Sunday, March 26, 2017

Week 25 Hope -- You Can Cope Because of the Hope

     Sunday in three different LifeGroups, I taught on what it means to “believe.” We discussed briefly that to believe (a verb) is essentially the same as trust (generally a verb) and faith (generally a noun of the same word believe). So what is hope?

     It's sometimes hard to see the difference in faith and hope. Perhaps it is easier to see the difference if we look at the opposites. The opposite of faith is doubt and the opposite of hope is despair. Thus, faith speaks to the intellect or understanding, and hope speaks to the emotions. Both are battles within the soul, the seat of our intellect, will and emotions. Martin Luther said that faith rests with the understanding, and teaches and prescribes; hope rests in the encouragement of the soul and gives strength and courage.

     Hope brings joy and its opposite, despair, brings sadness. Faith is an “evidence,” (see Hebrews 11:1) and its opposite, doubt, is also fueled by conflicting evidence. But Paul adds a third part to the faith and hope discussion--love (1 Cor. 13:13). All three must be used in the battle within our souls. Faith fuels the battle of the mind with unseen evidence; Hope fuels the battle of our emotions with courage and joy; Love fuels the battle of our will with a sacrificial motivation for all we do. Love is greater than faith or hope and it will also endure. 

The above was originally published on September 5, 2016, when Believe was just starting. We are now in Week 25 of 30 weeks of studying our basic core beliefs. 
The following devotional comes from Zondervan in preparation for BELIEVE.

It is impossible to cope without hope.

False hope causes people to plan, build and risk for something that is not likely to happen. The Bible identifies several things humans unfortunately place their hope in only to be disappointed in the end.

False hope ... in riches.

Because of his fearless confidence in God, David is able to hurl condemnation at his enemy who trusts in wealth. (See Psalm 52:1–9.)

False hope ... in people.

The psalmists tell us that we will be disappointed if we place our hope in people rather than God.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. (Psalm 146:3–4)

False hope ... in idols.

An idol is any object we place above God. The prophet Habakkuk declares how foolish it is to place our hope in such man-made inventions. (See Habakkuk 2:18-19.)

Hope is only as good as the power and character of the one who offers it. Since God’s character is rock solid, trustworthy and true, we anchor our hope in his promises to us.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. (Hebrews 6:19–20)

I can cope with the hardships of life because of the hope I have in Jesus Christ.

KEY APPLICATION: What difference does this make in the way I live?
Hope in Christ gives us a different place to look.

The author of Hebrews describes how hope gives us a different place to look: “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Sunday, March 19, 2017

24: Self-Control -- What stone will you take or sacrifice will you make?

     Self Control, as found in the fruit of the Spirit, is a word that used to be translated as “temperance.”

     In my family McKeown Bible from the 1870s, there are pages filled with births, marriages and deaths. Strangely and I am sure purely accidental, the only page that is blank was the page entitled “Temperance Pledge,” which in the day meant a pledge against partaking of alcohol.

     As a result of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, our “self” is controlled by God’s presence and Holy Spirit, not as a result of will-power or simply by “thinking.” In BELIEVE, the first 10 weeks is on how to “think” like Jesus, but it is more than that. It is as the title states, we need to really believe that Jesus is with us always and at all times and then behave and become like Jesus.

     In the story of David and Goliath, all of David’s brothers and Saul’s army believed in God but only David put his faith into action. With Abraham, he believed but it was only evidenced and actually realized when he offered Isaac as a sacrifice. Hebrews says “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”

     David’s faith led him to go to battle with a sling and a stone. Abraham’s faith led him to pledge that both he and the lad would return from Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:5, Heb. 11:19). What action is your faith leading you to have “temperance.”

Today's devotional comes from Randy Frazee. as we finish out the week of preparation for BELIEVE. 

How does God free me from addictions and sinful habits?

God desires all of us to have self-control over things that can destroy us and others. The writer of Proverbs places options before us, clearly showing the virtue and benefit of self-control.
•          Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32)
•          The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. (Proverbs 17:27)

In essence, self-control means having power over one’s own impulses, reactions and desires.

The Bible offers practical instruction on how to grow in the virtue of self-control. One of the primary applications is to “flee” — flee from the person, environment or situation that tempts us to lose control.

We can tame our tongues, reduce fights and quarrels amongst us, control our selfish desires and mitigate against the negative influences of the world and the devil. But ultimately complete self-control is unattainable. Our sin nature, or flesh, eventually wears us down and gets the best of us. The ultimate solution to gain self-control is “God-control.” The believer has the presence and power of God within them to live a life not undermined by our inner desires and the corruption of the world. As believers, we are to draw on this power to live productive and effective lives.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11–13)

I have the power through Christ to control myself.

KEY APPLICATION: What difference does this make in the way I live?
As we develop the virtue of self-control, our sin will decrease and our character will increase.

Let me tell you a story. The late George Gallup Jr. was a good friend of mine who significantly helped me in the early journey of forming these thirty key ideas of the Christian life. In one of our several all-day sessions in Princeton, New Jersey, tucked away in the gunroom of the historic Nassau Club, we were discussing this virtue of self-control.

I was pontificating proudly on how Christians just need to get their act together and be self-controlled. In George’s always kind and gentle demeanor he stopped me and said, “Randy, you’re not an alcoholic, are you?” Startled by the question, I said, “No, I’m not.” He went on to say, “Well, I am. My father was also an alcoholic. When I took my first drink, something happened to me that likely didn’t happen to you or many others. I was hooked and couldn’t stop. Even as a Christian, I tried and tried and tried. I felt so defeated, and it was ruining my life. Then in a moment of quiet desperation, I heard Jesus whisper to me, ‘George, if you never lick this, that is okay. I died for this struggle in your life, and I still love you deeply.’” He paused for a moment, reflecting on that tender encounter with the Savior, and then said, “From that very moment I haven’t had a drink. It has been over thirty years.”

At that meeting, we added the phrase “through Christ” to the key idea of self-control: “I have the power, through Christ, to control myself.” Yielding to the love, grace, and presence of Christ in us is the only way we can be victorious. While not every Christian struggling with an addiction may experience the deliverance George did, the truth of Christ’s commitment and deep love applies to all of us.

Why is self-control important in living a Biblical lifestyle? How does self-control relate to other fruit of the Spirit? 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

23 Peace -- Where do I find strength to battle anxiety and fear?

     On Sept. 3, Labor Day Weekend, I posted the devotional below, anticipating this week's study on PEACE. Six months later, we are at Week 23 in our BELIEVE study. How have you grown in this study? Did your grow in the virtue of JOY last week? Are you ready to grow in PEACE?

     For me, as I anticipated, this section of study on virtues has been the most convicting. Last week, I was actually embarrassed to admit I struggle with the virtue of Joy, or being content. This week will also be a week of conviction to be at peace, with Shalom.

     I was mentored in hospital visitation by a missionary who would visit, read a Scripture, and then pray with the person in recovery. (I will always remember our first visit was with a man who asked "Do you want to see my scar?" I don't know why he asked because he went ahead and showed us anyway!) My mentor always used the same verse, Philippians 4:6-7. Years later, I understand why. No other verse fits any better for hospitals than the one which speaks on having a "peace that passes all understanding" to guard and protect our hearts and our minds.

     Come to think about it, Philippians 4:6-7 fits just about any situation and struggle that we face in life that makes us prone to worry. Read it outloud, from the new New International Version:

Do not be anxious about anything,
but in every situation,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

     Labor Day weekend during presidential elections is typically the weekend that many people get serious in thinking about who to vote for. Today’s devotional speaks about peace and one of the readings in Week 23 will be passages that speak about praying for those who have authority over us, including the government, that we may “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence,” 1 Timothy 2:2.

     A common greeting in Jewish custom is “Shalom,” meaning peace. I like to think that when Jesus would greet the disciples such as in John 20:19, 21, 26 and other places that He would say, “Shalom.”

     I am finding the most conviction of the BELIEVE study in these virtues. I can intellectually and Biblically defend the theology aspects we have learned. But these lessons on “love”, “joy”, and “peace” will hopefully bring the most life change in me and in our church. After all, Jesus said that if we make peace, we will be most blessed (Matthew 5:9).

The following devotional comes from Zondervan. Be sure to check today’s Killeen Daily Herald about our church and BELIEVE.

Most of us think of peace as a feeling. We want to trade our anxiety, depression and fear for calming tranquility. There are many harmful and ineffective ways people attempt to achieve this feeling, most notably by using alcohol or drugs. Biblical peace, however, starts not with the feeling of peace but with the root cause of it, meaning a strong and healthy relationship with God and with others. Of course, peace with God is made possible only through the Prince of Peace. When Christ establishes his eternal kingdom, societal peace will be the norm.

Two-thirds of the use of the word “peace” (shalom) in the Old Testament involves the fulfillment that comes to humans when they experience God’s presence. Such peace can be experienced from God’s presence in our lives even in difficult circumstances.

Worry is the chief robber of peace in our lives. It prevents us from lying down and sleeping in peace at night. It keeps us on edge during the day. Our Prince of Peace, Jesus, emphasized the immense capacity of God the Father to love and care for his people individually before they let the worries of this life overtake them. He also stressed the important role of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Father, in supporting God’s people. [See Matthew 6:25-34.]

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7)

I am free from anxiety because I have found peace with God, peace with others and peace with myself.

What difference does this make in the way I live?

When it comes to difficult situations you can’t immediately change or fix — broken, hurting relationships; illnesses or diseases; financial crises — go to God in prayer. Begin by rehearsing all the things you are thankful for — down to the smallest bit of beauty. Leave no stone unturned. Then lay your request before God. Just speak it out to him in complete honesty and clarity. Be specific. Offer to him the things beyond your control and ability to fix. 

As you engage in this spiritual practice of prayer, a peace beyond your comprehension will begin to bud on the end of your “branches.”

Let me tell you a story. In 1956, when Steve Saint was five years old, his father, Nate, flew with four other missionaries into the jungles of Ecuador to attempt to make contact with the most dangerous tribe known to man, the Waodani. After several months of exchanging gifts with the natives, the five men were speared repeatedly and hacked to death with machetes. Years later, Steve found out that a tribe member named Mincaye had delivered the blow that ultimately killed his father.

At the age of nine, Steve went to the Waodani territory for the first time to visit his aunt, who was a missionary there, and he visited every summer after that until her death. Her affection for the tribe was a major influence in Steve’s life.

When he was fourteen, Steve and his sister, Kathy, decided to be baptized by a couple of Waodani tribe members in the water next to the beach where their father had been killed. Steve says he has never forgotten the pain and heartache of losing his dad. “But I can’t imagine not loving Mincaye, a man who has adopted me as his own, and the other Waodani,” he says. “What the Waodani meant for evil, God used for good,” says Steve. “Given the chance to rewrite the story, I would not be willing to change it.”

This famous story of martyred missionaries and their families could have a much different ending — one filled with rage, bitterness, and hatred. But they pressed on despite horrible personal tragedy and saw God work miracles. Why? Because through forgiveness, the peace of Christ was chosen both as a response to the Waodani and as an eternal gift offered to the tribe. Once again, God used his people to bring peace and reach the unreachable.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

22. The Surprising Joy/Test-Tribulation-Temptation Connection

     After writing on the sorrow/joy connection, I came across this:

The tree dug in,
 facing fiercest wind,
   will stand well past tomorrow;
It's the deepest roots
 which yield sweetest fruits,
   though grown by greatest sorrow.

    As I go through this week’s BELIEVE material on Joy, I am finding that this lesson is the one out of all 22 chapters so far which I need to learn the most. Of all of the lessons, this is the one I score the least for the test on page 171. Ironically, this is also the one Randy Frazee’s wife gives testimony that she too struggled with the most.

    Why? Here’s my theory: there is a love connection with joy and a sorrow connection with joy, but there is also a temptation / tribulation / testing connection with joy. I fail to enter into the joy because I falter at one or all of the “Triple T” connections.

    All three words, temptation, tribulation and testing are found in James chapter 1.

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face temptations (#1) of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing (#3) of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under temptations, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
27This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their tribulation (#2), and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

1.   Peirazo = Temptation with evil (James 1:2, 12-14)
    Satan is the Tempter. When we are tempted, we are not in sin, but we are in serious danger. Jesus was tempted every day of His existence, in every way (Heb. 2:18) that we are, yet He was without sin (Heb. 4:15). He is able to help us but temptation is a battle. There is an escape, 1 Cor. 10:13 say, but every temptation has the potential…
  •         of being an opportunity to get us closer to God, resulting in joy and perseverance
  •         of being an obstacle to get us closer to Satan, resulting in sorrow

     Stephen Charnock, a preacher from the 17th century, said, “A deep sense of the Divine Goodness of God would strike Satan’s temptation dead at a blow.” A way to victory is to remember God is good, divinely good and will deliver from evil (Matt. 6:13).

2.   Thlipsis = Tribulation; a pushing together, anguish, tribulation.
    John McArthur says that "Thlipsis (tribulation) has the underlying meaning of being under pressure and was used of squeezing olives in a press in order to extract the oil and of squeezing grapes to extract the juice ... In Scripture the word thlipsis is perhaps most often used of outward difficulties, but it is also used of emotional stress."

     People may think they are being tested by God, when in reality they are experiencing the natural consequence of sinful humanity. Widows and orphans have tribulations (James 1:27) not because of Satan’s temptation or God’s testing, but because of the nature of a fallen world. Joy can be found when we help people in times of trouble.

     The word "tribulation" is from the image of separating the wheat from the chaff. We experience tribulation to rely on God’s grace to purify us from the chaff. It is used by Christ in Matt. 13:21 saying the trouble robs people of their initial joy of salvation. Again in John 16:20-24, Jesus said the joy of birthing a child helps overcome the “tribulation” of labor. Paul linked the two in 1 Thess. 1:6 with joy coming from the Holy Spirit and in 1 Thes. 3:3-7, with joy coming from other believers.

    We cannot avoid the storms of the sea, but we can rest assured God will give us joy when we make it safely to the harbor.

3.   Dokimion = Testings resulting in proven character (James 1:3, Rom. 5:4)
    The third link with joy comes from God’s testing. When God puts His people into the furnace, He keeps His eye on the clock and His hand on the thermostat. He knows how long and how much we can take.

    The difference in testing and temptation is that God tests us to bring out the best, while Satan tempts us to bring out the worst.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

22. The Sorrow Joy Connection

     The love / joy connection (see yesterday's blog) may be obvious, but the sorrow / joy connection may not be so obvious.

     When my grandmother died at age 87, I went back to my hometown from south Texas. People from my first church pastorate, First Baptist Church of Whitt, came to the visitation and we sat right there in the funeral parlor with the casket open and laughed and had a wonderful time. All the while my grandmother’s body was a mere few feet away. But her spirit was at home with Christ in God.

     This is not unique to me to have joy and sorrow mixed at a funeral. In fact all Christians have those bitter sweet emotions just like Jesus did at the grave of Lazarus. But it is unique for Christians to be able to have joy like the world could never understand or imitate.

     The people of Nehemiah’s day had a similar experience, but not because of a death, but because of their own home coming to the promised land and the rebuilding of the walls around the city and the reading of the law. Ezra told the people, “Do not mourn nor weep…do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Neh. 8:9b,10b.

     The reading of the law made the people sorrowful for their sin, yet they rejoiced because they knew that God had restored them. Believers understand that. We sorrow over the sins of the world, and the sins of our past. Yet we rejoice over the forgiveness and the presence of the Lord.

     Nehemiah then implemented the feast of tabernacles or booths where the Israelites would gather branches and “camp” outdoors, even on their own rooftops, for a few days to remember their 40 years of wandering.

     I personally believe that the Feast of Tabernacles should be remembered by Christians but not just to remember the Old Testament story how the people of God had to wander for 40 years. No the Tabernacles remind us that some day we too will leave behind our earthly tents and be clothed anew with our heavenly and perfect heavenly bodies.

     I could not sorrow for long at my grandmother’s funeral. I knew her tabernacle in the casket was her old tent. But what made her “Nonna” to me, her spirit, was now in heaven with her preacher father and mother, her only daughter (my mother) and so many other loved ones. Her hearing was now perfect, she no longer said “ouch, ouch, ouch” as she walked as she did in her latter days.

     When sorrows like sea billows roll, welcome the tears with joy because every tear is kept in a bottle by the Lord and the weeping will be turned into laughter when this tabernacle of twigs in the earthly realm turns to magnificent mansions in the heavenly realms.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Chapter 22 -- The Love Joy Connection

I guess it is actually pretty obvious: there is a connection between joy and love. Just look at people who are in love…They are pretty happy.

Okay, perhaps I am no Sherlock Holmes for stating the absolutely obvious. George Orwell said, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” In other words, when it’s a nice pretty day, why do we need to say so? Because it’s good to say what we know to be true and sometimes it makes us appreciate it all the more! And honestly, sometimes we miss the absolutely obvious!

Ponder the opposite. Without a loving heart, there is very little joy. When Paul listed the fruit of the Spirit, he actually listed only one fruit: love. The other eight are subcategories of that fruit of love, and he begins with joy.

But Paul is not the only one who points out the absolutely obvious. Jesus spoke in John 15:8, “By this My Father is glorified that you bear much fruit, so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you: abide in my love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Yes, that “love as I have loved you” should sound a little familiar. It was Jesus’ new commandment and a deeper love than the Old Testament’s love your neighbor as yourself, and even deeper than loving those who may not be your neighbor, seen in the Good Samaritan parable.

Chaplain Gary Davis gave us a formula yesterday: The God=love. This week’s memory verse from John 15:11 is sandwiched between two passages on love. Perhaps a formula could be Abidance in love=Jesus joy = Our full made joy = Loving like Christ.

If you are not a fan of mathematical equations, then consider singing the little children’s song, “This is my commandment that you love one another that your joy may be full,” which may not be a direct quote of John 15:11-12, but it is pretty close!

Paul also spoke about being full of joy when believers were like-minded and having the same love, being of one accord and one mind (See Phil. 2:2). Full joy comes by loving others as Christ loved us.

Another way to bring about full joy is through prayer. “Ask and you will receive that your joy may be full” (John 16:6). It is Jesus’s delight to bring us full joy when we are in obedience to Him. In His high priestly prayer, Jesus said that His coming to the right hand of the Father to intercede for the believers will bring us joy fulfilled (John 17:13).

John ties these two things, loving others and having fellowship with God, together in 1 John 1:3-4, “We are telling you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. Our fellowship will then join with the fellowship of the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy and your joy full and complete!” (my paraphrase).

Okay, so I’m no sleuth detective or profound theologian for discovering this truth that love and joy go together. But sometimes, it’s good to state the absolutely obvious, even if it is to remind us what should be as plain as the nose on our face!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Chapter 22: Joy -- The second part of the fruit of the Spirit

    Several people in our church come to mind when I think of people who are joyful despite adverse circumstances. In addition to love, can you think of a characteristic more appealing than a person who has joy?

     In the fruit of the Spirit listing found in Galatians chapter five, right after love is the word “joy.” It seems as if Paul is saying that in addition to love the number 2 characteristic for a Christian should be joy.

    And why not? We have a God who loves us and wants a personal relationship with us. We have eternal life, and rewards in heaven waiting for us. Even when we fall into times that tempt us to fall away, Jesus’ own brother said we are to count it all joy when those trying times come. Hebrews even says Jesus endured the cross because He knew what joy awaited him afterwards.

This devotional from Zondervan is day two on virtues we Christians should possess.


    What gives us true happiness and contentment in life?

     God may shower us with blessings and circumstances that bring joy to our lives, but true joy is found not in those things themselves but in their source. Joy can also be fueled and found in living out God’s Word and trusting in the promises God gives us in his Word.

    I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. (Psalm 119:14)

    Jesus confirmed that two commands from the Old Testament — love God and love others — as the greatest of all the commandments during an encounter recorded in the New Testament between Jesus and the religious leaders. [See Mark 12:28–34.]

     God’s promises find their ultimate fulfillment in his Son Jesus. So when we abide in the vine of Christ through obedience to his commands, his nutrients of joy run through our spiritual veins from the inside out and produce the ripe, juicy fruit of joy in and through our lives. [See John 15:1-10.]


I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11)


     Despite my circumstances, I feel inner contentment and understand my purpose in life.


     What difference does this make in the way I live?

     The joy of Christ will replace or reduce stress. Joy becomes a filter through which we view life. We’re not talking about rose-colored glasses, but about actually having brand-new eyes! Joy can change our perspective and our perception of negative circumstances. We aren’t simply in denial, sticking our head in the sand, but rather we choose to rise above the circumstances and adopt an eternal mind-set. Stress can come from many different factors today. We can worry and fret because we feel we’re not in control. Joy is an ongoing reminder that God is in control — that he is in charge of the outcome. Joy comes from trusting the controller of all things.

     The joy of Christ will become contagious through us.

     The joy of Christ will draw others to Christ.


What aspects of your faith give you the most joy? Join the discussion today and use the hashtag #BelieveTheStory

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Drop the mike, er, the pen!

The Killeen carnival left this week, coincidentally just in time for Ash Wednesday. So, what does the carnival and Ash Wednesday have in common?

Carnival comes from the word “meat” (carne) and “leave” (Latin: levare). Historically, Roman Catholics and other believers have said “goodbye to meat” on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during the season of Lent.

Whether you forego meat in the upcoming days before Resurrection Sunday, I encourage you to add a little more “spiritual meat” from the Word of God to your spiritual diet.

The King James version translates Heb. 5:12 this way, “Ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.”

Too many Christians are having to be bottle-fed rather than digesting the stronger meat of the Word of God. Twice in the Bible (see also 1 Cor. 3:1-2) Christians are told they are so spiritually malnourished that they could not handle solid “food.”

So what should be our spiritual diet of both milk and meat, or basic and deeper spiritual truths? To answer that, let’s do a little time travel.

First, let’s go to the time of Moses, when the great prophet told God’s people they should love God with all their heart, soul, mind and might (Deut. 6:5). If we were to build a food pyramid of spiritual nourishment, loving God would absolutely be foundational.

Go forward in time (or if you don’t have a time machine, flip a few pages forward in your Bible) and see in Leviticus 19:18 to perhaps the most hidden but important verses in the otherwise tedious book: “Do not take vengeance or hold grudges against your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”

Yes, you know that verse, but probably not from Leviticus. Go forward in time just a little more and see how Jesus takes that obscure verse and turns it as well as a testy little lawyer on his ear. (Still no time machine? Okay, turn to Luke 10:25-37.)

You know this story. Jesus deepens the law student’s diet from milk to meat by telling him that he was not only to just love his neighbor, that is people of the same area, nationality and race. He was also to love those dirty filthy foreigners like the “Good Samaritan.” Twice Paul said that loving your neighbor as yourself summarized all the commandments (Rom. 13:9 and Gal. 5:14). James 2:18 calls it the “royal law.”

But wait. There is one more time travel we must do. Go forward to the end of the first century. John, the beloved disciple, is no longer a young strapping fisherman, a son of thunder (Mark 3:17) ready to call fire down from heaven on those who disagree with him (Luke 9:54).  He’s now old and tired, scars on his body from living a martyr’s life, writing down the final eyewitness gospel, telling memories otherwise untold in the previous gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

“My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work,” John recorded Jesus as saying in John 4:34. John strains his mind to recall anything from 60 years earlier. Suddenly Holy Spirit seizes him. How could he and all of the disciples forgotten that? “A New Commandment,” Jesus said!

In my time machine, I imagine the Apostle John suddenly feeling the surge of energy of that young disciple brain-picker that he was when Jesus called him off the boat! For more than a half a century, no one had written down the “New Commandment” Jesus had given them on the night before his betrayal and crucifixion.

You see, love is not just for our neighbors; that is, those near us. Love is not even merely to love others as we love ourselves. No! Jesus’ new commandment (surely John slapped his forehead as he remembered and recorded it!) was even greater than loving others like the Samaritans, Gentiles, Romans and, yes, even the Syrians.

John looks at the parchment and drops the pen. “Now this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son,” he says to himself as he dabs his moistened eyes as he reads it again, then holds those words to his chest:

“A New Commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34). He will write it again in John 15:12, 1 John 2:8 and 1 John 3:16.  

After penning those words which had never been recorded before, surely John sighed with a contentment like one would have after eating a full-course meal! Love others as He loved us.

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another,” (1 John 4:11)

Tim McKeown is the Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church in Killeen.