Splashing Indiscriminately

But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too. Matthew 5:44-45 (NLT) 

Like perfume dripping down 

like rain on the evil and the good 

like drink offerings lost in the dirt 

vessels of his love-glory 

pour yourselves out 

tip yourselves over 

lavishly 

wastefully 

splashing indiscriminately 

not thinking of merit 

no one deserves 

his love 

Image by Mark Ordonez  https://flic.kr/p/6DhvmR  

Out of the Heart

God is always, relentlessly, about the inside out.

“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 

The word translated “with” here – “with all your heart” – is ek or ex. It is “a primary preposition denoting origin (the point whence action or motion proceeds), from, out (of place, time, or cause literal or figurative).”i So, you could also translate this command as “Love the Lord your God out of, or, from the whole of your heart.”  

I guess what struck me about this verse is that the love that Jesus is talking about comes from the inside out. It is not just part either, like a tithe or what is convenient. It is all, whole, completely. This is like the poor widow that impressed Jesus so much. 

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of (ek) her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12:43-44 

She gave “out of.” She gave all.  

And, this kind of love is not pasted on the outside. There is a related Greek word, exothen, which means “from without.” It is the word Jesus used when rebuking the Pharisees. 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside [exothen] of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26 

 They did their good, religious works, not out from their hearts, but from the outside. They were “from without” like the costume and makeup and script of an actor. That is what hypocrite means in the Greek: “an actor under an assumed character.”  

But God is always, relentlessly, about the inside out. 

Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’” … [Jesus] went on: “What comes out of (ek) a man is what makes him ‘unclean’. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’.” Mark 7:15, 20-23 

Maybe that is what circumcising your heart is all about. Getting rid of the outside, the “from without” attempts to be right with God – the attempts that so often end up in play-acting and self-righteousness – and get down to what is really in there. 

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that (for the purpose, to the intent that, to the end that) you may live. Deuteronomy 30:6 (ESV) 

In Mark 12:29-31, Jesus is quoting the “Shema” in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. When I went back to see the corresponding Hebrew word for the Greek ek, “out of,” I was surprised to find that the word translated “with” is not in the Hebrew at all. It is as if the commandment is:  

Love the Lord your God heart! Love him soul! Love him strength! All and completely – the whole of, altogether, the totality! 

The Shema talks straight to the heart, and God’s passionate desire is that the heart respond straight back. Like the poor widow, there might not be much of worth in there. I know there is not much good in mine, except what He has given. But, out of the poverty of my spirit, out of my yearning heart, I want to respond completely and totally.  

As you are one, Lord, may our hearts and mind and strength respond to your command in love as one. Unified and pure. 

The goal of this command is love, which comes from (ek = out of) a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Timothy 1:5 

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. Psalm 86:11 

Love the Lord your God heart! 

Image, Widow’s Mite – Ancient Roman Bronze Coins, by Royce Bair https://flic.kr/p/7kuEAk  

Do Everything In Love

Let all (each, every, any, all, the whole, all things, everything, thoroughly)  

that you do (that is yours, from or concerning you)  

be done (performed, finished, wrought, published, be made, come to pass)  

in love (brotherly love, affection, good will, love, benevolence, in a feast of charity). 1 Corinthians 16:14 (NASB) 

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:44-45 

Photo by Jack Bair 2021

Everyone who asks

When I first read this passage, it appeared like an unlimited gift card to Amazon.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8

When I first read this passage, it appeared like an unlimited gift card to Amazon. But if you back up a little and look at the context you will notice that these verses are nestled between four hard sayings of Jesus. First there is this part about not judging our brother and getting the planks out of our eyes.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5

Afterwards, there is the “Golden Rule” and the part about the narrow road.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Enter through the narrow (stenos) gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small (stenos) is the gate and narrow (thlibo) the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:12-14

There are two different Greek words translated “narrow” in these verses, stenos and thlibo. Stenos describes the gate which is narrow or strait. Thlibo describes the way. Thlibo means narrow or straitened but is also means to press as the pressing of grapes, to press hard upon, afflict, to suffer tribulation and trouble. It is interesting that the noun forms of both these words are used by Paul in Romans:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble (thlipsis) or hardship (stenochoria) or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Romans 8:35

There is affliction and suffering and pressing down hard in the narrow way. We are asked to let God work in us repentance of old ways and transformational change. To press out of us the hypocritical judging and unloving tendencies – through trouble and tribulation and distress if need be – until he can press out good new wine. Few want to choose that way. Most would rather just stick with the Amazon gift card.

In this context, for what am I to be asking, seeking, knocking? Well, for one thing, I am asking for “HELP!” Help to be able to see the planks in my own eye. Help to choose and go through the narrow way of affliction, suffering, tribulation, that he may produce good fruit in me that may be pressed into good wine.

What am I knocking on? What door? Jesus said he was the door. He is saying here that if I knock there it will be opened. He is the door or gate into the sheepfold where I am safe while I learn to follow and imitate the Shepherd. Jesus also said that he is the Word and the Truth. If I knock on the Word it will be opened to me. I will find the hidden treasure. I will begin to understand the mind of Christ.

What am I seeking? God. Just God. I want to have “a naked intent toward God.”[i] For only there in his Presence, in his strength, with his help, will I be able to do the narrow Way, the thlibo.

Do not judge your brother.

Take the plank of wood out of your own eye.

Ask, seek, knock!

Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Follow the narrow way.

****

For more about the pressing of grapes and the narrow way see The Pressing of Grapes

Photo by Sheila Bair


[i] Quoted from The Cloud of Unknowing, by an anonymous Christian mystic.

In the Middle

Maybe we can be meta too, naming each other as our mission – beloved, neighbor, brother, sister.

There [at Golgotha] they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. John 19:18

Jesus in the middle. This verse struck me a different way as I read it today. Jesus was suffering there in the middle of fallen humanity at its worst. In Matthew the two men on either side of Jesus are called thieves. The word is lestes and means robbers, plunderers. According to NetBible Study Notes, Josephus used the term lestes for the Zealots who revolted against Roman rule. Barabbas was a lestes (John 18:40).

In Luke the two men crucified on either side of Jesus are called criminals, evildoers malefactors. Here, in John, they are just “others.” I think John is saying it doesn’t matter what they did. What matters is how they responded to Jesus as they hung there dying with Jesus in the middle.

The word translated middle is mesos = in the middle, in the midst, among. Jesus came and lived and died in the middle. He lived with them, ate with them, walked with them. Loved them. He had compassion on them. He wept with them. “This man welcomes sinners.”

Mesos comes from meta, which means “with, accompanying, amid.” Meta-data is the data or information that accompanies something – the name and ingredient list of a product. The “about the author” blurb on a book jacket. The track list accompanying an audio file.

Jesus is mesos, in our midst. Always there. Suffering with us. Jesus is meta. He is with us. He accompanies us all the way. He names us – Child of God. He tells us what we are made of, what is in us. When we respond as the man on the cross beside Jesus did, in repentance and faith, we are a new creation. We have the mind of Christ. We have a spirit given us not of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. We become part of his body. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. The Kingdom of God is within us. His word is in our mouths. His love in our hearts

He lived and died with us, and he wants us to die – be crucified – with him, and with all the thieves and criminals and the others. All the messed up, hopeless, dying ones. And he wants us to be resurrected as a new person and live loving them just as he did – to be mesos alongside Jesus as he is alongside them. Maybe we can be meta too. Naming Him as our testimony – Emmanuel, God With Us, Savior, Redeemer. And naming each other as our mission – beloved, neighbor, brother, sister.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

You know what is very cool? The word translated “crucified” in this verse is a different word from the word translated “crucified” in John 19:18. Jesus was crucified=stauroo. We are crucified=sustauroo. Stauroo means to impale on a cross, to stake, drive down stakes. Sustauroo means to impale in company with, crucify with. In company with Jesus. With Him alongside. Jesus in the middle.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with [meta] me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

Image from FreeBibleimages.org

Friends

This completely turned upside down my thinking about John 21. I don’t think Jesus is settling for a lesser form of love from Peter. I don’t think this is another failure for Peter.

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love (phileo) Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (phileo) You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” John 21:15-17 (NIV)

Much has been written about this passage of scripture. Many have thought that it was Jesus’ way of reinstating Peter after his three denials on the night Jesus was arrested – the three declarations of love wiping out the three denials – and I believe that was part of it. And many have pointed out the two forms of the word “love” used in these verses and wondered about the possible meaning. Jesus uses the word agapao in his first two questions, but phileo in his last question to Peter. Peter replies, “yes,” but uses phileo in all three of his answers.

Agapao simply means to love in a social or moral sense. E. Stauffer[i] writes that agapao, or love, of God means total commitment and total trust. So, when Jesus asks Peter, “do you agapao me?” He may have been asking also, “are you totally committed now, do you trust me?”

Peter replies, “yes,” but then goes on, not answering with agapao, but with the Greek word phileo. Phileo means to be a friend to, to be fond of an individual or an object, to have affection for, to kiss, to love. It would appear at first glance that this is a lesser form of love. And some have thought that Jesus was prodding Peter to the higher form of love, but Peter, after his devasting failure in the denial episode, could only promise the lesser form of love – to be a friend. They have concluded, “that Jesus finally concedes defeat and accepts only the lower form of love which is all that Peter is capable of offering.”[ii] But, when I looked further into the meaning of this word, phileo, I was amazed.

Phileo is the verb form of the noun philos, which means friend, dear friend, associate, neighbor. But, it also means this: “one of the bridegroom’s friends who on his behalf asked the hand of the bride and rendered him various services in closing the marriage and celebrating the nuptials.” This friend is acting as the best man. This friend carries a huge trust and responsibility. He asks for the hand of the Bride on behalf of the Bridegroom! This is the word for friend that John the Baptist used in this verse.

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. John 3:29 (NIV)

Jesus said, “You are my friends (philos) if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends (philos), for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:14-15 NIV). This sounds like a greater call, a greater trust, a greater service to our Lord than to be a mere servant who is not privy to what his master is about. He’s calling us to be the friend, the best man, of the Bridegroom! To go out and ask for the hand of the Bride on His behalf. Isn’t that what evangelism is all about? What a precious thing this Bride! What an amazing responsibility and calling is given to us!

This completely turned upside down my thinking about John 21. I don’t think Jesus is settling for a lesser form of love from Peter. I don’t think this is another failure for Peter. I think Peter is saying, “Yes Lord, I love (agapao) you! I fully trust and am committed to you. But even more, I accept the calling and responsibility to go out and bring back to you your Bride.” That’s why Jesus can ask, in a way, the third time, Are you prepared to be my Best Man? Go find and take care my Bride.

Am I prepared? Are you? Can we say, Yes Lord, you know I phileo you!

The people I love (phileo, I am a friend to), I call to account–prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God! Revelation 3:19 (MSG) 

 

[i] E. Stauffer in Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

[ii] NetBible.org. Translator’s Notes.

Photograph of the bride with the best man and groomsmen by Caitlyn Brouwer. All rights reserved by Jessica Bair.

You Shall Love, I Promise

What if I really believed this? How would it change how I live?

The final secret, I think, is this: that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us—loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us. He has been acquainted with our grief. —Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember

This idea has really captivated my mind – that all of those Old Testament laws, all of those “shalls” and “shall nots” could be looked on as promises, not as commands. As even the longing cry of God: Someday you will love me with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength. Someday you will love your neighbor as yourself. I promise!

Jesus said, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17 NLT). Jesus made it possible for me to do the “shalls” in him and through him. He did this by making me a new creature, by changing my heart, by making it possible for me to come into the Presence of the Father and know him.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebrews 11:14-17 (NIV)

He has put his law in our hearts. He has given us new hearts, new minds, the mind of Christ. He has given us grace and power to obey his will, to truly know him, to truly love him.

What if I really believed this? How would it change how I live? It would set me free. If I truly believed that God is not a fierce judge, giving me impossible things to accomplish, just waiting for me to trip up, but a loving Father who is by my side, walking through this wilderness with me. A loving Father holding out his arms to this (still) toddler-me, saying, “Come on, you can do it! You shall love!” I would fearlessly go out there and love – not love to be noticed and acclaimed, not love to be accepted and loved back, not love to please people, not love to earn Brownie points, not love to finally “get it right.” But just freely love to please God, to know the joy that it gives Him.

And if I was rejected, taken for granted, ignored, dissed, insulted, criticized, misunderstood, it would not make me stumble as long as my eyes were fixed on his loving face and my ears attuned to his joyful, encouraging voice.

So, you and me, let’s not give up. Don’t despair. Keep going “on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope” through this wilderness. Trust in him. Keep running into his open arms. You shall learn to love the Lord your God. You shall love.

The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. Deuteronomy 30:6 (NIV)

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  Galatians 2:20 (MSG)

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. John 3:17 (NASB)

 

Photograph by Jack Bair, copyright 2019, all rights reserved.

The Most Important Piece of Clothing

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves,

you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy,

kindness,

humility,

gentleness,

and patience.

And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love.

Colossians 3:12, 14 (NLT)

 

 

Photo, My closet, from m01229 on flickr

Joy

I don’t seem to have much joy in myself right now, but Jesus is saying that I can have his joy – “so my joy may be in you.” And, suddenly, I saw where the joy of Jesus resided.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:9-13 (NIV)

I have been thinking about joy lately, maybe because I have been fighting depression. The Bible talks a lot about the importance of joy. It is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. In other words, it is supposed to be showing up in my life if I say I have the Spirit of God in me, If I say I am a follower of Jesus.

So, I started looking at the verses in the Bible about joy, and I was stopped in my tracks by Jesus’ words in John 15:11 above. I don’t seem to have much joy in myself right now, but he is saying that I can have his joy – “so my joy may be in you.” And, suddenly, I saw where, in the context of those verses, the joy of Jesus resided.

It was in the middle of relationship.

The verses before John 15:11 speak of Jesus’ relationship with the Father – how the Father loves Jesus and how Jesus remains in that love. How that love pours out of Jesus and into us, how Jesus loves us and how we can remain, reside, dwell in that love. Jesus’ passion on the Cross was to make it possible for us to share in that relationship of love with the Father.

The verses after John 15:11 speak of our relationship with others. Jesus’ passion now is for us to pour out the love given us to those around us who don’t know him, to bring them into that loving relationship too.

It’s in the sharing of love that Jesus’ joy happens. That’s where his joy springs up in us and fills us with joy that is “complete.” That word means replete, crammed, jammed, stuffed, imbued, filled to the brim. Jesus commands us to do that, to love each other, so that we – and the ones we love – can have that kind of joy.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (NIV)

Notice in the list of fruits where joy is positioned. Love comes first. Relationship comes first. If I love him as he loved me – which was with everything, with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his mind and with all his strength – and if I love others that way too (actually it is his love flowing down through me), all the other things on the list will pour down on me. Just as Jesus loved us first looking forward to the joy.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. 1 John 1: 3-4 (NIV)

I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:7 (NASB)

 

Photo copyright 2019 Derek Bair, all rights reserved