What is Love?

It’s Valentine’s Day. “Love” gets thrown around a lot, in Christian and non-Christian circles alike. But what does it actually mean?

What did God mean by saying he loved Jacob and hated Esau (Malachi 1:2-3)? How could God, who is love (1 John 4:8), hate anyone? The use of love and hate here isn’t meant to conjure up the emotions we typically associate with those words. It’s simple—God chose Jacob. There was a preference. A priority. He chose Jacob to carry on the ancestral line of His people that would one day bring His son into the world as a man. He still blessed Esau’s people greatly, they just weren’t chosen (see Genesis 36). Why did Jesus say “unless you hate your mother and father (and even your own life) you cannot be my disciple”? (Luke 14:26) Again, this is in no way meaning you should abhor, detest, or despise your parents. Rather, you have to make a clear choice who you are going to follow. Who are you going to make the lord of your life? If that choice isn’t Jesus, if you don’t commit to bearing your cross daily, if you don’t consider the cost and pay it—you can’t be His disciple. A clear preference, a clear priority (the *only* priority).

So then, love involves making a choice, showing a preference. I choose Jesus, what about you?

If I choose Jesus, what does that mean? Jesus says this (recorded in John 14:15): “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Hmm… That seems pretty broad. What about those commandments? We might be tempted to think like the Pharisee who asked him “just what is the most important commandment?” The Pharisee was trying to trick Jesus into saying parts of the God’s law weren’t valid, but Jesus’ response (as always) was perfect: And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Love God. Love others. Choose God. Choose others? If we choose everyone, how can we give everyone priority over everyone else? If I can’t actually walk that out, that “love” really amounts to nothing. This gets a little tricky, and I anticipate some pushback on some of this, but I hope you’ll at least give this some real thought. I do not claim to have a full understanding on anything, much less this, and always appreciate thoughts and comments.

Don’t misunderstand any of what follows here—I do not dispute at all that we should be a people that has love for all mankind. After all, the phrase “love your neighbor as yourself” from Matthew 22 is also recorded way back in the Old Testament (at least twice—Leviticus 19:18 and Leviticus 19:34). One of those (19:34) is explicitly talking about showing love towards a stranger sojourning through your land. However, it is true that the vast majority of the commands we have in the New Testament about love is in the context of loving within the body of Christ. I heard someone describe that fact as the best kept secret in New Testament studies. While all mankind is created by God, we are not all adopted as His children until we become born again into new life in Christ (John 1:12-13). There’s just something different when it comes to love among those in the family of believers.

This may be where you would expect a breakdown between the different Greek words for love. Many of us have heard sermons on that very topic I’m sure. I contend that those distinctions do very little for us in furthering our understanding of love. In fact, there’s a mountain of evidence that John himself used “agape” and “phileo” interchangeably throughout his gospel. These are separate articles (here and here) that I found very helpful on this topic, but I don’t want to derail from the pertinent train of thought now.

I think the better way to think about love is to see what is presented as the interaction among people as recorded in the Scriptures. How did the people in the church interact with each other? How did the people in the church interact with those outside the church?

I will make no attempt here to cover all the passages about love in the Bible. I hope that as you read this, other passages that I don’t mention will come to mind and you will share it with all of us. We grow by working together! That being said, a key passage of Scripture we should focus on here is John 13:34-35. It reads: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.””

ONE ANOTHER. Not the whole world. Your brothers and sisters in the faith. And it’s by that that “all people” will know who we are.

I also like how Peter lays out these priorities in 1 Peter 2:17: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

Who gets your honor? Everyone. (Notably, the “emperor” gets nothing more than the rest of the world…)

Who do you fear? No one but God. Not death. Not even that scary political party you oppose (Matthew 10:28).

Who do you love? Your brothers and sisters in the faith.

Does this sound strange? I think God’s wisdom often does the first time we see it. But we must remember that we shouldn’t try to advance God’s Kingdom using the world’s ideas.

Let’s get down to the bare bones. I choose Jesus, I want to follow His commandments, and I want to love God and love others. Now what? We already referenced Luke chapter 14. Jesus is telling His disciples that they must weigh the cost to follow Him. I once had a friend respond to the old saying of “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” with a sincere rebuttal that “there is one thing that is free—your salvation.” I appreciate what he meant, but I took the opportunity to point him to this section of Luke. Our salvation isn’t free—it cost Jesus His life, and it should cost us ours! Fact: love is expensive. It takes effort, energy, resources. It takes action.

John 21:15-19 is one of those passages commonly used to discuss the different Greek words for love (and is the basis for the articles linked above). I agree with those authors that this could divert us from the true meaning of this passage (not to mention, the context more than suggests the two Greek words for love there are used interchangeably). The main ideas in this passage revolve around Peter having a chance to move on from his denial of Jesus before the crucifixion (John 18:15-18,25-27) and the fact that loving Jesus will mean action (feeding/tending the flock) and sacrifice (the foreshadowing of the martyr’s death Peter would face for his faith). Jesus is teaching Peter what his love will mean and what it will look like to live that out.

We referenced John 14:15 earlier. Let’s look at a few more passages that show us that real love is active (also take note of the direct reference to the body in some of these):

Matthew 25:37-40 – “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

James 1:22 – “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

James 2:14-18 – “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

1 John 3:18 – “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

With all of that in mind, let’s walk out the idea of “love everyone” as we talked about earlier. What would it look like? For instance, if showing love means sharing resources, I could give a penny to as many people as I could until I completely ran out of money. It wouldn’t take long and it wouldn’t go far. Who would benefit? Who would actually feel loved?

Unfortunately, we have limited resources. Churches all across America undoubtedly have difficult decisions about what can be supported in their budgets and what (or who) has to be cut out. How should we make those decisions? How might those that don’t make the cut interpret our “love”?

Let’s look at Israel. God’s sovereign plan was to have a chosen nation of people for a time in history. God’s Son would come into the world in the flesh through that nation, and He would usher in the good news of the coming of God’s Kingdom—a Kingdom that transcends any national/geographic/ethnic boundary. Israel had a special role in this plan. The mission of Israel was to be a set apart people. They weren’t even supposed to marry outside of their own people. They were supposed to be a light on the hill. A beacon of light that shone in the darkness of the rest of the world. While they were certainly supposed to provide for the exiles and sojourners that passed through their land (Leviticus 19:34), that display of love was an overflow of their love for each other. They cared for each other well enough that they could afford to care for others that passed through. Their efforts were to be focused on displaying the great love and righteousness of the Father to the rest of the world’s nations (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)—but not by expending all of their efforts outward, but rather living as the people of God in perfect unity and love.  

Likewise, now we in the church are a set apart people. We are sojourners and exiles in this world (1 Peter 2:9-12). Like Israel was in the past, we are now supposed to be the light that outsiders see. What’s the best way we shine that light? Again, John 13:34-35 is key here. If we display the love for one another that we are called to, the light of God’s Kingdom shines outward. Those outside looking in can see the kind of love that exists in Christ—a true and sacrificial love. Those outside get a picture of what the Kingdom is about. It’s with that information that they can decide if being a citizen of God’s Kingdom is something they want (or not). If we expend all of our energy outward and leave nothing for the body, we leave nothing for each other and leave nothing for an outsider to look at. By doing that, we try to “create” God’s kingdom on the outside while simultaneously neglecting the actual Kingdom inside. No, God’s wisdom is that if we love each other in the body well, that love will overflow and shine out. If we love each other in the body well, we give those outside an accurate picture of what it means to be God’s children.

Jesus says (recorded in Matthew 5:14-16): “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Peter records a similar teaching in 1 Peter 2:12: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

People on the outside will be looking at us. What picture are we giving them? Do they see that we love each other so much that we consider other brothers and sisters more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4)? Do they see nonsensical (by the world’s standards) acts of sharing (Acts 4:32)? Do they see an inexplicable bond between people who otherwise would have nothing to do with each other (such as the Jews and Greeks in the first century, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13)?

1 Corinthians 13 is known by many even outside the church as the “love chapter.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is the most commonly quoted passage. Contrary to popular usage, this passage wasn’t written to be read at weddings. (I get it, the definitions of love carry over to marriage, but let’s not forget about the actual context!) Rather, the description of love that Paul lays out is a beautiful picture of love that unites the family of God. The kind of love that overshadows all the former differences we may have had in the flesh that are no longer relevant in the Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:16-17). The kind of love that covers over a multitude of sin (1 Peter 4:8). This is the kind of love that we should have for each other as members of the body of Christ. It’s a special love for the most special family.

I certainly believe that as we have opportunity, we should do good deeds, showing love, to outsiders; BUT the preference, the priority, should be the church (Galatians 6:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:15, Acts 11:27-30, 1 Timothy 5:8).

Again, please don’t misunderstand my thoughts here—we must have a loving attitude toward the outsider! But don’t forget your greater mission as a citizen of God’s Kingdom. The most effective show of love for the outsider is letting them see the love they could experience as an insider. Work in your own circles of influence to be a good neighbor, and seek opportunities to introduce those neighbors to your Kingdom community. As described so well by John Nugent in his book “Endangered Gospel,” let’s quit trying to make the world a better place, and let’s focus on BEING the better place in this fallen world. The church is special, so let’s live and love like we actually believe that.

God Meant for Good

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good… – Genesis 50:20

Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, and that was only after they decided it was too risky for their own reputations to kill him in cold blood. It’s hard to imagine what I would do or how I would feel in Joseph’s shoes. We see later in the story that Joseph looked to God through it all, even seeing this seemingly awful path as God’s will, which he fully submitted to. Genesis 45:4-8 records the interaction between Joseph and his brothers while they were in Egypt seeking aid during a terrible famine:

So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

Isn’t that an amazing thing? These brothers treated Joseph with such malice, yet he amazingly harbored no ill-will toward them. He doesn’t cast blame on them for selling him into slavery. He knows that it was God who brought him to Egypt, not his brothers’ betrayal. What compassion. What love.

Perhaps Paul had Joseph in mind when he wrote to the church in Rome: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Don’t be mistaken: the “good” will not always turn out like Joseph’s “good” (i.e., being highly respected and given great authority over a nation). In fact, as a Christian, don’t expect that at all.

The good for the gospel may mean prison. If anyone can attest to that, it’s Paul.

Paul writes this to the church in Philippi while imprisoned for the sake of Christ:  “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)

Paul isn’t concerned about the justness of his imprisonment. He can see that his situation has led to the advancement of the gospel and the emboldening of others to speak the gospel without fear.

Those who had Paul arrested wanted to shut the message down. But what the enemy meant for evil, God meant for good.

The good for the gospel may mean death. Even for the one who didn’t deserve it.

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it…” – Acts 2:22-24

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. – Isaiah 53:10-12

Those who had Jesus crucified wanted to shut down this “movement.” But what the enemy meant for evil, God meant for good.

Like Joseph, Jesus surrendered to God’s will—and what glorious good came from it! We have a savior that conquered death, defeated sin, and intercedes for us at the right hand of God. Like Joseph with his brothers, Jesus harbors no ill-will toward you. True compassion. True love. That he would even seek forgiveness for those actively hanging him on that cross. The truth is, we all are guilty of his death that day. But we also can share in the eternal goodness that God has prepared for you! Perfectly demonstrated in the resurrection of Jesus, you too can be raised into a new life—without guilt and without condemnation.

Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it…” (Luke 9:23-24) Have you lost your life for His sake? That may not sound real “good” to us… Paul said I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me…” (Galatians 2:20) Who lives in you? God has provided eternal goodness for you. You can share in it RIGHT NOW. Don’t trade that for this temporary earthly life.

Jesus was the perfect lamb who sacrificed His life to give it to us. So, who are you living for? You were bought at a great price. What the enemy meant for evil, God meant for good.

The Christian Perspective in Troubling Times

Brothers and Sisters, our friends in the world are desperately searching for answers right now. There is division, confusion, chaos, and it’s been going on for quite a while now. Are you confident that YOU have the answer? I’m here to tell you that you do. And I encourage you to share it.

Our friends need a leader. You have the King. (1 Timothy 6:13-15)

Our friends need peace. You have the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Our friends need guidance. You have the Wonderful Counselor. (Isaiah 9:6)

Our friends need shelter in the time of storm. You have the Good Shepherd. (John 10:11-18)

Our friends need a sure foundation. You have the Rock. (2 Samuel 22:2-3)

Our friends need truth. You have the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)

How easy it is for us to get distracted from these truths of our faith. It’s easy to start chasing things in the world, and then begin looking for worldly answers to worldly problems. But when your focus is on taking up your cross daily and following Jesus, worldly problems don’t threaten you in the same way. And you certainly don’t look for worldly answers anymore.

Paul encourages the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 to keep their perspective in their spiritual reality, and not on their flesh.

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

You are a NEW CREATION in Christ. Are you still living from the perspective of your flesh, the part of you that has already died (Romans 6:4)? Paul says in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me!”

What an awesome perspective. Paul had strength in his trials because he had already surrendered his body and his life to Jesus. His life belonged fully to Christ. Can I say that? Can you?

Paul shows that perspective in action in Acts 16. The Holy Spirit prevented Paul and Silas from going into certain areas to preach, and were instead led to Macedonia (Philippi). After making disciples of Lydia and her household, they were later brutally beaten and thrown into prison. The Holy Spirit led them…to that? What would my response be? Doubt, confusion, fear? Not so for Paul and Silas. Their bodies were already crucified with Christ. The life they lived in the flesh they lived by faith in the Son of God. They had peace and joy in the midst of dark circumstances—so much so that they were praying and singing hymns to God in the prison. Their faith led to a miraculous working of God which led to the conversion of one of their persecutors and his household. They suffered well for the glory of God’s Kingdom.

We see another awesome example of this recorded in Acts 5:40-42. After defying orders by the Jewish leaders not to preach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18), Peter and the apostles are arrested. When questioned, they simply answered: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). After deliberation, the council opted to release them from prison, but not before inflicting a severe beating on them. And what was the apostles’ response to this suffering? REJOICING. They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus. And they surely didn’t stop preaching.

What an example.

Jesus encouraged his disciples to have this eternal/spiritual perspective when he told them not to fear those who can only kill the body (Matthew 10:28).

You know, don’t worry, all they can do is torture you and kill you (and your family). NBD.

I can’t help but think of the perspective of our brothers and sisters in Iran and China. They face this real persecution daily, but rejoice in the name of Jesus. I have much to learn. Truly, they’ve taken to heart the words of Jesus just before his message on fear.  Matthew 10:27 records Jesus saying: “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops!”

Do not fear! Proclaim the truth from the housetops! Even if it means an enemy may kill your body, they cannot kill your soul!

The group MercyMe has a song called “Even If.” It’s based on a passage from the book of Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego defy the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar to bow to his golden idol. If they don’t reconsider their position on the matter, they would be thrown into the fiery furnace, to which King Nebuchadnezzar mocks: “and who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands”? 

The three boys do not fear and they do not cave. Their response is awe inspiring.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” – Daniel 3:16-18

You know the rest of the story. God does save them from the furnace, and even King Nebuchadnezzar praises God. But the reality is this: Those three boys’ souls were saved by their faith regardless of whether God chose to intervene to save their flesh. They had that eternal perspective. They knew that no matter the circumstances in front of them, their God was bigger. Even if God didn’t save them from the furnace, their hope remained in Him. They had no doubts. They knew that golden statue was soon to be destroyed by the eternal kingdom that they already belonged to.

We must follow their lead. Don’t focus on this world; don’t take your eyes off of your true king. True peace is only found through the lens of the gospel and in placing your hope in Jesus. Where is your hope today? What are your eyes fixed on?

“In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” – Psalm 22:4-5

Can’t See the Kingdom for Our Dreams

Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.

Jeremiah 17:5

We often find ourselves inspired by the achievements of others. Famous athletes, powerful political figures, celebrities, and a host of other professionals become role models to so many who just know they can follow their dreams and become just like their heroes. But what should a Christian aspire to be in this world? A doctor, lawyer, preacher, professional athlete, president? What should Christian parents aspire for their children? How should faith shape the question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

How often do worldly aspirations line up with our spiritual reality as a new creation in Christ?

Can a Christian achieve prominence in their field of choice? Maybe that’s the wrong question. Can a Christian achieve prominence in their field while living their life on mission as a disciple of Christ? That’s perhaps a bit harder to answer.

Certainly, the body of Christ is full of different people from all different walks of life, skills, and talents. God works through His people in different aspects of life to be His representatives and His ambassadors.

But what if God takes a back seat as a Christian pursues their personal life goals? Even apart from a relationship with God, it’s plain to see that many families have suffered turmoil because careers, aspirations, and other commitments can lead to irreversible damage of those relationships. Isn’t it naïve to think that isn’t a risk we take in our spiritual lives? It comes down to a simple fact: we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). If our aspirations become our master, we begin to serve a god other than the Almighty, sometimes serving only ourselves.

As someone who has spent over 9 years in higher education pursuing advanced degrees and 4 years in the military, I can attest to the stress that is put on relationships, both spiritual and physical. I believe God has been with me and helped me grow throughout my life—even on the days that I barely acknowledged His existence. I also believe He gives us the freedom to choose just how many detours we want to go down during that growth process. I have no doubt He can and will use some of the roads we choose for good, even if we sometimes choose those roads for ourselves and not for Him (Romans 8:28). He has done that for me. I’ve made lifelong friends and spiritual bonds in both school and the military. I wore a uniform alongside some of the most dedicated and selfless individuals anyone could ever meet. My earthly job as a veterinarian has given me many opportunities to serve people, which I try to do with the attitude of Colossians 3:17 in mind. (I forget that truth more than I care to admit.) I even tried to shine the light of Christ while in the military, but it’s awfully easy to make an excuse as a “secret disciple” of sorts (John 19:38) and let Army policy dictate your interactions with your Soldiers.

I could have become completely consumed with my military career. I could let myself be consumed by business ownership as a veterinarian. Admittedly, I have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, so I know I can go overboard with the attention I give to various things (like school or work).  But I recently realized that the most important aspect of my life was often not getting even close to that level of devotion. I needed to change my mindset and shift my goals. Don’t get me wrong, my current employer still gets very hard work out of me, and I do enjoy my earthly job. It’s just that I’m striving to change and improve my perspective. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24) I work for Christ. I serve Christ in all that I do. I work so I can provide for my family, but also so I can share with others (Philippians 2:4, Ephesians 4:28). I don’t work for position, promotion, or power. I’m not interested in chasing a higher salary. If I began to seek power or influence, then it’s my own power or influence that I want to spread, not God’s. I don’t want to work in any capacity that could lead me to put the spotlight on myself. I am just a struggling Christian trying to let go of me a little more every day and cling only to God.

Now, I acknowledge and appreciate that someone has to do those very consuming jobs, hold those tough positions, and wield a particular level of power in our society. I’m thankful to have those people in our society, and I believe, especially in the case of governments and authorities, that they are appointed by God for a specific and respectable role. I’m just saying that’s not for me. I can’t and won’t say that it’s not for you. I do hope to at least encourage you, fellow Christian, to prayerfully consider whether it should be. Whatever you do, don’t do it for yourself. Let go of your “self.”

The ultimate example of letting go of self to serve God is none other than Jesus himself. He was seated in Heaven with God from the very beginning—the preeminent of all—and yet he chose to empty himself, become a servant, and voluntarily die the cruelest of deaths for you and for me (John 1:1-5, Colossians 1:15-20, Philippians 2:5-8). An example such as that simply cannot be matched by any of us. But what a standard it is (Ephesians 5:1-2). Think about it for a minute. We won’t ever earn or deserve that sacrifice—the love that was poured out for us.

Another example we can look to is that of Paul. Paul was at the height of his game in the world at one point. Just check out his resume in Philippians 3:4-6. In comparison to our day, we could think Paul’s parents were so proud of the man he became. Certainly, he would have been held up as a role model for all the young Jewish boys of his day. And even after he became a follower of Christ, we might even think that his status would provide such a great platform that he could use to reach people for Jesus. But Paul wanted nothing to do with that platform. He would even go on to become a messenger to primarily Gentiles, a group of people who would care very little of his prior position as a Pharisee. He threw all of that away. It became very clear to him that all of those things—the status, the accolades, even his race and tribe—all of that was rubbish! (Philippians 4:7-9)

Paul’s goals in his life had a drastic shift. He went from pursuing life as a zealous Pharisee with all the wealth, power, and status that came with it, to humbling himself as a servant of the same Christ he persecuted. His new goals? To “know Him and the power of His resurrection,” to “share in His sufferings” and “become like Him in His death” so that “by any means possible [he could] attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11) Does that compute with us? His new goal for his life was to suffer and die just as his Savior did. He knew that it was “no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) How could he even think of boasting in his accomplishments in the flesh? No, rather he would boast in his weaknesses and his need for a savior. What a powerful truth to grasp: when we are weak, then we are strong! (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, we read an encouragement from Paul to run the race to receive the prize. But he wasn’t referring to the rat race of this world. Far from it. We shouldn’t be chasing after a perishable wreath. No, we are living for an inheritance much more valuable than that—an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in Heaven for us (1 Peter 1:3-4).

Are we holding on to or striving for something that Paul would call rubbish? Are we letting garbage get in the way of our walk with Christ? Are we running the wrong race? What are we pursuing? Are we following our hearts or following Jesus?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9

Like Paul, Nicodemus climbed the ranks of the Pharisees. There may be only a few Scriptural references to Nicodemus, but I believe it’s more than fair to say he ultimately decided to surrender his status and reputation to become a disciple of Jesus (John 19:39). Similarly, Matthew achieved prominence in the Roman world as a tax collector. When Jesus called, Matthew threw that status away (Matthew 9:9). He voluntarily left a life of luxury, wealth, and security to follow Jesus.

I’ve got a long way to go to live this out. My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). Thank you, God, that your power is made perfect in our weakness!

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted (Matthew 5:3-12). Jesus came to proclaim the good news to the poor and pronounce liberty to the captives and the oppressed; give sight to the blind; and to proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom! (Luke 4:18-19). It’s not our earthly status that Jesus came to improve. He didn’t come to help you climb the ladder to success in this world (Luke 12:15). He didn’t come to fix the world; He came to save you from it! We are not of the world any longer (John 17:16), so let’s quit looking for our identity in it. The rich young ruler that came to Jesus walked away sorrowfully when Jesus told him to separate himself from his earthly treasures (Matthew 19:16-30). The man who had a great yield of crops was more worried about his 401K of sorts rather than his eternal retirement plan (Luke 12:17-21). Even some of Jesus’ disciples came to Him celebrating that they were able to cast out demons through the Spirit, and Jesus had to redirect their focus—don’t rejoice in what you do on earth, rejoice that your name is written in Heaven! (Luke 10:17-20) Truly, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).

The same is true for you today, Christian. We get to be citizens in God’s Kingdom. That should be the highlight of our lives! Sure, use your talents, skills, education, etc., but never let them lead your life (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). You may be following God’s will for how you can best be on mission for His Kingdom. On the other hand, you may be chasing after garbage. Let God lead you, and you will soon find out.

My aspiration for myself, my wife, and my children: to be a servant for our Lord and His people. To be a worker in His vineyard in whatever capacity He wills. What else is there for a Christian to pursue?

Give up your own ambitions. Surrender them all to Him. Give up your flesh and embrace your life as a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-17). If you haven’t become a new creation in Him, there’s no better time than now. Let us introduce you to our Savior. Jesus came so we would have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Choose that life—it’s the only one that lasts.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:1-11

The Chosen Reading Plan – Week 8

The finale of this season is upon us! We sincerely hope that reading through the Scriptures as you watch this production has pointed you to Christ and Christ alone. We have no desire to be movie critics or provide mere reviews of a film. We have only tried to use this series as a tool to point to the one and only authority, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. With that in mind, let’s dive into week 8!

Day 1
Genesis 33:19
Genesis 48:21-22
Joshua 24:32
Genesis 32:25-28
Day 2
Deuteronomy 7:6-8
Isaiah 56:8
Hosea 2:21-23
Romans 9:19-10:4
1 Peter 2:9-12
Day 3
Mark 2:13-17
Hosea 6:6
Psalm 51:16-17
Psalm 40:6
I desire mercy, not sacrifice
Day 4
Matthew 8:14-17
Luke 9:57-62
1. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law
2. It’s one thing to say you want to follow Jesus, it’s another to actually do it.
Day 5
John 4:1-42
The woman at the well
Day 6
Watch Episode 8

Questions to consider:

Jesus mentions several times that he’s not there to bring more “status quo” or “safety”, nor is he here to deliver them from their oppressive government. What is Jesus’ purpose in coming and in bringing His disciples to follow him?

With prophecies about other nations/peoples eventually being counted as “God’s people,” why do you think that was such a difficult truth for the Jewish people to grasp?

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice” – In this episode, Jesus tells the Pharisees to go and learn what this passage from Hosea means. What does it mean?

Nicodemus and his wife are depicted as having a conversation regarding Hagar and how God acknowledged her (Genesis 16:10-13). So, do you think God just sees us through the hard roads, or are there times when he actually calls us to them?

Has there ever been a time in your life where you were as excited about Jesus as the woman at the well was? How excited was Simon to finally get to spread the message publicly? Are you excited about who Jesus is? What should we be doing?

The Chosen Reading Plan – Week 7

Two more episodes to go! There are some powerful moments of Scripture depicted in episode 7. We hope that you are encouraged and your faith is strengthened.

Day 1
Numbers 21:4-9 
The bronze serpent
Day 2
Mark 2:13-17
Matthew 9:9-17
Luke 5:27-38
Jesus calls Matthew
Day 3
John 3:1-21
John 8:28-30
John 12:27-36
The Son of Man will be lifted up
Day 4
Luke 5:16
Luke 6:12-15
Mark 1:35
Matthew 14:22-27
Jesus’ prayer life
Day 5
Matthew 5:3
Isaiah 61:1-2
Matthew 7:21
Luke 17:20-21 
The poor in spirit
Day 6
Watch Episode 7

Questions to Consider:

How was the bronze serpent on the rod a foreshadowing of what was to come?

Jesus often went away by himself to pray. What can we learn from this?

If Jesus were on earth today as he was back then, how would you respond to his miracles: in complete faith or with doubt/disbelief?

Matthew seems to be portrayed as having possible autism/ obsessive compulsive tendencies. What do you think about this portrayal? Isn’t it encouraging that Jesus calls us despite our weaknesses?

The Chosen Reading Plan – Week 6

It’s week 6 of our “The Chosen” reading plan! We hope these last several weeks have encouraged you and given you renewed vigor in your mission as a disciple of Christ. If you aren’t yet committed to be a disciple of Jesus, we hope that going through these readings and watching these episodes has been the encouragement you need to follow the one and only way, truth, and life (John 14:6).

If you’re behind, take the time and catch up. I guarantee you it’ll be worth it.

Day 1
Psalm 63:1
Psalm 104:31-34
Isaiah 40:3
Romans 8:27-39
Day 2
Matthew 8:1-4
Mark 1:35-45
Leviticus 13:45-46
Jesus heals a leper
Day 3
Luke 12:35-40
Genesis 49:8-12, 50:15-21 – the Jews didn’t recognize the Messiah just like Joseph’s brothers failed to recognize him
Luke 10:13-16
Keep your lamps burning
Day 4
Matthew 6:1-8
Luke 18:1-14
God knows what we need
Day 5
Mark 2:1-12
Luke 5:17-26
Matthew 9:1-8
Jesus heals the paralytic
Day 6
Watch Episode 6

Questions to consider:

Why is it so provocative that Jesus calls Matthew to follow him? How might that Romans 8 passage apply to that, and how does it apply to you?

Leprosy was a disease which the Jews supposed to be inflicted for the punishment of some particular sin, and to be, more than other diseases, a mark of God’s displeasure; and therefore Christ, who came to take away sin, and turn away wrath took particular care to cleanse the lepers that fell in his way. Jesus’s apostles were amazed when they saw the leper healed. Do we still see the works of God with amazement? If not, are we following Him close enough to see them?

Concerning the Luke 12 passage, we need to keep our lamps burning! Matthew told Gaius in this episode, “Conquest is not simply conquering nations but imposing a way of life.” What parallel is there between this statement to Jesus’s purpose as well as this scripture?

Simon doesn’t understand why Jesus asked him to join him. Do you ever wonder why Jesus asked me to join Him? How does Simon figure out his purpose? How can you figure out yours?

Being Salty

Jesus called us to be salty. What could he have possibly meant by that? In modern-day, the term being salty is look at as such a put down for having a bad attitude, but what did Jesus mean when he said it?

We look at salt today as a mere seasoning to sprinkle on food to make it flavorful. Yes, in biblical times they used salt to season food, but it was so much more than that. They used salt for seasoning, preservation, disinfectant, for ceremonial offerings, and for a unit of exchange.  Jesus was so intelligent he spoke to them in ways he knew they would understand. Salt was such a great part of their daily life.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” – Matthew 5:13

Jesus tells his followers: You are the salt. God sees us as the most precious thing in the world. We are so valuable and we preserve this world. We should be a preserving fruitful influence on the world. Without our fruitful influence, the world would spoil with evil. God calls us to preserve the goodness of this world.

Jesus also tells us to be full of flavor.  “But if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled.”  

In biblical times, if salt lost its flavor or preserving abilities, they threw it away on the streets and it would be walked on, because what good to them was it? None.

Jesus is warning us as Christians, if we lose our flavor (fruitful influence) in this world, we are no longer valuable for His Kingdom.    

No longer valuable for His Kingdom… That’s not a place I want to find myself, and I’m sure you don’t either.

So how can you be the salt of the earth? Constantly pursue a relationship with God! A relationship requires interaction. This is done by reading His Word and speaking to Him openly and honestly through prayer.  We are here to be the salt of the world, a blessing to His people. We cannot do this without showing them absolute love as He did.

The Chosen Reading Plan – Week 5

We hope you are enjoying this series so far as we start week 5 today!

Day 1
Exodus 23:14
Deuteronomy 16:16
Luke 2:41-52
Passover Feast
Day 2
Proverbs 30:4
Luke 3:2-9
John 1:19-24
John 10:40-42
Matthew 17:11-13
Preparing the way for the Lord
Day 3
1 Kings 19:19-21
2 Kings 2:11-15
Matthew 13:44-46      
Luke 9:57-62
Don’t look back!
Day 4
Exodus 15:1-21
Jeremiah 33:10-14
Psalm 118:22-24
Isaiah 28:16-19
Rejoice, praise, and thanksgiving
Day 5
John 2:1-11
The wedding at Cana
Day 6
Watch Episode 5

Questions to Consider:

John is the only gospel to tell the story of water into wine. What do you think John wanted to relay by noting this passage? What does it relate to you?

In this episode, both Peter and Mary the Mother of Jesus urge Jesus to make himself known. What do you think were their motives, and why was Jesus moved by Mary and not Peter’s approach?

Nicodemus is uncomfortable, in every aspect of the word, talking to John, yet as he notes, it is through his discomfort that he even sought John. What does this suggest about our spiritual Journey?

The Chosen Reading Plan – Week 4

The fourth week of reading through and watching The Chosen is here! See our previous posts if you need to catch up.

Day 1
Luke 1:5-25, 57-80
John the baptizer’s birth
Day 2
John 1:19-42
Matthew 3:1-17
John the baptizer’s ministry, Andrew and Simon
Day 3
Genesis 26:1-5
Hebrews 11:8-12
Matthew 16:13-20 (Peter <later> ultimately gives a confession of Jesus as the Messiah)
Peter recalls this promise of God as he questions his faith
Day 4
Matthew 13:44-52
Matthew 25:31-46
Matthew 13:13-17
The dragnet of the Kingdom
Day 5
Luke 5:1-11 (Isaiah 6:5 reflects Peter’s humble response to Jesus)
Matthew 4:17-22
Mark 1:14-20
Fishers of men
Day 6
Watch Episode 4

Questions to consider:

1. I think we can all relate to Simon in a way. We all have various stresses, deadlines, and are pulled between right and wrong. How can you personally relate to his predicament?

2. John the Baptist is referred to as a “loud man in camel skin” by the Pharisees, who were upset at the questioning of their authority. Does Nicodemus seem to begin to realize what is going on at this point? 

3. Simon is at first in doubt upon hearing the news of the Messiah. Have you ever struggled with doubt? How did you find God during your time of doubt?

4. Jesus performs the miracles of the catching of fish, which solves Simon’s biggest stress. When has Jesus come into your life and poured down his grace and love when you least expected it? How?

5. Did you see Jesus’ look when Peter and Andrew were hauling in the massive amount of fish, knowing they were having a breakthrough moment in their faith? How do you think Jesus looks at us when we also have those moments?

Other passages to check out:

Title of the episode based on Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah – Matthew 16:13-20

A later miraculous catch, possibly serving as a renewal and restoration for Peter after his denial – John 21:1-19

Later passages on John the baptizer – Matthew 11:1-19, Matthew 14:1-12