John 15:17

“These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”-John 15:17

Sometimes the commandments of God feel like impossible burdens. When we think about the Ten Commandments or about Jesus’s commands for how to live, we may have several different reactions. We may feel a sense of shame or powerlessness over our inability to meet his expectations. For example, we know that God said not to burn with desire for the things other people have, yet we covet every day and then we feel ashamed because we do not measure up and we fear God’s judgment. Maybe we see God’s commandments as arbitrary tests of faith. Perhaps they seem utterly irrelevant to our lives.

But here is the truth: the purpose of God’s commands is to instruct us on how to live a life of love. God is love. Everything…everything…he does flows from love. He wants us to love like he does, but he does not expect us to figure it out on our own.

Do you want to love well? Here’s a start. Don’t kill people. In fact, don’t even speak poorly about them. Don’t lie about other people. Instead, tell the truth. Build others up. Don’t demand service from others, rather serve them, and especially those who don’t have a lot. Let all that you do be done in love.

Jesus, your commands are not meant to be a burden, but to show me how to live a loving life. Help me to see that the commandments are not indictments of your judgment against me, but instead are maps for the journey to becoming love. Amen.

John 15:13

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”-John 15:13

Jesus expanded upon the meaning of true love. His love was one of service to others and seeking the best for them, which is the life he has called each of us to live. He said that the greatest love comes from a willingness to lay down one’s life for others. He was less than 24 hours from the cross where he would willingly offer this ultimate sacrifice for his friends. Greater love indeed.

Loving others may involve real sacrifice, not merely mild discomfort. Through the last two millennia, many Christians have died for their faith, which has served to extend the kingdom of God. Tertullian, the early church father, said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Even if we are not called to die for our faith, we are asked to daily lay down our lives.

Jesus, help me to never lose sight of the beauty of your crucifixion, the ultimate act of self-denial. You died so that I might live. Teach me to live in such a way that I lay my self-centeredness at the foot of the cross and live to love others fully. Amen.

John 13:36

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, but you will follow me afterward.” -John 13:36

Jesus had given his disciples his crucial command, to love as he loved. He wanted them to practice love after he left. Peter was not trying work out the nuances of Jesus’s command; he was worried about where his friend was going. Peter could not have cared less about theology at the moment, he cared that his friend was leaving. Jesus was not an abstract concept to Peter; he was flesh and blood. Jesus was Peter’s best friend.

Without giving away the next several hours completely, Jesus told Peter, “I have to go this alone my friend. As hard as it is to understand, I must go by myself.” Like Peter, I think we can miss the importance of isolation to Jesus’s mission. He would go to the cross feeling isolated from his friends and his Father. As excruciating as the cross was physically, the relational isolation would be far worse.

Jesus also knew that Peter would spend his life for the sake of the kingdom, not yet, but after. Jesus called his followers to come after him regardless of what pain the journey would bring. For some, it was martyrdom; for some it was rejection.

We each must grapple with the interplay between right understanding and right relationship. It can be good for us to understand theological nuances, but we cannot dissociate theology from our relationship with him.

Jesus, your words in John’s gospel are so powerful. You called us to lives of love with your words, yet by your life and death, you also showed us how to love. Help us to listen to you and love like you. Amen.

John 13:35

“By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”-John 13:35

Verse 35 is continuation of verse 34. Francis Schaeffer wrote some of the most amazing pages about these two verses in The Mark of the Christian (1970). Following Jesus, Schaeffer said 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 make their determinations about the truth of the faith based upon well-reasoned apologetics, culturally relevant messages, or great facilities (or shabby facilities). We stress secondary issues and we miss the main point.

These other considerations are not unimportant, but that they are not ultimate. Every person desires to be loved and accepted. They don’t principally desire wealth or emotional highs. What they want to know is that they are valued and that they belong.

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. That included some of you. I have sought to serve rather than be served. Do that yourselves and when people are able to see the love that you offer, walls will come down.”

Jesus called us to his way of living, asking us to love recklessly, move toward other people we would otherwise hate, worry less about offending religious people, and think more about being his hands and feet.

Jesus, you have called us to a radical journey. What you are asking us to do runs contrary to the culture and it runs contrary to the church. Teach us to love as you love and to serve as you serve, all to the glory of the Father. Amen.

John 13:34

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, so you also are to love one another.” -John 13:34

Even now, as Jesus felt the shadow of the cross shadow darkening, he continued to instruct his disciples in how to live as citizen of his kingdom. Remember, Jesus is not only our Savior, but teacher. John 13:34 captures the heart of Jesus regarding how to live.

Jesus gave them a “new” commandment: to love one another as he loved them, yet the command to love was not new, but ancient. In the Law of Moses (see Lev. 19), the Israelites were commanded to love their neighbors as themselves. So what could Jesus have meant by calling this a new command?

It seems the difference is in understanding how Jesus loved. First, he was largely indifferent to the divisions the religious leaders were so committed to highlighting. The scribes and Pharisees believed there were good people (them) and bad people (i.e., non-observant Jews, Gentiles, the infirm, women). Jesus loved those who didn’t fit the religious mold. His love was all inclusive.

His love also turned roles upside down. The economy of the kingdom of God was not give to get, but one built on true service by putting oneself lower. He called them to deny themselves by making much of others, practicing radical other-centeredness.

We are also called to his other-centered economy. He asks us to love the unlovable, to cross the borders of our comfort zone, and become conduits of his ever flowing river of love.

Jesus, the command to love is the heart of your message, the absolute center of what you have called me to do yet I still live in sinful, self-centered ways. Forgive me for my selfishness, and by your Spirit, enable me to grow in love in ways that would not be possible apart from your power in me. Amen.

John 13:23

One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at Jesus’ side.-John 13:23

In the midst of Jesus’s discussion of betrayal and the confusion of the disciples, John wrote this short line.  Sit with these few words for a moment.

First, John wrote “One of the disciples, whom Jesus loved.”  Although that disciple is never named, commentators universally believe John was referring to himself.  Of all of the New Testament writers, John shines the brightest light on the love of God through Christ.  Love saturates his gospels, epistles, and Revelation. John’s primary identity is not disciple, apostle, or ambassador for Christ; it was “one whom Jesus loved.”  His identity was his belovedness.

Second, notice that John was reclining at Jesus’s side.  They were not sitting in chairs around a formal dining table like we might imagine.  They probably would have been lying next to a low table or sitting comfortably on the ground.  John was likely leaning against Jesus during this intimate gathering of friends. 

Jesus, help us to know and remember our belovedness and understand that we are not merely numbers in your kingdom, that we are not disappointments to you.  Help us to know that you are pleased with us and to live out of the reality that intimacy. Amen.

John 13:17

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”-John 13:17

My best friend in college would often say, “I thought about it,” his typical response when pressed to share whether he had asked somebody on a date.  After telling me about a potential love interest, I would say, “You should ask her out.” Inevitably, his response would come: “I thought about it.”

As we have been discussing, Jesus came as Lord, but also teacher.  He did not come to merely download “Jesus 101” into their brains, he came to show them how to live.

In the past decade or two, the Internet has allowed a resurgent interest in theology with women and men reading Calvin, Spurgeon, and even Augustine. They fill their heads with quotes and strongly held convictions. I speak as an insider.  Yet too often, we amateur theologians fail to put into practice what we have learned. What happens when there are large heads on weak bodies? We topple over.  Jesus was essentially saying to those of us who want to follow him, “Okay great, you know my message, but do not just keep it in your head.  Live a life of love.”  Serve one another out of the abundance of your heart.

Jesus, strengthen my hands, my feet, my back, and my heart for the battle you have called me to enter.  I am prone to archiving theological knowledge that goes nowhere. Make me one who lives out what I believe, in your Spirit. Amen.

Request for Readers

Last week, I finished the manuscript for my third book. Over a long weekend, I took a couple of passes through the book and I read the first 80 pages aloud to Heather (she seemed to like it though, admittedly, I am her husband). I would like to ask for a few volunteers to read through the manuscript and offer comments about the content of the book before I pass it along for copy editing. Let me offer some basics about the book and then let you know what I am hoping.

SYNOPSIS: Notes from the Upper Room: Lessons in Loving Like Jesus (working title) is a non-fiction book about Jesus’s last supper with his disciples in the upper room before going to the cross, recorded in chapters 13-17 of John’s gospel. This book began when I “mind-mapped” these five chapters, wanting to identify core themes in Jesus’s teaching. The book, which is just shy of 57,000 words, has two sections. The first section, which is roughly 75 pages, is composed of 7 chapters discussing some of the themes I see. Following the introduction, the chapters are titled: Trinitarian Relating, Belonging, Sacredness of the Ordinary, Servanthood, Obedience, Peace in Suffering, and Jesus’s Prayer.

The second section, about 120 pages, is a series of devotional thoughts, verse by verse, through the upper room discourse. In light of the two different sections, you will notice overlap, but I hope they are unique enough to be of benefit.

In light of that brief synopsis, I am hoping that a handful of people will be sufficiently intrigued to do a read through with an eye toward the content. It is certainly not academic, so I hope it is accessible. If you are familiar with the general flow of John 13-17, if the chapters sound interesting, or if you have a general interest in books about the Christian life and Trinitarian relating, all the better. I will probably limit the number of early readers because “too many cooks spoil the stew,” but if you are at all interested, please reach out. I will send out a Word document, so you can track changes and offer comments. If it is something that seems interesting, but you don’t have the time to spend with it, I would ask that you wait until the book comes out.

Regardless of whether you read it now or never, would you please pray for this book and for my nerves as I move forward?

“And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.”

– “Late Fragment” by Raymond Carver