More than conquerors

The common brand of Christianity looks like this: “Christ suffered so we don’t have to. Suffering and bad circumstances is of the devil. Claim the promises of Christ regarding salvation, health, wealth and success and overcome all the bad stuff.” Naturally, the one who claims more of God’s promises and/or has more faith will be healthier, wealthier and more successful. Health, wealth and success inevitably become the evidence of Christ in a person. Suffering is not of God and even if it is, it’s never for the long term and only for a season. God enables us to conquer life and live abundantly (John 10:10)!

But let me propose a different view.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we have complete victory (NIV: “more than conquerors”) through him who loved us!
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39

Let me bring up 4 truths about living as “more than conquerors”:

  • The centrality of Christ
    Our relationship begins and holds together because of Christ, not our love for God. Romans 8:30 says “And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.” The whole of our salvation reality (some say experience) is the work of Christ- from our predestination, calling, justification and till glorification. It is all God. If any of it were up to us, we’d be in trouble.
  • Christ has conquered so we don’t have to
    When we read “complete victory” and “more than conquerors”, we get a sense of how complete our victory is in Christ. John 16:33 shows us how Jesus sees His reality in our Christian life, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage – I have conquered the world.” God isn’t airy fairy pretending that all is well; He says that we will have “trouble and suffering”. At the same time He says that in Him (not outside of Him) we may have peace and in Him we can have courage (because He has conquered).
  • Our victory is not dependent on health or wealth
    Verse 37 doesn’t say over, after or beyond “all these things”, but in. While we are in trouble, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword, our relationship with God remains unchanged. Our health and wealth or suffering and pain is not a reflection of our relationship with God – if it were, we could write off the whole book of Job. Instead, Christ is our measure of victory and our “abundant life” (John 10:10). If health and wealth were our measure of victory, Christ becomes just a vehicle to attain our version of “abundant life”.
  • God’s love penetrates through circumstance in life
    How else can we convey the good news to those incarcerated for life? How else can we give hope to someone on death row? How else do we bring Christ to the terminally ill? The hope that the gospel offers is not limited to or mainly health and wealth, but it is eternal salvation and union with God. This is true hope, that a person living out a life sentence, on death row or terminally ill can have an abundant life! That abundant life IS Christ.

When Christ becomes useful to us to living the abundant life (health, wealth and success), we have lost the plot. We become less than conquerors, rather than attaining to God’s abundant life in Him, we strive for our abundant life through Him. Don’t be fooled into thinking that there is no difference, because there is. If our measuring stick for life is health, wealth and success, we’ve just made that the gold standard – the summit of life (abundant life/life in full). Instead, His call is to focus on Him and His promise is that He will take care of our needs on earth (Matthew 6:33). We need to raise Jesus up to more than just a vehicle for health, wealth and success. We need to dethrone health, wealth and success and enthrone the treasure of Christ (Matthew 13:44-48; Mark 8:36)!

Practical implication of marriage

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Ephesians 5:25

Consider how the husband’s love is described in theologically founded practical terms here. We are to love our wives “as Christ loved the church”; the next question comes to mind immediately: how did Christ love the church? Well, Paul tells us right here:

  • Christ gave Himself up for her
    This really requires two points – that Christ gave Himself and He gave everything up for her. This is probably the most amazing thing about God – that He had the whole world at His disposal but He chose to give Himself. The only ransom and atonement valuable and glorious enough for God. Christ life on earth and death on the cross was more than just simple giving. It was sacrificial giving on so many levels. He gave up His heaven throne and descended to be fully human, he then gave His life to equip and teach those who would listen and learn and finally in His death, He gave up all human dignity and life. All this for just one thing – the church.
  • Christ initiated the giving
    It was not a response, it was an initiation. The church didn’t nag Christ into giving Himself up or force Christ upon the cross. Instead, it was entirely His choice and His initiative generic for cymbalta. He started it, He made it happen, He completed it. Sometimes we (men) tend to take the backseat and be responders rather than initiators, thats when things go haywire. We’re built for headship in the family and we need to live up to it.

 

Joy beyond measure

So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him.
Luke 15:20

Now picture this with me: a composed, rich, dignified old man dressed in the finest, most lavish clothes money can buy. He sits comfortably in his front yard. Suddenly, his eyes spot someone in the horizon. Someone he thinks he knows – his lost son. He blinks a couple of times just to be sure. He is not mistaken. His eyes are fixed; he gets up and starts walking toward the horizon More Info. Quickly, he speeds up to a jog, a run, a sprint. He dashes towards a mud covered, pig smelling, humiliated and unworthy young man. And tears streaming down the Father’s aged face, he embraces his son, who has now come home.

Somehow not quite the scene one would normally expect but it depicts perfectly the joy (Luke 15:7,10) of the Father in redeeming people to Himself. He has no patience and no composure when it comes to receiving His sons and daughters back. It says that the father’s “heart went out to him”. That is the same deep, explosive expression of love and joy that God feels; that drives Christ upon the cross.

If there was a defining moment in this story, a climax, this would be it. The father, filled with joy, tosses aside his composure and throws off his outer robe as he runs toward his son. Just how far did the father run? Just how undignified did he get when he embraced his pig mud covered son? Romans 5:8 says it all.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

Hard fall

The harder you fall, the higher you bounce.
Douglas Horton

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.
Luke 7:47

Never think that you’ve gone so low that you’ve got nowhere to go. The fact is, if you’re rock bottom and stuck in a pit, there’s only one direction you can go.

The woman who anointed Jesus was an incredible person. She was the lowest life form in Jewish society – a prostitute. Everyone knew her because they all shunned her. Mothers told their daughters to work hard at home and find a good husband so that they won’t end up like her. But out of the lowest place came the highest act of anointing Jesus’ feet with perfumed oil. She bounced. Since she experienced His grace, she no longer existed in the same lowly state – she had been lifted up!

The point that Jesus makes is this: Her act of anointing Jesus was proportionate to the love that she had for Him and that was proportionate to the complete forgiveness that she had been given.

In other words: the harder you fall, the higher you bounce.

Chains of love

If there was one word that is used over and over again for sexual freedom, it is love. The sexual revolution in the 1960s had slogans like: “All you need is love” (courtesy of John Lennon) and “make love, not war”. The term “free love” was established together with the idea that love is free and mutually consensual sexual (love) relationships should not be regulated by law. Love is many things, but above all, love is freeing. Love and freedom are two things that seem forever glued together.

I want to point out an idea that are often neglected when it comes to talking about love, and certainly lacking when talking about free love. The idea of love that restraints (and we’re not talking Shades of Grey here).

For if your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy by your food someone for whom Christ died.
Romans 14:15

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast,but do not have love, I receive no benefit.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Rather it is because of his love for you and his faithfulness to the promise he solemnly vowed to your ancestors that the Lord brought you out with great power, redeeming you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 7:8

Love is restraining. Let me illustrate: my love for my wife causes me to restrain myself from things that will/might cause her grief. In the same way, God’s love restrains Him from utterly wiping the Israelites off the face of the earth after they have been unfaithful time and time again. Our love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ restrains us from enjoying our freedom so that we do not stumble a weaker brother or sister. It also restrains our practice of our gifts, talents and abilities. This is not to say that we cannot enjoy our freedom in Christ or practice any spiritual gift/ability but love is more important that any of that. Without love, no amount of freedom or gifting or ability is of any benefit or value.

Love is restraining, and it restrains us.*Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Three points of application:

  1. How have I restrained my own freedom/gifts/abilities in love for my brothers and sisters?
  2. How did restraining myself feel? How does it make God feel? How does it make others feel? Read: Romans 14:17-18
  3. How is Christ’s love restraining for Himself? Read: John 3:16-17; Ezekiel 18:32; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9

* What it doesn’t restrain us from is correcting a brother or sister in sin (James 5:19-20), that is our duty of love toward them.

Puffed up

But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.
1 Corinthians 8:1

Nothing is worth anything without love. Whether it is spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3) or knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:8-11), love brings life to it. Anything done without love is of no value. In 1 Corinthians 8, the knowledge that brings out liberty is to be restrained by the love for others. Our liberty is worth nothing without love. In 1 Corinthians 13, the spiritual gifts that bless the body are to be practiced with love towards others. Spiritual gifts practiced without love is worthless. Love doesn’t add value to knowledge or gifts, it is the value of the knowledge and gift. Like knowledge, anything without love puffs up. If creates body without mass, size without power; there is no real capacity to perform effectively without love.

What about the other areas of my life? Are my finances managed with love? Do my priorities show love toward others? Is my work done in love? What good is my life if love is not shown? The success and failure of all things stands on love.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:8

Similarities and differences

Then they too will answer, Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not give you whatever you needed?
Matthew 25:44

The sheep on his right whom the King described as righteous asked the question. The goats on the left whom Jesus described as accursed asked the same question. They both earnestly did not know when they had seen the King in need! There was no connection between Jesus and their brothers and sisters in need. Had they made the connection, things might have been different. But exactly which of the hundreds of people we meet daily is a brother and sister in need? How do we tell a genuine need from a fraud? Was it my Dad who needed $700 for investing in his business? Was it my brother who needed $350 for his bills? Maybe it was the beggar on the street looking for some spare change?

Once while we were waiting in a taxi queue (in Singapore), we were approached by a lady asking for some money. She said that she is an ex-convict who is currently with an organization helping other convicts like herself and proceeded to show us some legal papers. She shared her life story of a good-for-nothing husband who is still serving his prison sentence and told us that she has a young daughter to look after. She has trouble looking for a job because of her criminal record but she has been trying. After the lengthy story, I wasn’t convinced that my contribution to this woman could make any difference and I didn’t feel right giving her any money. So I rejected her and walked away. My wife on the other hand stayed on to listen to her and asked for her name. She started a conversation with her and gave her $10. She also prayed for her and then we went on our way.

While I thought that it was certainly possible for her to find a job and that it wasn’t worthwhile providing a small donation without a more long term solution, my wife thought that $10 was a small price to pay to help someone on need, show some acceptance to her and have the opportunity to pray for her. However, we later found out that this lady was a fraud. The organization she spoke about didn’t exist. We had no way of verifying if the story we had been told about her husband and daughter was true.

Who was right and who was wrong? Was the woman wrong? Was I wrong? Was my wife wrong? Maybe we all were wrong! I am certain that the lady had a legitimate need. Even though she went about defrauding people of money, she needed the money. But giving money to her would encourage her fraudulent behaviour and promote criminal activity. What is right and wrong? These are real world issues for a generation that is called to love people practically with a generous spirit.

There is no easy answer, but by the grace of God, may we be counted in His flock.

Playing host

Then the king will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.  Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?  And the king will answer them, I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.
Matthew 25:34-40 (NET)

We often focus on the later part of this verse, skipping past the opening invitation: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But read it again and again, and we might glean something important.

Jesus is described as the king who “comes in his glory and all the angels with him”, who assembles all the nations before him and “will
sit on his glorious throne” to judge the world (Matthew 25:31). We have a picture of the arrival of a majestic heavenly king who comes into the king’s court surrounded by angels and takes His seat on a huge shining golden throne, ready to judge the inhabitants of His kingdom. What splendor and grandeur! This is the same Jesus who invites the sheep to come to Him – to join with Him, to be by His side, to fellowship and with God. This is a personal invitation from a glorious and mighty God for us to join Him, to sit and judge with Him.

He says to them, “You who are blessed by my Father.” Jesus’ unique identity as fully the Son of God and Son of Man (Matthew 25:31) is revealed here. But more than that, the value and position of those He calls “righteous” is revealed here. They are blessed! They are so blessed that they are called to join in His inheritance – the kingdom that has been waiting for them since the creation of the world. Their position in this world since its creation is one of dominance (Genesis 1:26-29). Their position in His future kingdom is much the same. This is their rightful inheritance.

But lets not skip past the message of this passage. The inheritance comes because of the things they did for “one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine”. It wasn’t the things they did for the general population of brothers or sisters in need that caught the King’s eye, it was for “one of the least”. It was the compassion, love and generosity shown toward each individual, even if it was toward multiple individuals. That separates (characterizes) the sheep from the goats.

The love that we are called to have is one that extends practically to people (Luke 10:27), because that is the King’s love. His love for His people is so great that whatever is done for the lowest of His people is done for Him, in fact, He calls His subjects “brothers and sisters”. He calls them siblings! To be a sheep, we must love His sheep. We must love the lowest of His sheep.

God is God

Pray.
Father, teach us something new, give us a new revelation of yourself.

Introduction
Early when Sara and I started dating, she asked me, “Why do you love me?” And I paused. The gears in my head start turning, and you start thinking “this is a trick question…” and then she continues, “Will you still love me if I had a car crash and was disfigured? If I couldn’t move my body? What if I was a vegetable?” and now, I start panicking because I knew surely this is a trick question. If I name any one physical attribute of hers, I would be shallow. If it wasn’t physical, she wasn’t pretty enough. See, to me, it was a trick question, to Sara it was serious. She was assessing my credibility as a present boyfriend and future husband. There is an idea in her head of why she ought to be (deserves) loved and she is assessing if I meet that idea in her head. 

Why do I love?
One day, I thought about this and asked myself, “Why do I love God?” We all know the Greatest Commandment, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” But why? Is there a difference between why I love God and why God deserves to be loved.

Scripture
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:28-34

Jesus said: “The most important one is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord…” This is a scripture from Duet 6:4-6. So what is so special about this statement?

Shema Yisrael
This verse is the Jewish Shema (Yisrael).

  • The core prayer of the Jews, the most important part of their prayer service.
  • They recite it when preparing to read the Torah on festivals and feasts and on the most holy days.
  • It is the first thing that is taught to children, the pray that is said when they wake up and before they sleep.
  • They would recite it just before they die – the ultimate manifestation of faith in the gravest situations.
  • When they recite it, they mention each word very carefully and intentionally.
  • The first word Shema means listen/hear and do.

Shema Significance
The Shema is loaded with meaning and tells us much about God. It asserts that:

  • That the God we serve is Jehovah God – an infinite, eternal, perfect, self-existent and self-sufficient God.
    That God as such an all-powerful, big and mighty God! God is God, He is NOT:

    • God is not just a santa-claus and gives me gifts
    • God is not just a miracle doctor and heals me
    • God is not just a divine destiny planner and gives me a hope and future
    • He is not just a marriage counsellor and fixes my marriage up

    I’m not saying that He doesn’t promise these things or that He doesn’t want to give them to us. He does because His nature is good and loving. But He is still God. He retains the right to do as He pleases.

  • He is the only living and true God, only He is God and He alone – no other God.
    When you understand that God is ultimately powerful. There is no equal. There is only one Jehovah and He is God.
  • God is singular, He is one – Not a two faced God – Hindu. Not a number of Gods – Greeks/Taoist. Not an impersonal/neutral God – Buddha.
    • He is not good one day and evil the next or half-half, He is singular in nature; He does not change.
    • Even if the circumstance in my life changes, God does not. He is still good. He is still in control. If my illness doesn’t get healed, if death is knocking at my door, God is still God.

    Note that the word one (ehad) can mean unity in diversity, not unique singular one – yachid. E.g. Genesis2:24 – one flesh (basar echad).

So when a Jew says “the Lord our God, the Lord is one”, it is an extremely high view of God. He is fixing his whole being on the all-powerful, all-mighty, all-knowing, all-everything! When a Jew recites the Shema, he is a living witness testifying to the sovereignty of God / God’s kingship in every circumstance. No matter what our circumstance – our God is still the only one true God, and He is my God.

When they recite the Shema, their focus is not on what they can get from God, it’s about God. They take their eyes away from their circumstance and look at God who is God.

Tie back
So back to the question of why do we love God? I think we have something to learn from the original context of the Greatest Commandment in the Shema.

We love God because we have a high view of God’s being – God is God. And this huge all-powerful great God, humbled himself for us and has an intimate personal relationship with me! We can love God because of His being, not because of the circumstances in our lives. Not because one day God seems to be good and the next day bad. God deserves to be loved simply because He is God.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Its easy to love God when He is God.

“Love your neighbour as yourself”
How does this understanding affect our love for others? Well we love God for His being. We love others that way as well. I love my mother because she is my mother, not because she can cook well or help me look after my future children. I love my son because he is my son, not because he is obedient or does well in school. And that’s how God loves us! He loved us while we were still sinners! We can even love our enemies because right at the core of their being is still the image of God (not their nature)!

Pray
Thank you that you are God. That you are sovereign over everything. Sovereign over every circumstance. Thank you most of all that we can know you in an intimate and personal way. Thank you for showing us how to love and for loving us in that way, give us your heart that we can love as you love.

Dependance and Correlation

So Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered,“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Luke 7:41-43 (NET)

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, thus she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little loves little.
Luke 7:47 (NET)

Jesus, the great mathematician, outlines the relationship between two variables: forgiveness and love.

  • Where there is forgiveness, there is love. Love is the evidence of forgiveness. There is a dependence – a causal relationship.
  • The proportion of forgiveness is the proportion of love. Larger forgiveness, larger love. There is a direct linear correlation.

If Jesus was my lecturer, He would draw a graph representing the relationship between forgiveness and love to look like that (see graph below). That is what it looks like in His kingdom. He might plot points on the graph representing the debtors who owed five hundred and the other owning fifty. He might also plot the points for Mary and Simon. Mary would be top right and Simon closer to the centre.

x-axis = forgiveness, y-axis = love

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Romans 3:23-24

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, between a twenty first century believer and a first century believer, a man and a woman. There is no difference between Mary and me. Mary sinned and fell short of God’s standard, I sinned and fell short of God’s standard. Mary was forgiven much, I am forgiven much. Mary loved much. What about me?

Where am I plotted on this graph? Is mine in the top right, centre or bottom left?