Reality Test

I remember a time before reality TV. A time when stories were told, news was reported, documentaries were produced to take viewers deep into places unknown, and cooking shows were of the Julia Child variety where the most unexpected thing might be seeing her drop an entire cooked turkey onto the floor. Bon Appetite!

Now we are inundated with “reality” shows that aim to titillate, shock, and disturb, in an effort to sell more products. With a plethora of bachelors, back-biters, unreal and highly nipped and tucked “housewives,” big brothers watching from cameras in every room, and well-scripted scenarios of misbehavior below decks, we have lost the distinction between fiction and reality. These guilty pleasures are harmless as long as you understand that distinction. Trust me, what you are seeing is all fiction. Reality is found elsewhere.

Our lectionary passages from John’s writings this week keep pulling us back into God’s reality of the connection between love and obedience. Keeping God’s commandments is the way we demonstrate our love for God, and a way that we experience his love for us. By giving us order, God keeps us safe and protected inside his loving arms. And when he sent Jesus, we were commanded to love one another as a proof of our love for God:

1 John 5 (The Message)

 1-3 Every person who believes that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, is God-born. If we love the One who conceives the child, we’ll surely love the child who was conceived. The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome.

A key component to the gift of the commandments is that they are not meant to be troublesome, but to bring life to our lives. Staying within those safety rails is a way to experience wholeness and freedom. When we follow God’s law, we separate ourselves from the chaos of the world. Jesus conquered the world with his death-killing death:

The Power That Brings the World to Its Knees

4-5 Every God-born person conquers the world’s ways. The conquering power that brings the world to its knees is our faith. The person who wins out over the world’s ways is simply the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God.

6-8 Jesus—the Divine Christ! He experienced a life-giving birth and a death-killing death. Not only birth from the womb, but baptismal birth of his ministry and sacrificial death. And all the while the Spirit is confirming the truth, the reality of God’s presence at Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion, bringing those occasions alive for us. A triple testimony: the Spirit, the Baptism, the Crucifixion. And the three in perfect agreement.

Just think of it! We are invited to partake in the reality of his spirit, his baptism, and his crucifixion.
There is nothing that television can script that could even come close to the disruptive and shocking reality of what Christ did on the cross for the benefit for all of humanity…and we get to participate in it with him. His baptism becomes our baptisms, his resurrection gives us eternal life, and his Spirit helps us defeat the world as we make better choices and live within his commandments.

All of this is a gift, given to us without price. So next time you indulge in a moment of “reality TV,” consider the truth and reality of God’s presence in your life. It is far better than anything you will see.

Truth by Michelle Robertson

Perfect Love

Think for a moment about someone that you can’t stand. Dare I say, someone you actually hate. It might be a family member, politician, celebrity, boss, neighbor…people do things that make you want as much distance from them as possible. Being in their presence makes your stomach churn. Hearing their voice makes you cringe. You get the idea. When your enemies and adversaries are loud and present, your feelings of revulsion and fear are often well-earned.

Now consider this. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

So what do we do with our hate?

1 John 4 (New Revised Standard Version)

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Can hate live in the same space as love? Does our enemy deserve our love, or is hate just a way of protecting ourselves against further harm?

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 

Here we have a clue about what to do when we truly hate someone. John makes the case that God is love, and love has been perfected among us so that we may have boldness on the day of judgement. And who is the judge? God. That assures us that our adversaries and enemies will answer for their actions against us before God’s judgement seat. Our boldness in love is a reprieve for us…we don’t have to judge, just love. And then let it go.

When we unpack our feelings about our enemies, we may discover that fear informs our reaction to them. We fear the power they have over our peace and our happiness. But perfect love casts out fear, which frees us up to allow God to be God. HE will hold your adversary accountable.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

This is a hard teaching, friends. But scripture is clear. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. So let God do the work of redemption, and in all things, just love…even your enemies.

Just Love by Abby Johnson

Regarding Life Together

My sister’s birthday was last week, and every year on her birthday I think about growing up with her. She is my only sibling. She is four years older and very much smarter. She is funny, gifted, and quite unique in her perspective on the world. In many ways we are polar opposites, but I am always grateful for the family I was raised in and the way my parents taught us how to negotiate the world in our formative years.

One memory that always stands out for me is a time when she and I were yelling and bickering to the point where our very patient mother lost her stuff. She charged into the living room, pulled us up from the floor where we had been arguing, and told us to face each other with our fists up. Then she told us to go ahead and start punching, with me going first. Of course I couldn’t bring myself to punch my sister in the face. Then it was my sister’s turn and she couldn’t punch me, either. The thought of physically hurting the other made both of us cry. My extremely wise mother knew that forcing us to confront how much we loved each other would leave a lasting mark…and it did.

In our passage today, Paul is making the same assumption. The people knew how to love each other….they were God-taught in getting along. But recent events in Thessalonica had stressed all of their relationships and they forgot themselves for a bit.

Kind of like being stressed out by a pandemic.

Kind of like making mask-wearing a political issue rather than a health issue.

Kind of like post-election America as we continue to wait to see who won.

1 Thessalonians 4 (The Message)

9-10 Regarding life together and getting along with each other, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. You’re God-taught in these matters. Just love one another! You’re already good at it; your friends all over the province of Macedonia are the evidence. Keep it up; get better and better at it.

Can you remember a time when current events and politics were NOT a part of your relationships with family and friends? Think hard. There once was a time when football, kids’ progress in school, travel, home improvement, new restaurants to try, and other benign subjects dominated our conversations. Can’t we please go back to those days?

11-12 Stay calm; mind your own business; do your own job. You’ve heard all this from us before, but a reminder never hurts. We want you living in a way that will command the respect of outsiders.

It’s time to get back to normal. It’s time for minding our own business. It’s time to live our lives in a way that makes people want to know Christ the way we know Christ.

Just love one another! Quit acting like you want to throw that punch. We’re better than this.

Love One Another by Kevin Robertson

Sassy Jesus

I like Sassy Jesus. When Jesus was confronted by the ever-irritating Pharisees, he often returned a sassy response. I think he had just so much patience to give to these conversations and preferred to be out doing important things like healing blind folks and feeding the 5,000. Yet to his credit, he gave them his attention anyway.

Do you suppose his compassion for them made him want to respond in the hope that one or two of them would see him for who he was? Did he look at them as lost sheep in need of his shepherding? I can say that in times that I have been attacked, I did not look so graciously upon my attackers. There is a lesson in this.

In any case, every time they came at him thinking that they could trip him up, their efforts fell flat each time. You can’t trick the Son of God, boys.

Matthew 22 (The Message)

34-36 When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”

37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

When Jesus takes the Ten Commandments and consolidates them into two overriding commands, he effectively puts the Pharisees in their place yet again. Notice the care he takes to explain that these two great commands are the pegs upon which all ten hang…and not only all the commandments, but EVERYTHING in God’s law AND the Prophets hangs from these two statements. Remember that eventually the priests and scribes developed a system of 613 laws. Sassy Jesus was making a statement about what was really important in contrast with what was minutiae.

These two rules for living are as relevant for us today as they were 2,000 years ago. Think of your life and your actions and ask yourself:

Do you love God with all your passion, prayer and intelligence?

Do you love others as much as you love yourself?

Is your life a reflection of these two things?

We need to own the fact that there is a little Pharisee in all of us. If the things we say, post, share, and think are different than what God intends for us, we are just as flawed as the Pharisees.

Today is a new day. Hold these commandments close to your heart and do everything you can to reflect them in your behavior. You are the only Jesus someone may see today. Act like it.

New Day by Michelle Robertson

Weapons of Light

In Star Wars mythology, the light saber is a weapon against both good and evil. It just depends on whose hand it is in. The preferred weapon of the Jedi, a light saber is a small pipe-shaped mechanism that extends a powerful beam of lethal energy when engaged. The color of light is different for each Jedi. Luke Skywalker’s light is blue. Kylo Ren’s is deep red. In Luke or Rey’s hand, the light saber fights evil. In Darth Vadar’s hand, it fights good.

Any weapon can be used by either side.

So in this season of anger, animosity, national outrage, and widespread unrest, what would happen if we weaponized love?

Romans 13 (Contemporary English Version)

Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. The commandments, Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have, and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself. 10 

Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law.

Paul succinctly boils the Ten Commandments down to one word: love. If we follow the law of love we wouldn’t need the other individual laws because they would already be incorporated into the overriding rule of love. If love were the law of the land, hatred, violence, anger, and civil disobedience would subside.

11 As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep.

This ancient writing applies to this present day. We need to wake up and see what our words and actions are reaping. The hate speech, violent protests, and the vitriol that permeates our news programs, our social media, our sidewalk conversations, and our attitudes are killing us. People are hurting. People are dying. People are experiencing depression in record numbers. It’s time to wake up.

Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. 12 The night is almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light.

My friends, you have a weapon of light in your hand. It is the love of Jesus for the world. It is a love that bled and died on a cross for your salvation. It is a love that is unconditional for ALL people. And when used properly, it is a force of power that can conquer any force of evil that comes along.

YOU are a weapon of light. Use your power for good and fight back with love. Dress yourself in the armor of the Lord Jesus Christ and go out and love like your life depends on it. Because frankly, it does. 

13 Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not in partying and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession. 

14 Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.

What’s in YOUR hand? Let it be love.

Let Love Light Your Way by Michelle Robertson

Feeding Enemies

Man, the gospel life is tough. God has such great expectations of his people. We are called to behave in ways that are far above how we probably would prefer to live. If we were left to our natural inclinations, we would be a sorry lot indeed. Living a life focused on righteousness has its rewards in both the short term and the long run….but the principles are high.

For example, God calls us to love others…as in ALL others. Have you ever really tried to do that? How can you possibly love everyone including your obnoxious neighbor, the mean girl undermining your work, and your unrepentant ex?

And how about this…we should bless those who persecute us. And be patient. And work hard, and don’t seek revenge, and….

Romans 12 (New Living Translation)

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

I love how the New Living Translation translates the first sentence: “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them!” I can almost hear Paul saying this.

What do you suppose he is up to in this passage?

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

I think these timeless words were his attempt to create something new out of the old things. He was carving out a distinct identity for this new thing that Jesus had started and wanted those who followed Jesus to be unique and noticeably different from all the other people. He set the bar high because Jesus set the bar high. And just in the same way that a fence protects the children who play inside it, these high bars protect our hearts and our souls from corruption, self-indulgence, and vapidity.

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Christ-followers are people of peace. Christ-followers are generous, loving, patient, humble, and honorable; and would never repay evil with evil. Christ-followers are DIFFERENT.

19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
    I will pay them back,”
    says the Lord.

20 Instead, 

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
    If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
    burning coals of shame on their heads.”

I remember once hearing a speaker at a youth retreat ask the audience if people could tell if we are Christian or not. It is a question worth revisiting. Look again at how Paul describes the way God wants you to live. How are you doing? Can people tell that you are a Christ-follower by your choices?

Today is a good day to raise your own bar. It’s never too late. Go out and find a way to feed an enemy in the name of the Lord. And don’t just pretend to love people…..really LOVE them. After all, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

For the Love of God by Michelle Robertson

Arise, and Come Away

“Love you!”

When did “Love you!” at the end of a phone call become a thing? I remember a time when you didn’t end each conversation that way. Of course, I also remember rotary phones. Now it is such a standard signing-off phrase, we say it without thinking…like my friend did recently as she was getting off a call with her dentist’s office. Boy, was that receptionist surprised! So let’s talk about the simple act of saying, “Love you.”

We’ll start with a little romance from the most romantic book in the Old Testament.

The Song of Solomon is a set of lyrical poems that describes the feelings between a young maiden and her beloved. The beauty of the language alone is worth the read, and you occasionally hear a selection from Song of Solomon (also known as Song of Songs) in a wedding ceremony. The intensity of the maiden’s feelings for her partner are clear and tangible.

I think that weddings should include the level of passion for two becoming one that is reflected in these poems. At every wedding I conduct, I pray that the newlyweds maintain the same strength of feeling they have on their wedding day for the entirety of their marriage. Of course the reality is that life gets in the way, and courtship eventually turns into dishwasher and laundry duty.

But how lovely it is to remember those first intense feelings of any love relationship:

Song of Solomon 2 (New Revised Standard Version)

The voice of my beloved!
    Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
    bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
    or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
    behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
    looking through the lattice.

The game is afoot. He approaches her gently, and looks are exchanged. Can you believe this stuff is in the scriptures? It reads like a saucy beach novel!

10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
    the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
    and the vines are in blossom;
    they give forth fragrance.

You know what this tells us? That God loves love. That God blesses love when it is mutual and shared. Spouse to spouse, parent to child, sibling to sibling, neighbor to neighbor, and friend to friend, love is a fragrant offering that connects us to each other and to God’s creation. As winter turns to spring, the call to love one another is always in season.

Where is God calling you to show love to someone today? Where can you be the voice of hope to someone who needs to hear that they are loved? Chances are, someone you know feels wholly unloved right now. You can change that.

Remember that love has the power to take us away to a better place. It invites us to leave the ordinary and come away to something extraordinary.

Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away.

Love never fails. Faith, hope and love, these three: but the greatest of these is love.

Love you!

What the World Needs Now is Love by Wende Pritchard

Driving out Fear

Are you a person with a great capacity to love? Do you believe that we are called to love one another? What does the Bible say about love?

1 John 4 may be the most love-saturated passage in the entire Bible. Take a look at this and see how many times the word “love” appears:

1 John 4 (Common English Bible)

Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. 10 This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. 

Love is from God. If you don’t love, you don’t know God. The charge is so simple: if God loves us so much that he sacrificed his son for us, we ought to love each other in the same way.

12 No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us. 13 This is how we know we remain in him and he remains in us, because he has given us a measure of his Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world. 15 If any of us confess that Jesus is God’s Son, God remains in us and we remain in God. 16 We have known and have believed the love that God has for us.

So what do we make of “love” that abuses, shuns, or condemns? What evidence of love can be found in the person who refuses to accept the “other?” Where is love when judgment is being spewed?

God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. 17 This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. 

We will be judged by how we followed the commandment to love as God loves in this world. And God is the only one qualified to judge. He calls us to offer love to one another, not judgment. Perfect love is designed to drive out fear, even fear of people who are drastically different from us. If you claim to love God but hate a certain section of God’s people, you are a liar.

18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love because God first loved us. 

20 Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars.

After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen!21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.

Those who claim to love God have to love their brother and sister WITHOUT JUDGMENT. This is the Word of God for the people of God. If your response to this is “Yeah, but what about the people who….” then you have totally missed the point.

Hearts Over Atlanta by Kathy Schumacher