (Deuteronomy 34:10).  He was a great leader; he was humble, obedient and faithful.  But he was also a man, with all the faults of mere men.  He had moments in which he questioned and doubted God along the way.  You may too, but trust God’s power and purpose for your life and remember that the LORD has sent you.     

Prayer

Father, you are a gracious and loving God in using me even when I am so full of doubt in my ability to carry out what you have called me to do.  Help me remember that it’s not my ability that matters, but your purpose and power.  Forgive me when I hesitate before obeying and when I disobey altogether.  Thank you for the testimony of Moses’ faithful and obedient service.  By your power help me to be faithful to the call you’ve place on my life.  Thank you for grace each day as I live that calling.  Amen!

Bearing Fruit

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22) 

             Galatians 5:22 identifies godly attributes or “fruit” that results from the Holy Spirit working in the lives of believers.  Just as the maturity levels of Christians differ, the degree of fruit bearing varies as well.  It has always been apparent to me that my uncle Pete was a very loving man.  He enjoyed a good time and you could just sense his joy being around him.  As a kid, I remember never being able to get too comfortable when he was around because I didn’t know what prank he might pull next.  I was the target of quite a few.  Though more infrequent as a result of me living so far away as an adult, he still played pranks.  My son, Logan was often the targeted recipient.  I speak about my uncle in the past tense because a year ago today, June 5, 2011, the Lord called him home.

             “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control…”  Paul’s purpose in writing Galatians was to deal with the false idea that a believer’s right standing before God was Jesus plus circumcision.  Today, this manifests as Jesus plus something (good works, baptism, church membership, etc.).  The true gospel is that salvation is found in Christ alone.  In this specific section of his letter, Paul contrasted the works of the flesh, works that result from fallen humanity, to that which result from being led by the Holy Spirit. 

            As people streamed by during the visitation to offer their condolences, there were numerous expressions about the love and kindness Pete had shown them.  Just as living distance had lessened the pranks, distance had also kept me uninformed of these things.  I knew the attributes described in this passage existed in my uncle, but it was not always clear as to their source.  That was until I saw it with my own eyes, heard it with my own ears and felt it in my own heart.  Pete never claimed to be an Evangelist.  That’s not to say he shied away from conversations about the Lord.  I’m sure they occurred.  But what was evident to me from being at the visitation was that Pete lived out the implications of having Christ in his life.  Isn’t it the case that we testify more with our actions than with our lips simply because more people observe us than actually encounter us?  Make no mistake, there is plenty of room and need for both.  A godly testimony by our life often leads to an opportunity to testify with our lips.   

            Just as Pete himself was a gift in the lives of so many, the outpouring of love and expressions of gratitude for what he meant to others is a gift that the Lord left to those Pete loved the most.  Pete Leonard bore the fruit of the Spirit.  As with all Christians, some was seen and some wasn’t.  Let your life be filled with the Spirit of God that you may bear much fruit.  Don’t be concerned with how much is seen by others; just know that God sees it all.  He saw Pete’s and as He took him to his real home, where he will live forever, He allowed those that love Pete the most to have been blessed to see more than they might have imagined.  So though we love and miss him deeply, we know that it’s the Lord, the giver of all good gifts, we have to thank for having had Pete Leonard in our lives. Thank you God!   

 Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for the testimony of other people in our lives.  Thank you for people who love, who have joy and who express so much kindness to those they come into contact with.  Soften our hearts to the work of your Spirit in each of our lives.  Help us to live in your power each day that we would bear much fruit.  Thank you mostly for the perfect gift that you have given us, your Son, Jesus Christ.  It is being “in Him” in which we receive our greatest blessings. Amen.

Grace Above Differences: Lessons From The John Edwards Case

            In its simplest form, grace is defined as getting something that we don’t deserve.  None of us are truly deserving of the grace that God gives.  It is a gift.  Then why is it that we are so determined to be the arbiter of who should get it?  I’m faced with question myself today.  Yesterday, John Edwards, former U.S. Senator and Vice Presidential and Presidential candidate was acquitted of campaign finance violations.  Charged on six counts, he was found not guilty on one account while the jury deadlocked on the other five.  He is unlikely to be prosecuted again on those five charges.    

            There are few politicians that I disagree with more than I do John Edwards.  I couldn’t be more opposed to the policies that he has supported, and personally, I never really cared much for him either.  I always felt he was arrogant and lacked the authenticity I believe is needed to not only lead our nation, but anyone.  I guess that proved to be true, at least in this case.   This was not your typical case as it concerns campaign finance abuse.  What created such an interest and media frenzy in this case was the purpose for which these charges resulted.  It was claimed they were motivated in order to cover up an affair which produced a child, all while Edwards’ wife was battling terminal cancer.  Who could be more undeserving of God’s grace?  Who could be more undeserving of ours?  As I watched the evening news and saw Edwards’ statements I was confronted with my own bias.  Is he due less of God’s grace or mine because of our political differences or my personal opinion of him?  Certainly not!  As the evening went on I began to feel more sympathy toward John Edwards.  His sins have been exposed in such a public way and he will forever reap their consequences.  King David was guilty of this same sin with Bathsheba.  He was publically exposed and suffered the consequences for his actions.  Yet David was a man after God’s own heart.  This should tell us something about the depth of our sin and the greatness of God’s grace. 

            Who am I to take pleasure in the public humiliation of John Edwards because he’s different than me?  Too often, I think we’re tempted to reserve grace for those in which we are most alike, be it politically, socially or racially.  This is not a Christian understanding of grace.  Nor is it a proper Christian understanding of grace when we maintain a neutral opinion about what God has defined as sin.  Grace is never an advocate of remaining in sin, no matter the degree of that sin.  All sin is an offense to God.  The Christian faith is truly all about grace.  It is about the grace that God has shown in overcoming our sin through the person of Jesus Christ.  It is about the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, leading us to live in a way that both pleases and glorifies God.  

            As I listened to some of the commentary from the news media concerning the Edwards case, it seemed apparent that many were sorrowful, and rightfully so for what this has done to the Edwards family, particularly his children.  They are in need of God’s grace because they will always live with this.  But there seemed to be less sorrow and grace reserved for John Edwards himself.  Maybe he doesn’t deserve it, but neither do we.  From such a distance, we don’t know the true guilt or innocence of John Edwards, and we really don’t know if he is truly repentant for his sins.  In time we may, but we know this, God sure knows, and that’s what matters most.  In grace, we accept people where they are and pray that God continues to change them.  So, just as we pray for his family, we should also pray for John Edwards himself.  True repentance brings God’s forgiveness.  If God can forgive and bestow grace to him, why shouldn’t I?  Life events can often be a lesson for each of us.  This one made me reflect on God’s grace and who deserves it.  As an undeserving recipient of God’s grace, I must offer that same grace to others, even those with whom I have profound disagreement.  God often uses humiliation as a means to draw us to Himself.  In a statement after his acquittal, John Edwards said he didn’t believe that God was through with him yet.  Let’s hope not.  Let’s hope and pray that John Edwards has truly learned from what he’s been through and that in the days ahead, he will live a life that glorifies God.  While we’re at it, let’s pray that for ourselves as well.