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John 15:9-10, NIV
9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love."
January 4, 2012The well is dry. I don't know what more to say about loving and remaining. Jesus is starting to repeat himself. But until I do as he instructed, until I obey him, I have not really heard him.
Jesus said: I have loved you as God has loved me. What I have received, I now share with you. And in verse 12: "Love each other as I have loved you." Somehow we don't match up to the standard Jesus set for us. Did he really expect us to?
Sometimes love hurts, takes, fails to endure, is conditional. Love like God's heals, gives, lasts forever, is unconditional. I am to love as God loves me.
I am a child of God and Jesus instructs me to love, with no excuses. I love, not because the other person is lovable or even nice but, because of who I am. Whether I like the person or think they deserve my love is not the standard. Love is given on the basis of need and everyone needs to be loved.
January 5, 2012There's another way to think about these words. Jesus loved the disciples as the Father loved him. How the Father actually loved Jesus was about to come into question. To anyone who watched the next 12 hours unfold, God must surely have seemed to be very much absent, and unloving. Therefore when Jesus told the disciples he loved them as the Father loved him, they should beware. It reminds me of the phrase Dietrich Bonehoffer used when he said the invitation to discipleship is a summons to "Come and die."
Tradition tells us the disciples did indeed die because of their witness concerning Jesus. All but one met a violent, gruesome death. Just as Jesus obeyed the Father, so these disciples were obedient to the end. Yet doesn't it seem odd to us that Jesus would follow immediately with talk of joy. Loving as Jesus loved plus obedience leads directly to joy!
John 15:11-12, NIV11 "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you."
January 6, 2012I came across this entry in my journal dated July 1, 1983:Last evening I talked to our teenage daughter about the Church being not a group of hand-picked delightful persons that I naturally like to be around, but a place where all of us with our various handicaps, eccentricities, and warts gather together and learn what it means to "love one another."
What we learn is to accept, appreciate, tolerate and encourage each other. It's possible to change another person by changing our attitude toward them, by accepting Jesus' command to love them, by seeing the negatives as the point at which our faith really begins to work. In some people the flaws are so obvious and our work begins as together we discover their gifts and appreciate them as brothers and sisters, God's special gift to all who will love them.
Shirley is a 10 year old child inside a 40 year old body. Who needs her? Who would choose to associate with our poor, deformed neighbor who struggles with every step? Who wants to hang out with some of the people we work with who have next to nothing going for them? This is a difficult concept for Christians to learn.
The Church is not a club grouped together because we're nice, stimulating, easy to get along with people. Being a Christian community is hard and takes much more than a casual commitment. We just don't like to be around people who add nothing to our lives but discomfort. But here we have Jesus' command to love each other--the poor, the blind, the ornery, the ungrateful and the unlovely--as he loved us when we were poor, blind, ornery, ungrateful and unlovely.
When we do this, Jesus has promised us joy. His joy. Complete joy. I think down deep we understand this and have experienced it. Such as in times when we forgot about our own wants and lost ourselves in a meaningful connection with someone else. Here's one example. After the last flood that came through Manheim, I was randomly assigned to help a stranger clean out her ruined basement. It was very hard work, but as I walked home that day I knew the joy Jesus was talking about.
John 15:13-15, NIV13 "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."
January 8, 2012What is the greatest possible blessing, or compliment? To be called a friend of Jesus. Jesus not only laid down his life for his friends. He did so for his enemies, too. Who was it who said theway to be rid of your enemies is to make them your friends
One never knows ahead of time how he or she will react in an emergency. I don't know if I would give my life to save another one. I like to think, though, that since I am approaching my 7th decade, that I would step aside and give younger people preference if I ever found myself in a situation where only some could be rescued. But who knows how they would react.
Love turns servants into friends. Every year a group of construction workers and helpers from our local congregation travel south on what is known as the Appalachian Service Project. When they return home and report on their happenings, it becomes clear it might better be named the Appalachian Friendship Project. When strangers become friends, there is much joy.
Within the intimacy of friendship, secrets are shared. Things not known by the general public are confided to friends. Jesus did that with his disciples. Everything he learned from the Father he revealed to them.
John 15:16-17, NIV16 "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other."
January 9, 2012I taught a Sunday School lesson yesterday taken from the story of Joseph in Genesis. Joseph was favored by God and men, and even eventually by the Pharaoh. As his story unfolds, the writer repeats several times that God was with him. Those reminders are necessary because what we are reading is that Joseph's brothers were wanting to kill him but decided to sell him to slave traders instead. Does slavery sound like God's favor!
Years passed. Then we read that Joseph was unfairly accused of raping his master's wife. That landed him in prison. But God was with him--the writer seems compelled to add that line. More time passed. Finally, when Joseph was 30 years old, he emerged from the dungeon and into the bright light of the Egyptian palace.
As the story goes, Joseph was chosen by God to save that region of the world from starvation caused by a severe famine. It was Joseph who managed the stockpiling of grain during the seven years of plenty so that there would be food during the seven years of famine.
Joseph, favored and chosen by God. A Hebrew slave in an Egyptian culture. A prisoner in a foreign land. Yet God was with Joseph--in slavery, in prison--many, many years until the time was right and he emerged as the one best suited to assume the great responsibility assigned to him.
Joseph, who retained his faith in the God of his fathers when it would have been much easier to assimilate. Who grew in stature, in wisdom, in management skills, despite those undesirable conditions. Joseph, who was a pruned branch, nurtured by the vine, bore much fruit and fed more than one nation.
Toward the end of the story Joseph even exemplified the command to love one another. He forgave his brothers, assuring them they had nothing to fear from him. He told them, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."
God's favor does not make for an easy life. Many days, even years may be tough. But Jesus bids us to remain, abide, wait. Nurtured by the vine, we grow in faith as our gifts and graces mature. When fully prepared the buds form and good fruit will once more feed the earth.
January 10, 2012I might take issue with Jesus saying, "You did not choose me, but I chose you . . ." In order for the disciples to be chosen, did they not have to choose to accept their assignment? Every time we say "yes" to God's grace, are we not making the choice to love and be grateful? Granted, God loved us first, but we have to want to be loved by God in order for there to be a working relationship. We must abide in the vine if we are going to bear fruit. That sounds like "choosing" to me. Or some might say that's just responding to God's initiatives.