Meditating on the Commands of Christ (44): Do Good to Them Which Hate You

If there was ever a human being who did good to those who hated him, it was Jesus Christ. How so, you ask? Well, one of the best examples is in Matthew 26. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus warned his disciples that in two days he would be betrayed to be crucified, but Jesus didn’t skip out of the country, even though he knew exactly what was going to happen. By verses 3-4, we learn that the religious leaders all came together for a secret meeting trying to figure out how to capture him and kill him. Why? Because they were so envious that they hated him (see Matthew 27:18 and Mark 15:10).

Despite revealing to his disciples what was about to happen, Jesus’ s twelve closest friends found fault with him because he accepted the ministry of Mary anointing him with oil. The disciples were critical of such a “waste” when the money might have been given to the poor. Instead of lashing out at them for failing to appreciate what Mary was doing, Jesus patiently explained that Mary was preparing Jesus for his high-priestly ministry of dying for our sins! He was going to die in our place, as payment for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God, and she was anointing him for his burial.

“Oh, now we see!” they all exclaimed. I wish!! No, the disciples didn’t understand at all. In fact, Judas got so mad that he left the group and went straight to the chief priests, where he plotted to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

Now, in a somewhat similar situation of danger (in 2 Kings 1), when Elijah’s life was at risk, Elijah called down fire from heaven that consumed the men who came to capture him. Not so, Jesus! When Judas brought the soldiers into the Garden of Gethsemane to capture Jesus, he still called Judas “Friend.” Friend? How could Jesus call Judas “Friend” knowing full well that he was plotting Jesus’ death?

Why didn’t Jesus call down fire from heaven to consume them? As Jesus explained to Peter a few verses later, God would have given Jesus more than 12,000 angels to protect them had Jesus asked him to! But, he didn’t! Why? Because he loved his enemies. He was doing good to those who hated him.

You might wonder how Jesus surrendering himself to die at the hands of wicked men could possibly be “doing good” in any sense, but don’t forget that Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen, had prayed fervently for God to intervene if He wanted to, and then surrendered completely to God’s will. Jesus could “do good to them that hate you” by surrendering to God’s will.

How could being tortured and killed be God’s will? Well, we know from studying the entire Bible that Jesus was the Lamb of God who came on the mission of dying for the sins of the world, so that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. ” (John 3:16-17).

And, what about you and me? What does it look like to “do good to them which hate you”? Does it mean killing everybody who doesn’t believe in Jesus, or fire-bombing those who don’t worship God? NO! It means being like Jesus, who patiently taught and lived the truth. It means doing what’s best for others, whether or not they like it! The religious leaders would have preferred for Jesus to stop preaching the gospel, but that wouldn’t really have been doing good; that would have been doing what they wanted, which is different!

Doing “good” can only happen when we do what God wants us to do, and that we can only figure out by meditating on the Bible and asking the Holy Spirit to teach us how to “do good.” We do good to those who hate us, not only by being kind and caring for them, but also by setting our face “like a flint” to obey our heavenly Father. To be good is to be like God. To be like Jesus. To give our lives so that others may find eternal life in Christ, who gave his life for all of us.

Believest thou this?

Jesus said, “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:26).

Here is a beautiful song about Jesus, our Gentle Shepherd, who can help us.

Text for this meditation: “Do good to them which hate you” (Luke 6:27).

Photo of our gentle shepherd used by permission of Yongsung Kim, website: Havenlight.com

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (29): “Stand Forth”

If we can do nothing else, we can at least stand up! That’s what Martin Luther had to do back in April 1521 when Emperor Charles V demanded that he recant. Luther was unable to disavow the pile of books on the table in front of him (which he had authored), because Luther sincerely believed they were true, and so it is often reported that he finished his defense with: “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”

In today’s account, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on a sabbath day and saw a man with a withered hand. I suppose he could have ignored the man’s weakness to avoid confrontation (since he knew the scribes and Pharisees were just looking for a chance to accuse him of doing something “wrong”), but Jesus’ compassion for the man obviously outweighed any human desire to avoid conflict. Without flinching, the great teacher took time to heal! He told the man to “Rise up and stand forth in the midst.

Even the scribes and Pharisees hadn’t added any regulations denying a man the right to stand up on the sabbath, so Jesus wasn’t asking the man to do anything the religious leaders could condemn, although I’m sure the man with the withered hand would have felt both fear and joy at the prospect of Jesus singling him out. Why was Jesus asking him to stand up in the middle of everybody? Would Jesus heal him? If so, how would Jesus heal him? Would Jesus require anything from the man that would make the religious leaders persecute him or kick him out of the synagogue?

In our lives, no matter what our problems, Jesus is able to heal us. But, he will often ask us to take a stand, the way the man with the withered hand had to make a public “spectacle” of himself, and the way Luther was required to stand up for what he believed to be true about God and the Bible. Do you need healing? Do you want Jesus to heal you? Are you willing to “Rise up and stand forth in the midst” ?

I have a friend who is a Messianic Jew (that means he is Jewish by birth and by religious conviction, but he does believe that Jesus is the Messiah who was prophesied to come as the Savior of the world). Because he was a member of his synagogue from childhood (and before his conversion to Christ), the leaders didn’t kick him out of the synagogue until . . . until the new rabbi (who was a female) had an agenda to support abortion. When my friend took a stand against abortion, he was summarily kicked out of his synagogue.

How tragic that religious leaders sometimes stand against the way of mercy and truth. If you are part of a church where the Bible is not revered as Truth and the God of the Bible is not worshiped as the one and only true God, please be willing to take a stand! You might not get thrown out. (The man with the withered hand did not, although my dear brother in the faith did.) You might not get burned at the stake. (Martin Luther did not, although I’m sure he feared that, because he was so influenced by the work of John Huss, who had been burned at the stake exactly 100 years before Luther posted his 95 theses.) Any time we stand against false doctrine, we are very likely to be persecuted, but that is part of the cost of discipleship: “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Let’s be willing to take a stand!

“The Stand” (Hillsong United)

You stood before creation
Eternity in your hand
You spoke the earth into motion
My soul now to stand

You stood before my failure
And carried the cross for my shame
My sin weighed upon your shoulders
My soul now to stand

So what can I say?
And what can I do?
But offer this heart, Oh God
Completely to you

So I’ll walk upon salvation
Your spirit alive in me
This life to declare your promise
My soul now to stand

So what can I say?
And what can I do?
But offer this heart, Oh God
Completely to you

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Hillsong United singing “The Stand” Live in Miami
Words and Music by Joel Houston © 2005 Hillsong

Texts for this study: “And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth” (Mark 3:1-3).

And it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands.2 And certain of the Pharisees said unto them, Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath days?And Jesus answering them said, Have ye not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was an hungred, and they which were with him;How he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the shewbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone?And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.And it came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered.And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him.But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth” (Luke 6:1-8).

The Commands of Christ (17): Lift Up Your Eyes

“Lift up your eyes.” What a compelling invitation! The disciples were worried about Jesus having something to eat and drink, but Jesus was much more concerned about the disciples (and, isn’t that us too?) looking away from themselves to view the world around them: “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.”       Personally, when I hear “Lift up your eyes,” I think first of verses like Psalm 121:1,“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”“Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens” (Psalm 123:1). I am prone to saying, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:6). I look up . . . and think about myself . . . and God: “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth” (Isaiah 40:26). All these beautiful scriptures are true, but there is more to God’s story than just his greatness and the benefits I receive from being his child! “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished” (Isaiah 51:6). In the passage we’re studying, John 4, Jesus was compelling his disciples to stop thinking about their own needs for food and water and look around them at the needs of our vast world: Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35). What Jesus was teaching his disciples still holds true for us today: The world is full of people who need spiritual food and water. Jesus wants us to stop being consumed by our own physical needs and start elevating our gaze so we can see the tremendous spiritual needs around us . . . millions of souls, like wheat fields waving in the breeze, in need of attention and care, ready for spiritual harvest. I’ll never forget standing atop Victoria Peak in Hong Kong one starlit night, gazing down on what seemed like an endless sea of precious humanity. I was overwhelmed by the thought that if I spent the rest of my life, I couldn’t share the good news of God’s saving grace through faith in Christ with each of them.  Do you, like me, struggle with feeling overwhelmed by the vastness of the task and our inability to meet the needs?  Jesus addressed that problem too:  We’re in this together! What each of us can do is miniscule, but that’s okay! We are workers together. All God asks of us is to be faithful to the field in front of us, if we’ll just lift up our eyes and look at it! Some scatter seed. Some water. Some pull weeds. Some fertilize. Some harvest. All who share the Gospel—repentance from our sins and faith in Christ’s atoning death—are working to build God’s kingdom—a beautiful spiritual kingdom of love and light where Jesus reigns and peace and goodness abound. The end will be eternal life and rejoicing together with all who’ve come into God’s kingdom. What more could we want? Are we looking up? Are we reaching out?John 4:31-39. “In the mean while his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat.32 But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of.33 Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him ought to eat?34 Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.35 Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.36 And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.37 And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth.38 I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.

We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations
(—H. Ernest Nichol, 1896, Public Domain)

1. We’ve a story to tell to the nations,
that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy,
a story of peace and light,
a story of peace and light.

Refrain:
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright;
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
the kingdom of love and light.

2. We’ve a song to be sung to the nations,
that shall lift their hearts to the Lord,
a song that shall conquer evil
and shatter the spear and sword,
and shatter the spear and sword.
(Refrain)

3. We’ve a message to give to the nations,
that the Lord who reigneth above
hath sent us his Son to save us,
and show us that God is love,
and show us that God is love.
(Refrain)

4. We’ve a Savior to show to the nations,
who the path of sorrow hath trod,
that all of the world’s great peoples
might come to the truth of God,
might come to the truth of God.
(Refrain)

 

The Making of Maracas…and Joyful Noises!

Have you ever wondered where maracas come from, our how they’re made?  Or, why they seem to be such an integral part of Latin music? I brought my first set home from Mexico nearly 50 years ago, and they’ve been an integral part of our family making “joyful noises” ever since, charming the children and grand kids from youngest years because they are like giant rattles!Without even thinking about it, I’ve taken them for granted and subconsciously assumed they were carved from wood or made from plastic. It wasn’t until we were in the tropical rain forests of Costa Rica last January
that I learned the story of maracas. Maracas are really made out of the fruit of the Crescentia tree (calabash tree), and they are common throughout southern Mexico, Central, and South America.Crescentia trees can grow in the tropical wild up to 35 feet tall
(although this one, at the Hotel Villa Lapas, is a young garden cultivar).The fruits, known as calabashes, are full of soft, pulpy material which is used for treating respiratory problems, but the hard, thin shells have several uses: as scoops, containers, and happiest of all—as musical instruments!Typically, a wooden handle is inserted into the base of the mature, dried calabash, and the seeds are left inside to rattle!I’m always inspired both by the creativity of God and the ingenuity of man.It makes me stop to ponder:
*What am I really made out of?
*Are there even more ways that I can creatively serve God and man?Thank you, Lord, for ripening us, plucking us, plugging up the holes in our lives, painting us, and allowing us to become instruments of service and joyful praise!I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).

With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord,
the King
” (Psalm 98:6 . . . and don’t forget the maracas!)

 

Tommy Walker: Pursuing the Way of Peace

When you’re in L.A., there are many outstanding churches you might want to visit on a Sunday morning, but when we were there last week with our oldest son’s family, Alan’s first choice was to visit Christian Assembly, where Tommy Walker is the worship leader. Over the course of his career, Tommy has composed 85+ songs, recorded 25 albums, and has 247 recordings listed on Song Select. His works include many songs that our family band played over the years, such as He Knows My Name, That’s Why We Praise Him, Joy, Joy, Joy, and Sweet, Sweet Presence of Jesus.
Tommy is an outstanding musician and has worked with national leaders like Franklin Graham, Rick Warren, and Promise Keepers, but what Alan loves best is not Tommy’s great giftedness, but his amazing humility. Although he’s been offered deals by recording companies and publishers, he has intentionally pursued a more quiet path with his wife Robin, continuing his ministry as the worship leader at the same church for twenty-eight years, where his four children have grown up. His ambition is to glorify God, not himself, and that won’t catapult you into Hollywood fame and fortune. However, I believe Tommy Walker is spiritually rich, and he’s definitely famous in the eyes of those of us who’ve been blessed by his ministry!
       By the way, the message (by Pastor Tom Hughs) was also excellent. He’s working through a series called Anxious for Nothing http://cachurch.com/sermons/october-20-21-weekend-services/ and last week offered this advice for keeping CALM in the midst of crisis:
C: Celebrate God’s goodness and blessings
A: Ask God for help
L: Leave your concerns with God
M: Meditate on God and his Word
      Are you anxious today? If you’ve got a few minutes, please allow yourself to be calmed by Tommy Walker singing “When I Don’t Know What to Do.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMXEwwhF6pg

“Lord I surrender all
To Your strong and faithful hand
In everything I will give thanks to You
I’ll just trust Your perfect plan

When I don’t know what to do
I’ll lift my hands
When I don’t know what to say
I’ll speak Your praise
When I don’t know where to go
I’ll run to Your throne
When I don’t know what to think
I’ll stand on Your truth
When I don’t know what to do

Lord I surrender all
Though I’ll never understand
All the mysteries around me
I’ll just trust Your perfect plan

Bridge

As I bow my knee
Send Your perfect peace
Send Your perfect peace Lord
As I lift my hands
Let Your healing come
Let Your healing come to me”

“Strong Christians are not strong people, they just know where to run.” —Tommy Walker

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

P.S.—I didn’t think of this when I first wrote the article, but studying Tommy Walker’s life makes me believe he has had to resist Satan’s temptations to “bow down and worship” him. (See Meditating on the Commands of Christ 2). I’ve never had to give up fame or fortune (because I’ve never had either), but Tommy seems to have avoided a lot of the common traps that ruin the lives of many gifted people!

Have You Heard The Music of Silence?

“In my opinion, the only way forward in this world is with faith, which not only explains the reason for life but also fills it with joy and hope. Faith transforms what would be a tragedy into a marvelous story with a happy ending. If all of this is reflected in my singing, how happy that would make me.” —Andrea Bocelli Do you have a favorite singer? My mother requested that Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman’s rendition of “Time to Say Goodbye” would be played at her funeral, and ever since I’ve thought they have the most hauntingly beautiful voices in the world. So, I was delighted to discover that a movie has been made about this amazing Italian singer’s life. It’s an extremely emotional but inspirational story.  I always wondered how Andrea Bocelli happened to have a voice so full of passion and warmth but for some reason had never realized that he was blind…or that his faith in God had helped him overcome his blindness. His parents were advised to abort Bocelli before he was even born, warning that he was likely to have multiple birth defects. However, his parents disregarded the surgeon’s advice. He was born with congenital glaucoma and became blind at twelve, yet today he’s one of the world’s greatest opera singers and has sold over 80 million records!  The Music of Silence tells the story of his birth to his incredible rise to fame by 2000 (although he’s still actively singing in the present). It’s a beautiful story of faith and love. I was a little sorry I did research, because his life from 2000 to the present is not as lovely, but I suspect he feels the same way, because the movie ends very happily around the turn of the century.  As the mother of a musician, I was especially intrigued by the title, The Music of Silence, and what that meant. Bocelli’s maestro explained how music can be found in silence this way:  “You [speaking to his blind protégé, Bocelli] have a great advantage, you’re already familiar with sounds. They guide your steps through life. But the music of silence will be your guide through the interior of yourself. And that, which you discover, you will express through the beautiful perfection of song.”  And that he does! I smiled when Celine Dion was quoted as saying, “If God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.” I have definitely thought that if the Lord would give me any voice when I get to heaven, I would like to sound like Andrea Bocelli! (Or, maybe Sarah Brightman if I’m supposed to sound like a woman. 🙂  ) Even if you’re not a big fan of opera, I’ll bet you find yourself inspired and encouraged by watching The Music of Silence, the story of how one young man overcame one of the world’s most difficult challenges and became one of the world’s greatest singers!  These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5). If you want to hear Andrea Bocelli singing “Time to Say Goodbye with Sarah Brightman,” it can be found here:  https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-pty-pty_maps&hsimp=yhs-pty_maps&hspart=pty&p=sarah+brightman+singing#id=1&vid=68f961961443db9fb4c62c25d24f8778&action=click

Joy to the World…or is that even Possible?

poinsettias-and-orchids-at-meijer-garden-12-16Yesterday I shared about how I’m feeling this Christmas, but how are you feeling this Christmas? Are you happy and full of good cheer, or are you finding it hard to sing “Joy to the World”? I thought you might be encouraged to know that even the author of “Joy to the World,” Isaac Watts, had a very difficult life! He grew up England during the 1600’s, and his father was twice incarcerated for holding non-conformist (Huguenot) religious views. As a small child Watts had to be lifted up outside the prison by his mother so his father could see him through the barred windows. As a young man, Watts was denied entry to Oxford or Cambridge because he was not Anglican. isaac_watts_from_npg-london-public-domainThroughout life, Isaac Watts was small and weakly. Although he was a great preacher and considered the Father of Hymnody (composing some 750 hymns), the only woman he ever wanted to marry declined his proposal with the cutting remark that while she loved the “jewel” of his mind, she couldn’t admire “the casket that contained it.” Talk about pain and sorrow. Still, Watts discovered inner joy despite the rejections and difficulties in his life.  He learned that true joy doesn’t come from an easy life or pleasant surroundings but rather from embracing the wonder of our Lord coming to earth to save us! When we allow Christ to reign in our hearts, He overcomes the sin and sorrow that would otherwise consume us, filling our hearts instead with joy and hope!poinsettias-and-orchids-at-meijer-garden-mi

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

“Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

“He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.”
(—Lyrics by Isaac Watts, 1719; Music by George Frideric Handel)

But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee” (Psalm 5:11).