Loving God

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”  Mark 12:30

We all have priorities, don’t we? As Christians, we are taught from a young age to “put God first” in our lives. We are taught to invest our energy and time in the things that matter most, like our relationship with God, with family, and with other people. And while this is indeed great wisdom, often times the semantics of “put God first” can lead to a works-based, weary and discouraged life for believers.

Jesus did not say to “put God first” in Mark 12:30. He said to love God, “with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” God is not another item on a long list of daily priorities, according to Scripture. He is not merely of supreme importance in our lives – He is our life. He is to be the center of all that we do, say, think, believe, and feel. He is the hub of life’s wheel around which all other priorities revolve like spokes.

This is an important distinction. There is a great difference in putting Christ at the top of a perpetual list, and Him being the list. It helps to understand what the words heart, soul, mind and strength mean in the original language of the New Testament: 1) heart: the center of all physical and spiritual life, the inmost part of a person; 2) soul: the seat of feelings, desires and affections; 3) mind: the faculty of understanding and the way of thinking and feeling; and 4) strength: one’s ability, force and might.

The commandment that is of utmost importance, Jesus says, is that we love God fully and completely with every part of who we are. We are to love Him from our core all the way out. He determines what we feel, desire, and have affection for. He controls the way we think and how we understand things. He is the source of our abilities, force and might.  He is not a priority. He is much more than that, and cannot be compared to anything else in life. This is what it means to love God.

Dear God, I know that I have been guilty of ranking You on my life’s to-do list. Please forgive me for equating You with daily duties. You are so much more than that. I truly desire to love You the way You deserve to be loved – with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength. Only You can enable me to love like that. Please continue to work in my life and change my heart. Deepen my love and devotion to You. Thank You for saving me from my sins and giving me abundant life in Your Son Jesus. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Love Is Just A Word

“’The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”  Mark 12:29-30

“I love that movie!”  “I love Italian food!” “Don’t you just love those shoes?”  I love college football!”  “I love you.” To say the word “love” is overused and misused in our culture is an understatement. In fact, it is so common that it has, in large part, lost its meaning. It is no longer a sacred word, reserved for only the deepest and most lasting emotions. It no longer carries with it a commitment to another person. It has been diluted and stripped of the power it once represented.

In the Greek language of the New Testament, there were several different words used for the word we translate in English as simply “love.” Here in Mark 12, Jesus is quoting Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 6:4-5. It is interesting that Jesus is commanding that His followers “love” God with everything in their being. He is not asking them to love God…He is demanding it. How can you command love? Over and over again I have heard the phrase, “You cannot help who you fall in love with.” If that is true, how can love be demanded?

The love that God commands in this passage is not a feeling. It is a verb, and it describes love as an act of the will…a choice we can make. The love that we have for God should not be based on feelings or circumstances. It is a choice to surrender everything we are to everything that He is. The natural way to love is based on feelings and on the behavior of someone else. This is not Christ honoring because it does not require the presence and power of God. Anyone can love when it is easy…when it feels right and benefits self.

If our love for God is based on how we feel, or on what we see Him doing, it is superficial and will not withstand the storms of life. God’s ways are higher than ours; and His thoughts outnumber the grains of sand. What we see and understand, even as growing Christians, is finite. God is infinite. We must refuse to let circumstances dictate our devotion and faith in an all-knowing and wise God.

This is why God commands that believers love Him with full devotion. He knows that such love is an act of the will, and is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. So, the next time you say, “I love God,” take a moment and examine your heart. Do you love Him by His standards, or by your own?

Dear God, I am so grateful that Your love for me is not based on my actions, but is a choice You have made and will remain faithful to at all times. Please help me to love You in both word and deed, fully and fiercely. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Training to Finish

“I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”  Acts 20:24

Have you ever attempted to run a marathon? Running 26.2 miles is not my idea of fun; but successful marathon runners say that it is one of the most rewarding feats they have ever accomplished. One thing I know for sure about running a marathon is that you don’t just show up on race day and try to run such a long distance. In fact, the training is perhaps the most important part of successfully finishing the race.

Half of the battle isn’t the running of the race itself, but finding the resolve to run day after day to train. There are many training techniques for long-distance running. But, there are a few key elements that most coaches would agree on. It’s important to remember that coaches measure success not by how many runners line up on the start line, but by how many finish the race. Most successful coaches agree on these three things: 1) Running partners make the journey easier and more fun; 2) You must fuel up your body with proper nutrition and hydration; and 3) Rest is a crucial component of training.

In Acts 20:24, Paul summed up the purpose of his life. The only thing that mattered to him was to finish the race and complete his assigned task as a follower of Christ. The gospel was his focus; and he was intentional about living out his purpose. Life with Christ, in many ways, is like a marathon. We cannot just “show up” for life each day and expect to finish strong and complete our God-given task. The Christ-life, like running, requires fuel. God’s Word and His Spirit nourish our souls and give us what we need to be a minister of His grace. Rest is also necessary. We must learn to rest in His power, relying on His strength and not our own. We must learn to not overload our lives with the “good” at the expense of His best. This requires self-discipline.

It is no wonder that Paul compared Christian living to running. Both require endurance, self-discipline and training. Both are easier when done in community. And both begin with a choice…a resolve to keep at it, day after day, even when it is grueling. How do you finish a marathon? One mile at a time. And how do you complete the task God has given you to be a witness of the gospel? One day at a time.

Dear God, I want to finish the race strong, like Jesus did. I know that requires great resolve and sacrifice. Please forgive me for allowing my focus to shift to the temporary things that surround me. Please help me to remember daily the task You have entrusted to me, and to make choices that keep me in the center of Your will for my life.    In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

The Responsibility of Blessing

“…From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48

With great blessing comes great responsibility. And who has been more blessed than the children of the Most High God? We, who were once enemies of God but have been brought into His glorious light. We, who were once idolaters, thieves, sexually immoral, adulterers, liars, greedy and drunkards but have been washed and made right with God (1 Corinthians 6). We were orphaned spiritually because of sin and God, by His choice, adopted us into His family so that we can call Him Father. At just the right time, while we were dead in sin, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6).

This old hymn tells our story:

“Grace, grace, God’s grace

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within.

Grace, grace, God’s grace

Grace that is greater than all our sin!”

We will spend eternity praising the Father and His Son Jesus for saving our souls. And yet, if our focus is solely on what God has done for us, we will have missed the point. He has given us the fullness of His love, mercy and grace. And while we do not have to work for salvation, these blessings do carry responsibilities. Ephesians 2:10 says that we have been saved to do good works that God has planned beforehand. This is evidence that our salvation is not for us alone, but also for the sake of others.

We have the amazing opportunity and privilege, as children of God, to participate in His work. We have been granted the authority to carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). What was Christ’s ministry? It was to bring the message of the gospel. It was to show sinners the way to the Father. Christ has entrusted His message to us. He has given us the authority to share it boldly. He has placed His Spirit within us to lead us and empower us as we do His work. He has given us His Word to equip us for every good work. We have been given everything we need.

So, the question isn’t, “Can I tell others about Jesus?”  The question is, “Will I?”

Dear Father, Thank you for saving Me. I do want to join You in Your work. I can see that You are moving and working all the time. Sometimes I just feel unprepared and inadequate. Sometimes I’m just lazy. Please change my heart make me a bold messenger for You. Help me to remember Your Word, cling to Your Son, walk in Your Spirit, and rely on Your grace.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Famished

“’The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.’”  Amos 8:11

Poverty is a major world problem, the results of which are far-reaching and complicated.  Disease, starvation, inadequate medical care, crime, and the lack of clean water are just some of its consequences. Yet, there is a famine that is worse than hunger and thirst. It has nothing to do with social status and affects every nation and people group on this planet. Its consequences reach into eternity. The prophet Amos called it, “a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.”

The Bible has much to say about caring for the poor. As Christ followers we are commanded to serve the needy, broken, oppressed and unloved. This is the Father’s heart. But there is a pandemic so far-reaching that no amount of money or effort can make a dent. This disease has spread to every person on the planet and ravages every life it touches. It is the root of all that is evil, unjust, and wrong in the world. This pandemic is sin; and it has left souls famished for the Bread of Life and the Living Water.

The primary problem in our world is not physical. It is spiritual. All injustice, evil, wrongdoing, selfishness, arrogance, pride, and sickness are the result of man’s fall into sin. If every belly was full and every person employed…every child educated and every medical need met, there would still be murder and rape and stealing and cheating. Sin flows from the heart; and there is only one cure for the heart. His name is Jesus. This does not absolve us of the responsibility to love and serve the needy. It means that to do so without the gospel is an even worse injustice.

Faith in Jesus Christ comes through hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Souls are starving for Him and don’t even know it. But we know…those of us who have “tasted and seen that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). We can say, with Christ, “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). May our lives demonstrate this truth.

Dear Jesus, When my soul was starving and without hope You rescued me with Your love.  And now I can see the famine surrounding me. Please use me, Lord, to bring Your Word to a lost and dying people. I have nothing to offer of any value except for You and Your power in me. Make me bold and effective for Your Kingdom. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.