Love and the Law – Lesson 5

Finding interesting thingsIt is called Bigfoot – a huge ape-like creature that some believe inhabits forests in North America. For many years there have been supposed sightings. People claim to have personally seen this mysterious creature and found evidence, such as large unusual footprints. Even though most of the supposed sightings and gathered evidence have been proven to be hoaxes, people still believe. As you read this, someone is likely hunting for Bigfoot.

I thought about the search for Bigfoot when I read this familiar line from this week’s Sabbath school lesson on Love and the Law“we are to love even those we don’t like.” I’ve heard this expression many times over the years but like the search for Bigfoot, I’ve yet to find the biblical evidence of that position.

I started my search at the extreme end of the spectrum of those I encounter – my enemies. I thought for sure I might find a reference to loving but not liking those who would do me harm.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43-45

No, I didn’t find it there. What I did find about loving my enemies was absolutely foreign to the natural order of things. From a human standpoint it is inconceivable to love an enemy the way Jesus commanded us to.

Since I didn’t find the evidence in my relations with my enemies I thought I might have success in finding the proof in my dealings with strangers.

And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34

Struck out again. Since I didn’t find this permission in dealing with my enemies or strangers I decided to search closer to home – my church family. Certainly, with all of the close interactions with my brethren, it would be allowable to take the position that I love them but not like some of them.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:9-14

Again, nothing that gives me permission to say I love you but I don’t like you. Don’t get me wrong, the Bible is clear that we should be careful and circumspect in our associations. Consider the following:

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. Romans 16:17-19

But I have yet to find that elusive proof that it is ok to love you but at the same time in my heart to have ill feelings towards you.

Jesus has always asked man to do the (seemingly) impossible. And nothing is more core to the message of Christ and Christianity than love.

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12

In my opinion it would be preposterous to suggest that Jesus loves us but He does not like us. His earthly life was a real-time demonstration of that divine love.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:7-8

You may be asking how this is possible. Another man a long time ago named Nicodemus asked the same question to Jesus. Here is the Master’s reply.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3

Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:

  • What does the word “love” mean to you?
  • What does it mean to you to love someone but not like them?
  • Is it possible to have love for the worst individuals in life such as those that commit violent and detestable acts against humanity? Why yes or no?
  • Describe how you believe Jesus felt about Judas and those who participated in His crucifixion?
  • Does Romans 13:7, Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor, prove that we should treat some people differently? Explain your answer.
  • Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: The closer my relationship with Christ becomes, the less I will “not like” anyone. Explain your answer.

We close this week’s lesson by quoting the words of the Apostle Paul. He was a man who realized that God gives to those who love Him grace to do the (seemingly) impossible, including loving our enemies.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!

Enduring Temptation – Lesson 3

squirrel (300x249)For the last two weeks I have been engaged in a war of wills with a family of squirrels. Those cute little creatures always scampering about my yard had now become my opponents. Unbeknownst to me these creatures had taken up residence in my house.

My wife had suggested some time ago that there could be critters in the attic. I assured her that was not the case as I could see no evidence of that. But over time I too became convinced that something was scratching in the walls of our house.

I engaged a wildlife trapping company who came out for a week in an attempt to capture and relocate these uninvited guests.  That endeavor failed and I was back where I started – squirrels in my house.

After doing another visual inspection of my house I discovered a hole in my roof that the squirrels were using for their entry. I don’t know how I missed that hole all this time but now that I had discovered it I knew that my problem would be soon solved.

I got the hole repaired and even included some tin under the new tiles. Later that evening after the repair I watched as the trio of confused squirrels tried vainly to reenter the house. I must admit I took great satisfaction in knowing that I had removed these pests and that I could now focus on other things besides being consumed with removing the squirrels.

Sometime during the next day I looked up towards the repaired hole expecting to see the sad squirrels gazing longingly at their former abode. Instead, to my dismay, I saw a new hole beneath the one that had been repaired. They had found another point of weakness and had reentered the house. This was now war.

The Perfecting of Our Faith – Lesson 2

pvtv_logoNow Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself. Genesis 18:11-12

Sarah had just overheard Abraham being told again that his wife would bear him a son. It was humanly impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have a child. Although firm believers in God, this promise was more than they could take in.

Their reaction to the promise of God was quite similar to ours when we hear the word “perfection.” Our disbelief in the idea that man, even through divine power, can live a life above sin, being spiritually mature and totally submitted to God, makes us laugh within.

But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 1 Peter 1:15-16

James, the Lord’s Brother – Lesson 1

pvtv_logoI have thought a lot about James over the last week. The discussions about his identity have been interesting. The evidence seems to support the view that James was actually a brother of Jesus, although no one can say with 100% certainty that he was.

As a leader of the early church, James distinguished himself as a man of wisdom. There’s ample proof that he was highly thought of.

Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” Acts 12:16-17

What I find most interesting about James is how he described himself. He makes no mention of his bloodline, if he indeed was a half-sibling of Christ.

Nor did James describe himself by any accomplishments made in life. No mention does he make of his education or his business acumen. No mention is made of positions of importance that he may have held previous to the writing of his letter. He presents no human credentials to give authority and legitimacy to his words. James identifies himself as simply a slave.

That’s When

Dying Thief

Death and Resurrection – Lesson 12

TombThen said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. John 11:14

Lazarus’s sisters were crushed. The brother who they loved so much had been taken away from them by the cruel enemy called Death. They had sent word to Jesus that He was sick, knowing that if Jesus could get to Lazarus quickly, he would not die. But hours turned into days and Lazarus died.

Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. John 11:5

After Jesus finally arrived back to Judaea, Martha poured out her heart to Him. Her confidence in His power was unshaken but in her grief she could not grasp the deep purposes of God.

The Sabbath – Lesson 11

SunsetAnd He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27

We need the Sabbath. I am not primarily talking about a period of down time from our busy lives, although the Sabbath affords that. Our need of the Sabbath is deeper than mere rest. We need the Sabbath for our salvation.

The Sabbath reminds us that there is a God who created all things. Those sacred hours provide the time to turn our attention to His mighty creation. Our world, though marred by sin, still serves as a lesson book about the God we serve.

We see the beauty of His creation from the lowly flower full of intricate details to the lofty mountains that tower to the heavens. In each we see the hand of God. We read in nature’s pages the care and concern He has for us and we find assurance and contentment as we reaffirm each week who it is that controls our lives.

“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Matthew 6:28-30

The Law of God – Lesson 10

pvtv_logoIf ye love me, keep my commandments. John 14:15

God, in sending His Son, demonstrated His love for man. This demonstration of love is designed to pierce the hard-heartedness of man and open up his heart to reciprocate that love. Without love as a motivating factor, the keeping of the law, weighed in the scales of eternity, is just sounding brass and tinkling symbols. Our greatest need is to know and understand that love that was revealed through Jesus the Christ.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. John 17:3

As He walked this earth as a man we find that Jesus never used force or coercion for the building up of the kingdom of God. The invitation was to whosoever would and there were many who responded to that call of love.

No Inmates Beyond This Point!

PrisonNO INMATES BEYOND THIS POINT!

This was the sign that warned us each time we departed the prison grounds at the women’s federal prison in Texas. As we crossed the boldly red striped line each day we understood what a privilege we have to be free and able to leave the grounds knowing that those who watched us walk away could only dream of the day they could do the same. 

For three days Shelley and I have been conducting a series of workshops to the inmates on job readiness skills once they would transition back into society. For some, the departure date would be decades from now but they were none-the-less engaged as if their freedom was in the near future.

The group of women we served covered a broad spectrum. We had young women all the way to grandmothers that were in the years when most are planning retirement. We had multiple races and ethnicities.

During our time together we learned a little of each woman’s history. Some had been millionaires (not wanna bees), others had never really held a job. We had skilled artisans of a wide variety and even someone who had broken a racehorse in her previous life in the Midwest.

We were struck with how normal many of the ladies were yet through bad decisions they chose to make, they were now convicted felons. We shared useful job readiness information on how to move forward in life once they would be released. But even more important than that we were also able to share example after example of how Jesus had a habit of meeting people at their worst and changing their lives in ways they could have never dreamed.

Meeting people at their worst…, I might have to write something else along those lines.  

Living Like Christ – Lesson 7

Walking on Water (300x123)Where have all of the nice Christians gone? I know they still exist. I have seen them. They stand out because of their constant cheerfulness, even in trying situations. They never have anything negative to say about anyone, including the growing online internet bashing and mocking of others (check out a typical Facebook feed). They always appear supportive of others and are known for their willingness to lend a helping hand.

Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. Luke 7:39