Does loving like Jesus ever feel impossible to you? It does to me. I cannot make it through my morning coffee loving God and others the way he has loved me. Does my failure to love perfectly mean that I should question my salvation? No. Rather, I believe Jesus was telling his followers, “Look, I’ve come to show you the best way to live. Life in my kingdom is radically different from the life you have been living. Become a conduit of my grace and engage in true other-centered living.”from Notes from the Upper Room, The Devotionals
“By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”-John 13:35
John 13:35 is a continuation of verse 34. Francis Schaeffer wrote some of the most remarkable pages about these two verses in The Mark of the Christian (1970). Following Jesus, Schaeffer said that how we carry out Jesus’s commandment is the key criterion by which the world may know what Christianity is all about.
We often assume that people determine the truth of the faith based upon well-reasoned apologetics, culturally relevant messages, or excellent facilities. We stress secondary issues, and we miss the main point.
These other considerations are not unimportant, but they are not ultimate. What if our principal focus was on the reality that every person desires to be loved and accepted?
Jesus told his disciples, “Look…you have seen how I have lived my life. I have loved the unlovable. I have healed the broken. I have crossed cultural lines, even with those most people consider morally deplorable, including some of you. I have sought to serve rather than be served. I want you to do likewise, and when people see my love through you, walls will come down.”
So after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.-John 13:30
Every time I read the phrase, “and it was night,” my skin tingles. It is ominous. It conveys the sense that there is no turning back. John was not merely writing about the setting sun; he was telling his readers that it was the eve of the darkest day in history. Good Friday.
This band of brothers, so closely tied together, was fracturing. Judas had left. Jesus was troubled. The others were confused and fearful as they recalled their interactions with Judas, hunting for clues. They were replaying everything Jesus had said to them, again hoping for hints.
Night is confusion. Night is darkness. Night is fear. In the opening paragraphs of this epistle, John identified Jesus as the light of the world. Light is hope; darkness is hopeless.
You may know the night too. When the doctor calls you personally and says, “It’s cancer,” it is night. When your child, whom you have poured your heart and soul and guts into, has decided that Jesus isn’t her thing, it’s night. When you have gradually saved your money, trying to be a good steward, and you get a call from the IRS saying that they want to go over your most recent tax returns, it’s night.
Darkness comes to everyone. Life is not always how we want it to be. But even in our darkest nights, Jesus is still light.
Jesus, I cannot imagine what you were feeling that night. Were you afraid? Were you angry? Regardless, you did not leave your friends. Help me to remember that even in the darkest times, you are light. Amen.
“The king turned to those on his left, saying, ‘Get out. You have no place in my kingdom if you want to live self–centered lives. I have watched how you live. You ignore strangers and those who do not fit in. You see people clothed in rags with no way to obtain new clothing, but rather than giving them some of the clothes from your overstuffed closets, you offer them only judgment. You see sick people, and rather than tending to them, you believe that they would be healthy if only they would take care of themselves. And what about the prisoners? You look down on them from your high horse, judging rather than loving them.’ If you do not yet understand what my kingdom is about, you never will. You want to make it all about you—a self–centered, self–glorifying kingdom. Mine is a kingdom built upon love and service. You may believe you have done well, but I see how you have judged and dismissed my image–bearers. If you insist on living in the kingdom of self, I will send you on your way. You can be the mayor of pain and suffering, tormented daily by your self–centeredness. Eternal life is with me, but you won’t get there if you insist on being king.”
Matthew 25:41-46, Letters to the Beloved
Beloved, ponder this: My wisdom is countercultural. I want you to be undiluted by selfishness and worldliness. Strive for peace in your relationships, even when it gets hard. The world says that it is okay for you to be rough around the edges, but I want you to practice gentleness. I have made you rational and capable of reason. I want you to think carefully, knowing that my Spirit dwells in you and sharpens your thought. Listen to others with interest. Rather than beating others down with your arguments, build them up with gentle curiosity. When you find yourself disagreeing with others, be patient and merciful, just as I am with you. Do not just pretend to love, be sincere. Do not merely pretend to be fair; judge with impartiality. You will be amazed how much righteousness and serenity flow from your willingness to treat others with peace and gentleness.
-James 3:17-18, Letters to the Beloved
And Mary said, “Behold, I am a servant of the Lord; Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.-Luke 1:38 (ESV)
This morning, my friend Mark and I started working through Luke’s gospel. Our plan is to read one chapter each day, and discuss it. Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel stood out to me. Gabriel told her that God’s Spirit would overshadow her, and she would become pregnant with the Messiah. She responded by saying, “I am God’s servant. Let it be as you say.”
In the chaos of the world, I become frantic and try to control my circumstances. If I am honest, I want to control everything, yet the harder I try to manage the world, the more hopeless I can feel. The truth is that I cannot fix COVID-19, or politics, or Christianity. Most days, I cannot even govern myself.
Mary’s prayer, “Let it be to me according to your word,” seems risky. It asks me to trust that God is loving and that he knows more than I do. It requires me to admit my powerlessness. It obliges me to let God be God.
Every day, the world seems more and more fragmented.
My internal controller tries to hold it all together,
rather than allowing you to run the universe.
In a disintegrated world, trust is hard.
In the midst of pain, hope is harder.
In this moment and the next,
let me echo Mary’s simple prayer,
“I am your servant.
Let it be according to your word.”
I’ve been off lately. Unsettled. Between COVID-19, multiple health issues in our extended family, and my oldest daughter’s fast approaching wedding, I have not felt as grounded as a sometimes do. Unfortunately, my emotions tend to come out sideways and in ways that I do not intend. Consistent with my personality style, when I am feeling off-center, I tend to resort to anger–toward myself, others, and the universe. I am usually too constrained for it to come out as rage. Rather, it comes out as irritation, resentment, audible sighs, or a critical spirit. My friend and pastor had the courage to point this out to me recently and it has been eye opening.
Maybe you’ve felt unsettled too. The idea that we are living in the midst of a pandemic is unsettling. Perhaps like me, the churning waters within and without lead to anger. Maybe for you, it comes out as fear, flattery, or withdrawal. Pay attention to those emotional responses. They are great teachers if we will listen.
Running parallel to my unsettledness has been a desire to understand what it looks like to love well in the midst of chaos. Specifically, what does it look like to love up, down, in, and out? I haven’t come to any firm conclusions, but I do have a lot of questions. How do I understand what it looks like to love God and experience God’s love for me when I feel unsteady? How can I use this time to grow in self-knowledge and self-compassion? What passions arise within me and how well do they align with who I want to be? How do I grow in grace toward others when we are encouraged to keep our distance or when we observe them behaving in obviously self-centered ways? How do I understand my role as a global citizen and a steward of creation? How can I foster truth, goodness, and beauty when so much seems broken?
Again, I don’t have clear answers, but these are the sorts of things I think about. Maybe you are too. It is good and important for us to consider how to be beacons of light when so much seems dark.
The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.-John 13:22
Jesus had just told the twelve that one of them would betray him. There does not seem to be any indication from the text that any of them suspected Judas. They were twelve friends who had lived life together for a few years. They had no reason to be suspicious. When Jesus announced the betrayal, they were incredulous, filled with confusion, anxiety, and anger. They looked at one another, hoping to see the answer in the eyes of their friends.
Like the disciples, we have a hard time envisioning our friends betraying us. We assume the best of our friends, which is a good thing. Yet in reality, sometimes those closest to us—those we imagine to be the godliest—engage in unimaginable sins. A beloved pastor is accused of sexual misconduct and we think “That could never be true; I know him.” A child is accused of bullying a smaller child, and we say “My child would never do that. He is a good kid.” A woman whom you know to honest and good is arrested for embezzlement and you think “The police must have received false information. She’s the most honest person I know.” In reality, every one of us is capable of shocking sin and betrayal. Wise people trust, but not uncritically. We must be shrewd to the remaining vestiges of sin, even in those whom we hold in high esteem.
Jesus, you are our trust and hope. We humans are fallible, broken, and sinful. Help us to never minimize our sin, nor believe that we are somehow incapable of treason against you or others. Help us to see others honestly yet grant us supernatural grace in the midst of trials, just as you have done with us so many times. Amen.
After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”-John 13:21
What does it mean that Jesus was “troubled in his spirit”? I think it means that Jesus was stirred up, upset, wrestling, or visibly bothered. When we think about the characteristics of Jesus, most of us would never think to describe him as “troubled.” We imagine him as serene, peaceful, or even disengaged. When we base our understanding of Jesus on those assumptions, we come to believe that in order to be like him, we need to be emotionless–or only allow the positive emotions–happiness, joy, contentment, or humor. We view “negative” emotions, such as anger, fear, or sadness, as less godly. But Jesus was troubled because he was human.
He was facing death. His friend had betrayed him to the Sanhedrin and soon, they would come to arrest him, try him, and deliver him to a brutal crucifixion. If he wasn’t “troubled in spirit,” he would be inhuman.
It is profoundly human to feel deep sadness over loss, anger about injustice, anxiety in the face of threat, or mirth when you hear a dumb joke. If you want to learn from Jesus, do not whitewash his emotional life because if you do, you erase his humanity.
Jesus, help us to know that to be created in your image is to be emotional. Thank you for revealing your emotional life, so that we might know that our emotions make us more like you. Help us to be honest with our emotions so that we will become fully alive. Amen.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me the one who sent me.”-John 13:20
Jesus had been preparing these men for spiritual battle, ministry, and service. He would soon commission them to carry his message of the Kingdom into the world. He had spent so much time teaching them, because he wanted them to see and understand his revolutionary message. He wanted to ensure that when they shared the message, they would represent it accurately.
He also wanted them to understand that anyone could receive his message of grace and would be welcomed into the Kingdom of God. When you accept Jesus, you are accepted into his family. No exceptions.
We often worry that we are the wrong kind of Christian. Sure, we love Jesus, but if we do not fit the “normal Christian” mold, we question whether we belong. Jesus came to shatter the mold of performance-based religion, yet so often we keep trying to hammer people back into it.
Jesus, to receive you is to receive the Father. Help us to understand the reality that anyone who accepts you cannot be separated from your family. Thank you for welcoming all who would come to you. Amen.