On Loving God

Last Supper Barbados
Depiction of the Upper Room by Unknown artist from Barbados.

This week, as I reflected on the words of Jesus:

“If you love me, you will obey what I command,” (John 14:15) 

my thoughts kept coming back to a dear friend of mine.  In the Fall of 1992, Wesley was on his deathbed in an Iowa hospital.  At the time, I was pastoring a small Michigan congregation and was able to take some time off to go and be with him. I was there for a week, spending my days at the hospital and only leaving his room to sleep for the night. It was my habit to rise about 5:00am and make my way to Wesley’s room where we would spend some quiet unhindered time with each other for a few hours before family members arrived. Wesley was deathly ill and could barely communicate anything above a whisper. Yet, those hours with him were incredible times of spiritual bonding and true Christian friendship.

You see, what was so amazing about my relationship with Wesley is that only a year before, he and I had a strained, difficult, and awkward relationship as he was about as far from God as anyone could be and did not want much to do with a Pastor.  Yet, in a matter of a few months, we had become devoted to one another as brothers.  Through a series of circumstances that I ascribe as God’s gracious hand, Wesley embraced a spiritual life that was as rich and full as I have ever seen (that is a story for another time). Now, as I sat with him six months later, Wesley was at the edge of his life.

During that week, I watched in the background as day after day, friend after friend, and relative after relative came into Wesley’s room to visit him for the last time.  The majority were much like Wesley before he wholeheartedly followed the love of Christ – having made a profession of faith as children, they had long since outgrew their Sunday School belief.  With each person, as frail as Wesley was, barely able to lift an arm more than a few inches, he would grab a hold, pull them close and say into their ear: “Look at me! I am dying. Is this how you want to end up?”  And then he said to every one of them: “If you are really a Christian and love Jesus, obey him and live your life for him.”

Love and obedience – they go together in Scripture like a hand in a glove.  The words of Jesus to love through obedience are part of what we call the Upper Room Discourse, or Farewell Speech. They are the Lord’s final words to his followers before his crucifixion – quite literally being Jesus’ deathbed message to those he loved. These are the words Jesus did not want his followers to forget. The disciples were distressed and troubled over the prospect that Jesus would not be with them, and they needed some focused words to live effectively with encouragement in the days and years ahead.

Upper Room
Pewter art of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. A gift from Wesley.

There are a two truths Jesus said to his disciples (and saying to us) as he was grabbing them and holding them close before his death:

Love is practiced through obedience to Christ’s commands.

Love through obedience is accomplished through the Holy Spirit’s help.

If we are to love Jesus, we will obey him – which begs the question: What are his commands?  There are three summaries of Christ’s teaching and commands in the Gospels that encompass loving him through obedience: The Great Commission; The Great Commandment; and, The Beatitudes.

When Jesus first began his teaching and healing ministry, he sat all the people down who were following him and gave them a summary of the Old Testament understanding of God’s righteousness.  These are the things, Jesus explained, that characterize a person who loves God:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 

Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:12-17, NIV).

Genuine lovers of Jesus are characterized by their: authentic humility; deep concern to the point of tears over sin; gentle and meek spirit toward others; intense desire for personal righteousness and corporate justice; daily life of mercy, purity, and peacemaking; and, willingness to accept adversity for the sake of Jesus. Yes, lovers of Jesus are distinctly and profoundly characterized by grace. To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God is the normal everyday default life-setting for lovers of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus wanted to put all the Law and the Prophets (The Old Testament of the Bible) into a summary that would be easy to remember and understand he said:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)

What Jesus requires is an holistic love for God. Humanity is meant for wholeness, integration, and alignment between head, heart, and gut – with the glue of love. We are designed to have all of life in parity and balance – work, play, family, and church – because Jesus is Lord over it all, not just the church part. In the totality of our lives, in every relationship, and in every activity, Jesus invites us to grab hold of the kind of love that seeks a righteous agenda based in grace and mercy.

What is more, Jesus gave clear instructions of how to occupy our time on this earth while he is away preparing a place for us so that he can take us to be with him.  The gracious and pure living of the Beatitudes and the love of the Great Commandment are to be fully utilized with the Great Commission. Jesus stated:

All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.(Matthew 28:18-20, NIV)

Making disciples is at the heart of Christ’s commands. Every Christian is to be Christ’s apprentice learning the ways of Jesus in all of life, being spiritually developed so that we can be characterized by the Beatitudes and the Great Commandment. Jesus wants lifelong students in the faith, continually learning to love God through integrated and aligned selves in the church and in the world.

This is a big job.  In fact, the task is so huge that Jesus left us with the means of accomplishing it – he has given us another “Counselor” to be with us forever (John 14:16). “Counselor” (NIV) is translated in various ways in versions of the New Testament because the Greek term “Paraclete” is a rich word that is hard to encompass with a single English word. Other translations include: “Advocate,” “Comforter,” and “Helper.”  They are all accurate words to describe the Holy Spirit.  I think the best term to portray who the Holy Spirit is for God’s people is “True Friend.”

A true friend is the kind of person who you can call in the middle of the night and they will answer and listen; will drop everything to come and be with you in a time of need; will say hard things to you in love so that you can be a better person and have a better relationship with them; and, maintains a committed and consistent relationship with you.  A true friend is simply a person you enjoy and are deeply thankful for having them in your life.

Upper Room Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit given to the disciples of Jesus.

That is what the Holy Spirit is – the Spirit helps us when we need help; encourages us when we are down; comes immediately to our side when we are in need; and, gives us a good loving kick in the backside when appropriate.  The Holy Spirit is our True Friend in the world.  The Spirit continually speaks truth to us and leads us into truth. The Spirit will come alongside and apprentice us in the faith and guide us in grateful obedience to Jesus.

Because of God the Father’s love in sending the Son; the Son’s sacrificial love through the cross; the Spirit’s consistent loving presence; and, the triune God’s insistence on living a life of love, Christianity is both duty and delight – and they go together in perfect harmony.

Wesley miraculously lived through his deathbed experience. God was not quite finished with him yet.  Wesley’s Christian life displayed that loving assurance and trust in Jesus leads to a no-holds-barred obedience which is grateful and joyous despite the most awful of circumstances.

In the summer of 1993, at 29 years of age, Wesley went to be with his Lord.  Not in my lifetime have I personally seen such a complete turn-around of a person so far away from God to a person whose every thought and word reflected the Beatitudes, the Great Commandment, and the Great Commission.  And I enjoyed a relationship that was totally changed from one of animosity to one that could be characterized as “true friend.”  Because of his love for God, Wesley now sees Jesus.

There is only one level of commitment to Christ – the high charge and privilege of duty and delight. A true disciple, a genuine follower of Jesus, loves him and lives an obedient life to the Lord in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we have our lives so planned and pre-determined that when the Holy Spirit shows up to take us to a place of obedience to Jesus, we struggle to realize what’s happening. And we miss what God is doing in this world.  At other times we observe the commands of Scripture and feel the gentle nudging of God’s Spirit, yet we either cannot or will not respond out of fear, busyness, or even grief.  And then there are times when we are attentive to God’s Word and God’s Spirit and seek to obey Jesus – only to mess up so that we are left wondering if God could ever really do anything in us.

The truth is this: Love conquers all. Grace overcomes everything. Mercy never fails. We are here on this earth because of our True Friend. Even though we walk with Jesus in a three-steps-forward-two-steps-backward kind of way, the Spirit accommodates to our weakness.  To be a disciple, an apprentice, means we keep learning the ways of Jesus under the tutelage of God’s Spirit who patiently and powerfully works within us so that God’s kingdom breaks into this world and his will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Genesis 12:1-3 – The Blessing


The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.” (NIV)

Words are powerful.  They have the power of life and of death, of blessing and cursing. Furthermore, withholding words of blessing and keeping silent is to withhold goodness and love from another.

Speaking words of blessing and backing up those words with an active commitment, is vital to humanity’s spiritual and emotional health.

The question for Abraham, and for us, is not only how we will respond to God’s commands but how we will react to his promise of blessing, and to be a blessing. Abraham left the city of Ur because he believed in the promise God was holding out to him of blessing.  It is the promises of God, not just the commands, which change our lives.  It is the promise, not only the command, which requires a decision and a change.  The world needs promise.  And promise is powered by blessing.

The term “blessing” in Scripture is a powerful communication of God’s presence and approval.  Notice some of the elements of God’s blessing to Abraham. God said that he would show Abraham the Promised Land, that is, he would be with Abraham. Abraham was neither alone nor on his own.  God provided Abraham with a peek into a special future – he would make Abraham into a great nation. What’s more, God would bless everyone else through Abraham. God’s approval was with Abraham – “I will bless you.”  Notice, also, God’s active commitment to Abraham: He would bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him.

This blessing was passed from generation to generation, from Abraham to Isaac, Isaac to Jacob, Jacob to his twelve sons; a blessing of God’s presence, approval; a blessing of a special future, and an active commitment.  The promise of the blessing found its ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus, who extended the original promise to the nations. I, as a Gentile believer, have come to faith because of this blessing.

Fathers and mothers everywhere across the world stand in a unique and special position as those who have the power of bestowing a blessing on their children – a blessing of being with them, approving of them, affirming their gifts and abilities, envisioning for them a special future of how God can use them. Those words of blessing have the power to help children navigate the world with assurance and confidence. Armed with blessing, they can filter-out the choices in front of them and walk in the way of God.

Notice in the New Testament Gospels how the God the Father blessed the Son:

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.  At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17).

God communicated his constant presence and an active commitment through the Spirit; God spoke words of approval and affirmation; God the Father had a special future for Jesus the Son, which helped Jesus to repel the words of Satan. Since Jesus needed and received a blessing from his Father, how much more do we?

Notice how Jesus passed on the blessing to his disciples with promise and commitment (giving them much more than only the command):

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus let his disciples know that his presence would be with them; he communicated an active commitment to give them authority to do the job of disciple-making; he pictured for them a special future of reaching the nations; he affirmed them and approved them. “The Great Commission” is really a re-statement of God’s original blessing to Abraham.

Once we begin to view Holy Scripture through the lens of promise and blessing, we begin to see it everywhere. Perhaps one more illustration of receiving and giving blessing will assist us:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man, he could not, because of the crowd. So, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.  When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately.  I must stay at your house today.” So, he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.  All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord!  Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”  Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.” (Luke 19:1-10).

Zacchaeus was transformed.  His life changed from one of cursing others through extortion to blessing others through giving. Jesus not once commanded him to do it. Instead, Jesus simply blessed him, and Zacchaeus, in turn, became a blessing. Being invited into someone’s house in the ancient world was in and of itself an act that communicated acceptance, approval, and encouragement.  The presence of Jesus changes people.

God is with us.  He has given us his very great and precious promises in Christ.  He has demonstrated his active commitment to us by giving us the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has gifted each believer for service so that every individual may be a blessing to both the church and the world.

You and I already possess God’s blessing; there is no need to try and earn it.

We have the privilege and the ability to reverse the world’s curse and turn it into a blessing. Those blessed with money can be a blessing by giving it away. Those blessed by growing up in a loving family can provide love to others who are unloved and need a special blessing. Those blessed with wisdom can mentor and instruct those who need wisdom. Those blessed with the mercy of God can be merciful to others. Those blessed with a wonderful relationship with God can pray people into the kingdom of God.

Parents, it is never too late to bless your children, even if they are adults. Children, it is never too late to bless your parents and your siblings, even if they are prickly and hard. To not bless is to curse. Bless through words that build up, and do not tear down. Use those words to picture a special future of what God can do. Follow through with those words by demonstrating an active commitment to embodying blessing.

I leave you with a blessing, my dear readers:

May God answer you when you are in distress; and, may the name of Jesus protect you. 

May God send you help when you need it and give you support when you cry out to him. 

May the God of heaven remember all your good deeds done in faith and accept you just as you are. 

May God give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.

When the Almighty answers your prayers and goes out of the way to use you for his glory; then, I will be the first to shout with the loudest shout of joy that there ever was on the earth! 

I know that the Lord is God, and that he has a special future for you beyond what you can even ask or think.  And I will be there on the sidelines, encouraging you all the way. 

Some people trust in the political process, others trust in the strength of the economy; but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 

May God answer when you call.

May God bless you with an everlasting love. 

May you know Christ, and him crucified, risen, and coming again. 

May God’s presence and power be with you now and forever.  Amen.

Click Blessings by Laura Story to remember that even in difficulty we are blessed.

Trinity Sunday

At its heart, the Great Commission is a call and invitation by Jesus to participate in the life of the triune God through making disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).  The reason many Christians intentionally give focus to and celebrate the Trinity on a designated Sunday is because the God we worship exists as One God in three persons:  Father, Son, and Spirit.  This doctrine of the Trinity was articulated by early worshiping and serving Christians, who, under the stress and in the face of questions and challenges, took pains to say with clarity just who God is and why he is important.
            Christ’s Great Commission is still in force for us today.  What is more, the way to fulfill this command of Jesus is to participate in the life of the Trinitarian God.  Sometimes we need an outside perspective to understand our own situation and how we are to live into these important words of Jesus.  Missionary and author Nik Ripken (which is not his real name because he ministers in countries that are not open to the gospel and missionary activity) writes that he once met with a group of Chinese house church leaders and was marveling to them about the explosion of new converts and believers to Christ – many estimates discern at least 100 million Christians now in China.  What Nik Ripken heard from those leaders in response is not what he expected to hear.  This is what they said concerning his estimates of the numbers of Christians in China:  “Probably two-thirds of the people you mentioned regularly attend a house church.  Most of those people have been baptized.  Most of those people contribute financially to the work of a house church.  But we do not consider church members to be true followers of Jesus until they have led other people to Christ and until they have helped plant more house churches; only then do they truly know God.”
            I would suggest that one of the chief reasons the Chinese church has exploded in numbers is because they have taken up the mantle of Christ’s mission of making disciples to such a degree that leading others to Jesus and developing disciples into the life of the Trinity and forming churches is “normal.”  One of the obstacles for us as Western believers is that we look at what the Chinese are doing not as normal but as “radical.”  But what if what we consider as radical is really supposed to be the normal Christian life and experience of all believers in Jesus?  Please understand I do not make this point in order to guilt us, but rather to let our Chinese brothers and sisters lead us into godly sorrow that results in new life and inspire us in this wonderful privilege of making disciples.
            The Trinity is mentioned in the Great Commission because God himself is a missionary God.  The content of our discipleship and teaching is to be in orienting believers into the life of God as Trinity.  After Christ’s resurrection, the original disciples went to a specific mountain – maybe the mountain where Jesus began by teaching about righteousness with the Sermon on the Mount.  This would give the disciples a connection with understanding Christ’s authority.  They needed to grasp Christ’s authority because when they saw him some worshiped and some doubted.  The text does not tell us why some doubted.  I would suggest that based on the gospel accounts of the disciples having not figured-out that Jesus was bringing in a spiritual kingdom where people are transformed and follow Christ’s teachings, that they doubted what the real mission was all about and may have doubted their ability to engage in that mission even if they understood it.  Therefore, Jesus made the clear call and invitation that what he wants done (since he has the authority) is for the church is to be about the business of making disciples.
            The term “make disciples” is perhaps so overused to the point of losing its punch and meaning.  Here are some other faithful ways of understanding this verb to make disciples:  “spiritually form followers;” “develop interns in the faith;” “build committed believers in Jesus;” and “apprentice others in the ways of Jesus.”  The idea that Jesus is conveying here is one of investing deeply into mentoring-type relationships that will result in faithful Christians who will, in turn, invest in others.  The Apostle Paul would say later to his apprentice Timothy:  “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).  In other words, we need to be mentored in the faith and to then turn around and mentor others in the faith. 
            We reflect the image of our triune God when we take up the mantle of being, as the Nicene Creed puts it, one holy catholic and apostolic church.  That is, just as God is not three gods but one God, so the church is to be one; just as God is holy, we are to be holy in all we do; just as God gathers people from every nation, so the church is to gather all kinds of people for worship and discipleship; and, just as God is a missionary God who sends himself to reach the nations, so we are to be apostolic (which means those that are sent), not only gathered together but sent out to make disciples, to mentor others in the faith.
            We all long to see this world a better place and to see our culture and society come into greater conformity with Christian morality.  For that to happen, we can learn from our Chinese brothers and sisters that making disciples will need to be a normal every day attitude and action.  It is my sincere desire that every one of us who has been mentored, apprenticed, and oriented in the faith in such a way that has impacted our lives will put that same ministry into others.  We all need three levels of relationships:  a spiritual mentor; someone who is a fellow friend on the journey to fellowship with; and, another for whom we are calling and inviting to participate with us in the life of the triune God. 


The Father sent the Son to this earth.  While he was here he poured his life into some disciples.  Then, when he died, those disciples were filled with grief.  But they later understood that he had to die so that others who hungered could live.  “Take eat, this is my body given for you.”  What the Trinity means for us is that our missionary God has reached us and is using us to reach others.  Through the situations of our lives we learn the ways of Jesus.  We learn compassion.  We learn humility.  We learn how be at peace.  And we are made disciples, united to Christ and participating in the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit.  

Activate God’s Blessing

In a world of fear, in the darkness of the earth after the Fall of humanity, people tend to settle for not listening, or when they do, listening to the voice of political ideas, or propaganda as their hope.  We, as the Church, must not settle for less powerful words.  The speech of God is for his people to abandon, renounce, and let go – to depart from previous ways.  God’s Word, for example, to Abraham was to “leave” and “go” (Genesis 12:1-3).  For Abraham and his wife Sarah to stay in Ur of the Chaldees (a pagan land), afraid to move, and settling for retirement living, would result in barrenness and no hope.  To leave was to experience blessing. 
Jesus once said to his disciples: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it (Mark 8:34-35).  Blessing from God happens when we give up everything to leave and follow Jesus.  God is still holding out this promise of blessing that can be realized through leaving and going. 
In order to experience marital blessing, God said in the beginning that a man must “leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife” (Genesis 2:24).  The writer of Proverbs has told us if we want to see blessing, to experience God’s presence and approval, you must “leave your simple ways” (Proverbs 9:6).   Jesus said that if you have relational problems and are getting ready to worship you must “leave your gift at the altar.” Then, we are to “first go and be reconciled to your brother” (Matthew 5:23-24).   Jesus himself has said that he, as the Great Shepherd, will leave the ninety-nine sheep to go after one lost one (Luke 15:4).  And he turns right around and commissions us to do the business of leaving:  “Go, and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).  Jesus further has said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven (Matthew 19:21).  To those who are too afraid or complacent to step out in faith and leave for God’s banquet of blessing, the invitation has gone out:  “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find” (Matthew 22:9).  Not going ends in no blessing.  God said to Jonah “go” (Jonah 1:2), but Jonah said “no” to God and did not go because of his prejudice.  Leaving and blessing go together.  We must step out in faith as the people of God and leave behind our old ways and embrace the journey ahead that God has for us.  Where are we going?  God knows.  Leave, go, and trust. 
Let me “leave” you with some thoughts on stepping out of our friendly and familiar environment to know the blessing of God:
  1. Hang around with committed Christians who want the blessing of God.  Spend time with those who are eager to do God’s will.  I had the wonderful blessing of being around many people in the formative years of my Christian life with a passion for God.  One of those people was a man named Howard Bixby.  Pastor Bixby had a saying for me anytime I came to him contemplating whether I should step out and follow through with an idea I had or a person to talk to.  He always, without fail, would say to me:  “Go for the jugular!”  And I did.  And every time I knew the blessing of God on my life which kept me going back for more.  That advice has served me well.  So, I say to you:  “go for the jugular!”  If you spend most of your time hanging out with toothless Christians who have no spiritual bite, then you will be one yourself.  Light each other’s fire, and let the Holy Spirit kindle a fresh flame in your heart by being around passionate Christian people.  Abraham went to the Promised Land with Sarah, his wife.  Don’t be a lone-ranger.  Bring your family along the blessing trail by having bible readings together and talking about spiritual issues.
  2. Walk across the room.  God may not be calling all of us to leave this country and go to an unreached people-group, but he is calling us all to leave our seats and walk across the room to encourage another person in his/her faith; across the street to strike up a spiritual conversation with a lost neighbor; across town to a lonely or hurting elderly person; or down the street to hang out at the laundry mat to meet new people who need Jesus.  By all means we are to walk across the pages of Scripture to follow Jesus in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.
  3. You don’t have to be a super-Christian who feels blessed to leave and step out in faith.  We might all consider Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, to be a super-Christian.  She said:  “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.  God still loves the world and He sends you and me to be His love and His compassion to the poor to quench His thirst for love and for souls.”   Yet, at the same time, Teresa struggled in her faith for most of her life and often felt like her own soul was desolate.  She once confessed: “In my soul, I feel just the terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.”  Yet, her dark night of the soul was still the salvation for thousands.
  4. Don’t talk it to death!  There is always more research and information and counsel to obtain.  At some point you need to act.  We really have no need to create a sub-committee to investigate the findings of that other committee in order to make a decision.  Frederick Buechner has said “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  Where does your passion and the world’s great need meet?  Leave, and go there. 


Activate the blessing of God in your life by leaving and going where the Spirit leads.  May we have the courage and the faith, despite our feelings, to respond to God’s sending.