God Wants Lovers, Not Lawyers

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manwomanbeachverseThe Pharisees confronted Jesus over divorce in Matthew 19 asking if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause. Jesus answered in part with a line that would become part of many marriage ceremonies, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:6) The Pharisees raised a reasonable legal point and asked, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”

Jesus responded, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”  (Matthew 19:8) The certificate of divorce was a protection for the woman. American history shows how this “hardness of heart” could play out  many centuries later in the life of President Andrew Jackson’s wife, Rachel. She received a notice of divorce from her first husband and thought she was free to marry Jackson. Only later did she discover the divorce wasn’t final and her first husband used this to attack her as a bigamist. Jackson’s political opponents used the same attacks during the 1828 campaign, and she was driven to her death by them. A simple certificate of divorce protected the divorced wife.

Yet many had interpreted the ability to write the certificate of divorce as God’s blessing of the practice. If the Pharisees had paid attention to the prophets, they would have seen this was clearly not the case.

In Malachi 2, God announces that he’s not honoring people’s offerings because they’ve covered in his altars in tears and he explains how they did this:

…Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.

“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.  (Malachi 2:14-16)

The Old Testament law contained no specific prohibition against divorce. It contained a mechanism by which divorce could lawfully be obtained. Yet the men of Judah’s treatment of their wives had invited the ire of God.

foreversunsetUltimately, they made the same mistake we’ve all made. They assumed God was primarily concerned about our ability to follow all the technicalities of the rules. We can look at the commandments of the living God as if we were a corporate lawyer combing the latest pages of regulations from the Federal Register, seeking a loophole to keep our clients in good standing.

Yet God is concerned about our hearts. We often approach situations with impure motives. (ex: Is it technically adultery? Would God really punish me for this? Can I still do this and go to Heaven?) As long as our heart is focused on, ‘What can I get away with?’ we’ll be far from God.

God wants us to be faithful, loving, and kind. Jesus gave us the Great Commandments to Love God and love our neighbor. The goal of the Christian life and the cry of our heart should be for our hearts to be faithful, kind, and loving so that we would fulfill these commandments rather than hoping to find a loophole to get away with it.

[tweetthis]God Wants Lovers, Not Lawyers: Guest post by Adam Graham @idahoguy[/tweetthis][tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true”]”As long as our heart is focused on, ‘What can I get away with?’ we’ll be far from God.” Quote by @idahoguy [/tweetthis]

Sincere Love Requires a Purified Heart

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love is a verb
“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)

Love is a physical feeling or emotional sentiment to much of the world, and an empty action or, worse, words about action to too many in the church. Feeling and sentiment alone do no one any good. Words and promises alone do no one any good, but likewise neither does loving actions and a smile on the face while bitterness and anger linger in the heart.

One of the chief reasons we struggle to consistently love is because we’ve relegated love to mere behavior. If we harbor anger and bitterness and resentment in our hearts, life will give us plenty of excuses to be passive aggressive, procrastinate, and avoid the act or the person altogether. It is also true that we can genuinely find ourselves flooded, or we may have physical conditions that make it difficult for us prioritize tasks and control our behavior and impulses in the flesh.

At some point, we need to let love motivate us to stop letting life and our weaknesses push us around, come to the cross, examine our hearts, and lay out before the Lord honestly what we’re really feeling rather than going through the motions. Only there can we get rid of the weights and toxins that hinder us and be filled with his love and forgiveness and grace. That is the place where we can receive spiritual wisdom and the fruit of self-control, the power we need to be transformed and the strength we need to do his will,  to synchronize our heart to beat more in time with God’s and obey out of trust, love for God, and a genuine desire to do righteousness.

Lord, forgive us for pretending and going through the motions. We pray our love for you and others would be genuine and selfless. Search us, Lord, and show us what is truly in our hearts, and strengthen our relationship with you, bring us to a place where we will be comfortable confessing the “bad emotions” that poison us to you. Draw out of us everything that hinders us from loving both in deed and in truth. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true”]Sincere Love Requires a Purified Heart–Love not in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1JN3:18[/tweetthis]

 

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Life Does Have an Instruction Manual–Love it!

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“In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.” (Psalm 119:14)

This falls towards the end of an eight verse set with a clear and simple message. Want to keep pure? Want to do right? Stay in the word, let it guard your heart, seek God with all of your being.

Knowing the word, hiding it in our hearts, are the first steps to resisting the temptation of sin. The second step is stopping and recalling the word in the hour of temptation. Praying ahead of time about known issues is where we can best find the strength to stand on the word when the stumbling block does appear.

As the psalmist, let us ask God to teach us his ways, his principles, to bind our wandering hearts to him, to instruct us in how he designed us to operate. We know he wants us to, so we can trust him to answer us and do so when we pray this prayer sincerely from the heart.

The octane also suggests value in actually reciting the word allowed. This is likely due to our ears, along with our eyes, being pathways into our hearts as well as our minds. What we hear and do not dismiss goes straight into our heart, so we should put that to advantage and feed our hearts on the nourishment of God rather than feeding on the junk of the world.

That brings us to this verse’s secret: take delight! Obey out of love, out of the joy and pleasure of operating the way God designed you to, not out of fear and drudgery and reluctance. The last two verses repeat the instructions to feast our eyes and minds upon the things of God, his instruction manual for the proper operation and function of this naturally intelligent, organic, bio-molecular machine he’s molded out of the dust of the earth and breathed life into.

Thank you, Lord, for your guidance and instructions. Open our minds and hearts to understand your word and enable us to love and delight in your ways. Strengthen us to seek you sincerely, with our whole heart and soul. We are broken and full of bugs in our weak flesh. Refresh and revive our spirits, come and heal us and restore us to normal operating conditions. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Nail Pierced Hands, Wounded Side: This is Love.

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By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)

What is love? John tells we learn what love is at the cross. Jesus and Paul both tell us that to love god and to love others fulfills all the laws and regulations handed down to us in the scriptures.  We love, John tells us elsewhere, because Christ first loved us. To love is to sacrifice and put others needs (not their wants) before our own. Scripture places the greatest burden here upon the leaders in our communities: fathers, husbands, pastors, employers, office holders on all levels. Those most likely to lord it over us and twist this scripture to demand others sacrifice themselves to meet their demands stand condemned before the cross, where the greatest of all became the servant of all and laid down his life.

We all stand equal before Christ, because all of us are equally compelled to lay down our lives and submit to one another in love. Let us emulate Christ, gentle readers, but also let us  also call those over us to account for their sin when they would wickedly crush under foot and devour the flock in the holy name of Christ, lest his name be blasphemed.

We thank you, Lord, for your salvation, and example, on the cross. We pray as leaders and as otherwise, we would emulate your example. Give us wisdom to choose, in every arena, leaders who love their people as you do. Grant us wisdom on when and how to lovingly hold to account leaders who blaspheme your name by actions that do not align with the law of love. Check us in our own spirits when we are not loving others as you first loved us. In Jesus’ precious name we pray, amen.

Follow the Law of Love

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“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)

This can be read backwards and forward: forwards, it says love fulfills the law, so Christians who walk in love, having nailed our sin to the cross, need not fear the commandment any longer.  Backwards, it also says love restrains us from sin. Jesus put it this way, if we love him, we will keep his commandments. Thus the law of love does not excuse us to behave wickedly on the rationale that we have warm, fuzzy feelings for God and the people we are walking on.

The old law operated on fear: obey and you will be blessed, disobey and you will be cursed. Elsewhere Paul warns us we are still subject to the laws of reaping and sowing, but Christianity seeks to move us beyond the beginning of wisdom (fear of the Lord) to love, the true heart of the law. Do no wrong, seek the best interests of everyone just as you would your loved ones. Place the greater priority on the needs of our families, our friends, and our community, and all the Church rather than focusing on our own selfish wants.

If Christians consistently loved like that, we would change the world.

Lord, strengthen our spiritual muscles, so we might crucify the flesh, all malice, ill will and bitterness,  pride, and any selfish motive. Give us instead hearts full of love to seek the good of others. Cleanse our thoughts. Show us any roadblocks that keep us from walking this path with you, and move our hearts so we will surrender those things to you and allow you to change us. Refine us in your love today and grant us discernment and wisdom to know your good and righteous will. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.