a new commandment: love one another

Today is Maundy Thursday, which wasn’t any more than a funny word pairing until I read my holy week reflection. Mandatum means “command” or “mandate” in Latin and we celebrate Maundy Thursday because on the night before Jesus was killed he gave a “new commandment” (John 13:34).

Love one another, as Christ loved us.

What a great and impossible command he gave as his parting exhortation! Love as Christ loved? The perfect and sinless Jesus, who didn’t curse his enemies or get impatient at the market or cover up a white lie for his cousin? We are to love like this Jesus, who saw pain and brokenness and stepped toward it? The Jesus who associated with the lowly and the losers and the little children?

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

The Lord has been so gracious in these past few days to pour out His grace. The deeper I dig for gospel mercies, the more I find to fill my days. And I need it – every last drop of grace, I need it.

The substance of my work is not something one prays away – it is the fruit of a world torn by sin and a people tangled in deception. The prince of darkness works 24/7 to battle the life-giving joy of the Gospel message and all the ugly will be there tomorrow morning and the next. Sin is a hungry monster – it eats disaster and spits it out. Sometimes it feels like my days are walking in sin’s vomit. Believe me, it feels as disgusting as it sounds.

The Lord has been gracious, though, to give grace when I’m knee deep in sin’s sticky sludge. At the day’s end when I am realizing that everything will look the same in the morning and my heart wants to despair, I remember that Jesus promised abundant life and then I say, “Yes, I believe it.” But, my belief doesn’t transform my circumstances… it transforms my heart.

And today as I reflect on Maundy Thursday – the new commandment Jesus gave to love as He loved us – I think this is exactly the place I need to be. This great and impossible command to love happens as we believe Christ for the glorious work of the cross.

Loving one another does not mean ignoring sin or downplaying deception or denying evil – Christ certainly didn’t ignore, downplay or deny. And anyone who works in social services must know it is impossible to make less of the helpless state of things. Please, don’t ask me to look an addict in the face and say sin really doesn’t have a hold of him. Instead, because Christ knew the depth of our sin, He also knew the cost of love towards us.

Loving one another as Christ loved us means that we are willing to walk toward the hurting.
Loving one another as Christ loved us means that we see the sin and deception and evil as darkness, but we believe in the power of light to expose fruitless, dark deeds (Ephesians 5).
Loving one another as Christ loved us means that we speak truth about the death grip of sin and speak truth about the offer of life.

Christ was not politically correct. He was not the greatest orator. He did not consult ratings before and after a public address. Christ concerned Himself with the Truth because He was the Truth. He held all things together and still does. But, he walked toward the hurting. He sat with the broken. He listened to the wicked. He held disobedient children in his lap.

Christ got so close to the hurting that they hurt him. His loving us cost Him his life. He got so close to the broken that they broke Him. We broke Him.

If we are really going to love one another, we have to get close enough that it will cost us our lives. 

let us not be wrong about a wondrous thing

“Luke 12:32 is a verse about the nature of God. It’s a verse about what kind of heart God has. It’s a verse about what makes God glad—not merely about what God will do or what he has to do, but what he delights to do, what he loves to do, and what he takes pleasure in doing. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
(Love to the Uttermost Holy Week Devotional, p. 2)

I am wrong about a lot of things… and often. As I read the above from the Holy Week devotional, I asked the Lord to examine my heart and see if I was wrong about this one wondrous thing. Because of all things to be wrong about, the nature of God is pretty major – maybe the most major thing to be wrong about in all of life. A.W. Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Many people view the nature of God as one they must hide from at the risk of being smitten or they reject that God must be hidden from and stand defiantly in opposition.

The former view of God is a fearful one that hides not only from God’s judgment but also from His blessing. The latter view is a boastful one that defiantly exposes oneself to God’s judgment but also rejects His blessing with clenched fist raised high.

Can we hide from God – from His judgment or His blessing?

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,
”even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:1-12, ESV)

No, we cannot hide from God. We can find the deepest cave, the most secret tunnel, the most remote island and He will find us. The world and everything in it is His. We can never run so far that we are beyond His gaze. If He desires, His judgment will find us as easily as His blessing.

Can we defy God’s judgment and reject His blessing?

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18-23)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17, ESV)

No, we cannot defy God. We cannot erase the righteous wrath of God by closing our eyes and raising our fists. He created us and imprinted His name on our hearts as a trademark of His craftsmanship. He will pour out His wrath and His blessing whether the world receives them with eyes open or closed.

There is no hiding from God and there is no defying God. But, if we understand the true nature of God, we will not want to hide or defy Him. 

the kingdom is a wondrous thing

In Luke 12:32, we read that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. God, in His very nature, is delighted to give us the most precious and beautiful and costly thing – Himself.

Today is Palm Sunday, when we remember that Jesus rode triumphantly on a humble donkey into the city that would betray Him. He had set his face like flint toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), determined to submit to the Father’s will and experiencing the joy set before Him as He endured the scorn (Hebrews 12).

It is futile and foolish to hold up clenched fists in defiance of this kind of precious, beautiful, costly love, but it is also foolish to hide from it. The enormity of God’s glory is a weighty and scary thing, but God purposed to cast out all fear with His perfect love (1 John 4:18) when He sent Jesus to satisfy His wrath for those He had chosen.

The cross uncovers a Father who provided a way for His creation to be reconciled, but not out of obligation or master schemery. His provision was not a plan B or a compromise. He did not need to make provision that any would be reconciled.

The Father provided a way for His creation to be reconciled because He is in His nature good and merciful, tender-hearted and loving. 

God gave the kingdom to His creation willingly because it brought Him great delight. He gave His children the kingdom – His Son – out of the kind of joy we don’t have room in our brains to understand. His glorious face shone with pleasure when His Son paid the ransom due for His children to be reconciled to Him. Can you imagine? The God of the universe delighting in you coming home, delighting in the sacrifice of His own Son so that you could come home?

Both hiding from and defying God are rooted in fear. And fear (the unrighteous kind) has no place in God’s reconciliation mission of our souls.

Will we let the perfect love of Christ cast out all fear?
Will we admit where we are wrong about this wondrous thing?

as if they were madmen and fools

Tim Challies, by way of his blog, introduced me to some of Richard Sibbes‘ writing. Here is an excerpt that I can’t seem to shake (keep in mind this language is circa 1600).

It has been an old imputation to charge distraction upon men of the greatest wisdom and sobriety. John the Baptist was accused of having a devil, and Christ to be beside Himself and the Apostles to be full of new wine, and Paul to be mad. The reason is because as religion is a mystical and spiritual thing, so the tenets of it seem paradoxes to carnal men; as first, that a Christian is the only freeman, and other men are slaves; that he is the only rich man, though never so poor in the world; that he is the only beautiful man, though outwardly never so deformed; that he is the only happy man in the midst of all his miseries. Now these things though true seem strange to natural men, and therefore when they see men earnest against sin, or making conscience of sin, they wonder at this commotion for trifles. But these men go on in a course of their own and make that the measure of all; those that are below them are profane, and those that are above them are indiscreet. By fanciful affections, they create idols, and then cry down spiritual things as folly. They have principles of their own, to love themselves and to love others only for themselves, and to hold on the strongest side and by no means expose themselves to danger.

But when men begin to be religious, they deny all their own aims, and that makes their course seem madness to the world, and therefore they labor to breed an ill opinion of them, as if they were madmen and fools.

These words breathe the paradox that drives people crazy – that we [Christians] are freemen, though we seem slaves; that we are rich, though we seem poor; that we are beautiful, though we appear deformed; that we are happy, though we live in misery.

Why can the world not understand this divine reconciling? Because they “go on in a course of their own and make that the measure of all” and “have principles of their own,” all this mystical business seems inconsequential and silly. Their standard leaves no room for “others first” and “sacrifice,” unless it might benefit in the end.

“But when…”

Aren’t these great words?

With all the world charting their course in the same selfish direction, a boat changing direction will get the attention of the entire fleet. Sibbes uses “religious men” here in the same way we might use “true believer” or “follower of Jesus Christ” to designate the different standard a Christian uses to measure his life. Everything he/she was pursuing previous (and the value of those things) shifts immediately and joyfully to an object that makes no sense to the world. To set a course for an unseen destination with immaterial results sounds like bad business and poor planning.

It sounds like madness.

 We should not be surprised when the world misunderstands our obsession with eternity or our talk of the “Kingdom coming” or our less-than-five-figure aspirations. We should not be surprised, even, if the world manipulates our words to sound crazy and our gatherings to look strange.

We are the skin, living in these paradoxes every day. We deny our own aims and ask Christ to reveal His standard, that we might set our course to run against traffic [or completely solo] toward Him. We set our course and it looks like foolishness.

Our neighbors have dreamed up a reason why we are so generous, our co-workers have decided our cheer is fake, our boss is sure we are working hard just for the promotion, our estranged brother still doesn’t believe we want to see him just “because.”

The world may say our course is madness – that our aims our full of folly – but our reward is not won from the world. As we fix our eyes on Christ, the Author and Perfector of our faith, He will give us the same joy he possessed as He endured the cross.

What madness Christ must have possessed to have his face set so squarely toward Jerusalem? What foolishness must have surrounded Him as he humbly entered the city on a donkey? What absolute insanity he must have endured while claiming Himself King while on the cross?

Though the world count us as madmen and fools, God allows another miracle as He transforms our hearts to serve even those who consider us crazy. Christ asked the Father to “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” in the midst of His misery. At the height of His public shame, His love and compassion for those who considered him crazy only grew.

May our hearts swell with love for those who consider us as madmen and fools.

May we
let LOVE fly like cRaZy
when it makes no sense at all to the world,
because it makes perfect sense in light of the Cross.

bits and pieces

This week has made itself available for much reading and I have certainly taken advantage! I’m flipping real pages, but I can’t give you links for those. So, here’s some bits and pieces of the online variety. Enjoy!

This Holy week timeline is super helpful in figuring out the wheres and whens.

Check out this interview with Joe Thorn, author of Note to Self, on the Gospel Coalition website. Do you preach to yourself? Or do you listen to yourself? This is the question Thorn asks, in the tradition of the Puritan pastor Lloyd-Jones.

Do we really have to use a qualifier? Too often, Christians think there is art and then there is Christian art. This is more than strange because for centuries Christians or non-Christians could express themselves creatively and everyone called it art. I really appreciate this article that takes the unnecessary qualifier to task. There is no such thing as Christian art .

This article cannot be more timely after I just finished up a study on David with a friend. I love this reminder, as we look at the actions of a fearful Adonijah, “There is no need to run and hide when God has come near to us in Christ. We have been laid hold of by the one who has truly become the mercy seat. We are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” Check it out at the Gospel Coalition blog, written by a guy who is pretty close to my hometown in Iowa!

So, this guy John Mark McMillan is pretty cool. Check out this Death in His Grave commentary. The explanation of this song gives even more meaning and depth to an already soul-searching musical tale. I currently have this song on replay and it’s like victory every time it plays.


Do you have any bits and pieces to add?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

my mom misses my blog

the greatest group there ever was - mission 2011

I get to see this beautiful girl every day!
this was our good morning chocolate chip pancake day!

I miss it, too. I kept thinking of opening lines over the past few weeks, but they never found their way to the keyboard. I apologize for the absence of electronic words, but my excuse is that I’ve been living. I’m trudging through a great mix of emotions as I fill my days with sometimes the most random things. Yesterday was the Junior/Senior banquet… which made the end of this year even more final.

Well, my mom has suggested in more than one way that I will regret it if I don’t blog during these last months, so I am going to throw out some bullet points to get started. This is a mezcla of things I’ve been up to lately:

  • I am just eating up every message from the Gospel Coalition Conference that’s happening right now in Chicago. They are not only posting the plenary sessions online for free, they also made the live hymn sing available! Go check it out, download it all and then send me a message so we can talk about it! The only (BIG) downside to not being there is the discussion that I’m sure is happening over coffee and around book tables.
  • This quote by John Stott, as I think about the cross,

“Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you.  It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’  Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross.  All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary.  It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.”

John R. W. Stott

  • I love this new blog I found llevo el invierno where a super creative, crafty lady from Monterrey, Mexico posts some great stuff! Also enjoying this and this.
  • I have found out that working out and strength training doesn’t necessarily mean slimmer… I feel like I’m training to be a football player or something!!
  • This year is winding down and I’m all mixed up with how to feel about it. The seniors have 23 days of school left and I’m getting as weepy as they are! I have other students in and out of my office and I try hard to keep my emotions at bay because if I don’t there’s no controlling them, they’ll just go crazy!
  • The Nichols siblings are about to embark on a half-marathon journey for the fall. I’m super pumped to do this with my sister and brothers (praying for James’s injuries to be completely gone in time to train). This is something I’m so excited about, amidst all the other confusion and changes.
  • Mission trip momentum… this is the time where I need to be praying the hardest for my students. They are getting attacked on every side by people and things that say they should be “over” the mission trip by now, but in their hearts they know it’s a lifestyle they’ve been called to. I love them so incredibly much and want to pray them into the Lord’s presence!
  • Next year. Oh heavens! The Lord has this, too, in His hands.
  • Semana Santa is next week and I have a lot of hangout time planned with students, as well as some goals to spend some reflective time with books and words and writing and (yes) even my blog. I want to hit up the stations of the cross with these Songs for Lent, which you can pick up for free.
  • I have been doing this really cool fast/pray/give thing with Living Water as a practice for Lent and I’ve got nothing but good reflection about it. Hard at times, but good.
  • Tonight I made a bucket list of sorts for the seniors/students/mission trip/me and it is completely unfinished but even as I was writing it I felt excitement and sadness go back and forth like ping pong in my soul.
Okay, well I guess I’m back in blogging action.
let LOVE fly like cRaZy
once again!