John 13:34-35: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

 

Why does Jesus make a claim that His love command is new and unheard of? At first sight Jesus’ love command does not seem to be new at all.  “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a quote from the Torah written thousands of years ago.

Loving one’s neighbor like oneself mirrors the Golden Rule, which happens to be promoted all over the world and is found in Buddhism, Hinduism, Sanskrit tradition, Ancient Greece, Ancient Persia, just to name a few. However, Jesus’ love command clearly goes beyond the Golden Rule; instead of treating others like oneself, Jesus basically says: treat others as I treat you.  And with that, Jesus revolutionizes love by tying it to His person, thereby raising the standard: Dying so that others may live definitely takes love to the next level.

The apostle John remarks in one of his letters (1 John 1:1):

“We saw him (Jesus) with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life.”

While the world witnessed God’s Son in the flesh, it had a hard time grasping the phenomenon of God’s love personified in Jesus. God’s love requires a step of faith, because we embrace a mystery we don’t understand. This is the reason why people were mystified when they ran into Jesus during His lifetime on earth, and that’s why people are still puzzled today despite our many discoveries and technical advances. How God loves is a strange concept to the human mind – who would have ever conceived the idea of God becoming a human being to walk in our shoes, to die and set us free?  These things are hard to swallow; God’s love simply is mind-blowing!

Let the love of God sweep you up, embrace you, heal you, carry you, and reform you. As you experience Jesus you will learn, one day at a time, how to live well and how to love well; and the world around you will get a taste of the same Jesus who walked this earth 2000 years ago – by seeing Him alive and well inside of you.

“The deepest love, the safest place I’ve found right in the palm of Your hand, my Friend, You carry me through; Jesus, You love me, my Redeemer, my Friend!” (The Deepest Love by Bill & Evelyn Snyder)

 

John 6:35: “Jesus replied, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’”

The soul, similar to our physical bodies, gets hungry and thirsty; it can also get hurt and needs healing.  Our Western culture has a tendency to overlook such needs – probably because souls do not show up with physical evidence.

Imagine we could see each other’s soul-bodies and could recognize how malnourished or wounded some of us are.  God certainly can.  And as children of God we’re aware of the importance to address the demands and longings of our soul.  There are countless references to the human soul in the Bible, not the least of which is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul (Deuteronomy 6:5).

In the book of Psalms our soul is encouraged to cry out to the Lord, to praise the Lord, to sing to the Lord.  As the body gets hungry, so does the soul. The body craves physical food while the soul craves spiritual food; God has plenty of spiritual food in store for the longing soul. In Peter’s first letter we read (1 Peter 2:2):

“Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.” 

It is the Lord’s kindness the soul is after.  No amount of fame or fortune can satisfy the extravagant cravings of the soul, not even the love we experience from other people.  That is why Jesus says (Matthew 4:4):

“People do not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

On that note, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread” this request combines the physical with the spiritual bread, since we are in dire need of both. So let’s keep praying for God’s wonderful Bread of Life!

“Our Heavenly Father, may your name be honored; May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day the bread we need, forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil.” Matthew 6:9-13

Hosea 6:3: “Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

The opposite of acknowledging the Lord is ignoring Him.  People ignore the Lord for various reasons. I have done so too, and I can say that life is lonely without Him.  Truly lonely!  And without God I do not even seem to be able to connect with other people very well.  Nothing really works.  It pretty much reminds me of a power outage.  Acknowledging the Lord on the other hand is basically turning the power back on.  It is so much better to acknowledge Him and see the Lord at work in our lives.  Jesus says about Himself (John 8:12):

“I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

If you go on a hike before Sunrise without a flashlight you will experience what it means to walk in the dark.  We need to see the light to know where we’re going.

This morning I admired a beautiful sunrise.  I witnessed how the horizon lights up long before the Sun actually shows up.  As the Sun progresses higher and higher, the scenery around me is dipped in light.  What I find wildly fascinating is that light not only helps me recognize the things around me, it also provides color.  Before the Sun came up everything around me looked grey.  That changed dramatically with the dawning daylight.

In the same way, the Light of the World, Jesus, dips my life in color, I can personally attest to that.  My life is so much more colorful with the Lord in my life, and I know that this is true for every life well lived. He comes to us like the winter rains; he softens the soil of our hearts and gives us the opportunity to thrive.

“Rain, rain, rain, rain beautiful rain! Oh come to me beautiful rain!” (Joseph Shabalala)

Colossians 3:15: “And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.”

If God’s peace is like a river, I want that river to take me wherever it leads, and in peace go wherever the Lord sends me.

Here is an aspect of God’s peace:  We are called to live in peace with one another as opposed to being divided in hatred and strife; we are called to respect and appreciate our differences as opposed to being hostile and resistant to anybody who’s different from us.

Actually, if it makes sense to not put God in a box, neither do people belong in one.  Let’s rather celebrate our differences instead of getting upset.  This is a good rule of thumb that can be applied to any situation where we don’t have the same outlook on life.  What if we don’t share the same political opinion? Praise the Lord for a wide variety of viewpoints!  How boring would the world be if we agreed on everything?  Praise the Lord for open-mindedness!  Could you imagine where we would be without curious and exploring people questioning the status quo?  Let’s be thankful for those questions, thankful for conflict arising out of these questions and thankful to God who guides us through the mystery and gives us peace in the midst of the unknown.

“Mystery in the mess is God’s faithfulness; He didn’t make the mess but sees us through. As we get swept away by the waves of His love we might as well enjoy the rocky ride” (Tides of Change by Bill & Evelyn Snyder)

John 1:1-2+14: “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”

The Word was God. (…) The Word became human and made his home among us.” 

Amazing stuff!  God, who has everything and does not need anything, became a human baby in need of everything – food, shelter, clean up.  We get the picture.  Babies die if not attended to.  So God became human and put His life into human hands.  In other words: the Word subjected Himself to the world He previously spoke into being.  Why would God do such a thing?

I believe God went out of His way to bridge the gulf.  God and His creation are not known to be a happily married couple; they look more like an estranged couple.  Even though God created the whole universe, including planet Earth with all its inhabitants, there is a serious disconnection going on between Creator and created.

It all began when the seed of distrust was sown, a long time ago, when the fateful words were spoken: “Did God really say?” Now there is fear, there is misinformation, and there is a lot of superstition.  Death puts the stamp of futility on everything we know.  Nothing stays the same.  Everything comes and goes.  The eternal God on the other hand is untouched by death and seemingly out of touch for us humans.

Then something extraordinary happened:  The Word became human.  The Immortal became mortal; He became one of us.  If this is not bridging the great divide, then what else does?  The God from afar came close, living in the here and now, putting a face to the Great I Am. Looking into His face we see love, and we see glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son: Jesus.

“There He was to everyone’s delight in the middle of the night. What a beautiful wondrous sight!” (Christmas Bolero by Bill & Evelyn Snyder)

Psalm 96: “Sing a new song to the Lord! Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!”

“Sing to the Lord a new song” indicates that the Lord is the author of newness and freshness. He especially does not copy and paste when it comes to relationships. Neither should we, or our relationships will become merely ritualistic and void of meaning. Challenging us to come up with a new tune for the Almighty, I think abandoning rituals is an element of this particular Psalm.

We all understand this is an  all-inclusive invitation (i.e. let the whole earth sing a new song to the Lord), which is not meant to turn us all into music composers and songwriters – although wouldn’t that be a fun experiment? We would come up with some innovative compositions for sure! Note that all the earth is included, animals, plants, humanity, everything that makes Earth our home planet, and that begs the question what exactly does singing a new song entail?

Everybody who knows me has to put up with my sunset and sunrise shots I publish on social media every time we run into a beautiful sky display. I’m a die-hard fan of sunrises and sunsets because they are never the same. The skies above literally sing a new song to the Lord every single day, and the glorious Sun finds a gazillion ways to appear and disappear on a regular basis. Well, here is our challenge: Can we be as varied as the Sun in our response to God’s faithfulness?

We can thank God in so many ways. As much as the sky is the limit, our creativity can know no bounds. We can sing to the Lord a new song simply by being real and personal in how we interact with the Lord. Who knows? If the Lord knows our heart’s language and understands exactly how we feel even if we run out of words, our prayers may display the color tones and hues of our varied and intricate emotions. In the eyes of the Lord our devotional time may very well look like the colors of dawn or the colors of a fiery sunset.

In closing the words of James Taylor from his song Close Your Eyes says it all:

“Well the sun is surely sinking down, but the moon is slowly rising.
So this old world must still be spinning round and I still love you.

So close your eyes, you can close your eyes, it’s all right.
I don’t know no love songs and I can’t sing the blues anymore.
But I can sing this song and you can sing this song when I’m gone.”

1 King 19:4: “Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

Have you ever been to a place of deep confusion? Bad news followed by more bad news without ever catching a break? If so, you’re in great company. In mankind’s story book, the Bible, we find characters too many to count, all at the end of their rope and ready to give up and die. In the book of 1 Kings we find a very depressed Elijah under a Broom Tree. A Broom Tree is a desert shrub. Living in Arizona we are familiar with the kinds of trees growing in the Sonoran desert, called Palo Verde, which translated from Spanish into English means “Green Stick”. Broom Trees are like that – desert sticks providing second-class shade.

If all we have for comfort is a scraggly little Broom Tree, we understand Elijah’s point of view that life ain’t worth living. What’s the purpose of running in circles like a lab rat? Why do we want to be here if we have no friends, if nobody cares about us, and if all we’re doing or saying is inconsequential? Hunted down like a criminal, why would we want to keep on running? We’re out of options, out of vision, out of courage, out of hope!

All of the above brought Elijah under a desert Broom Tree, exhausted and tired of life.

In a previous public showdown Baal’s prophets were challenged by Elijah to ask their god Baal to light a fire. As much as Baal’s prophets danced around a pile of wood, all their prayers went unanswered. When Elijah prayed to the God of Israel, a wet pile of wood lit up and was entirely consumed by fire. Making a public spectacle of the ineffectiveness of praying to false gods, Elijah knew firsthand that the God of Israel is real, awesome and above all gods.

When Elijah stood at the entrance of a cave on Mount Sinai, God Almighty showed up. He could have been represented by something big and terrifying, like a windstorm for instance, or an earthquake, or a raging fire. Interestingly, God chose to be in none of those, instead the story reads (1 King 19:12):

“And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”

Elijah listened. To get a more realistic take on a situation, we too need to listen to God, just as Elijah did. He learnt that he still had work to do. And contrary to his assumptions that he was all alone, the Lord counted no less than 7000 people who were on his side.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a celebrity? Most likely all the advertised features will cross your mind. However, once you’ve had the opportunity to be with the famous person, you will probably get to know a very different side, not advertised on billboards. The same is true when it comes to getting to know God. God’s billboard is worldwide. You can see His glory everywhere in Mother Nature; and as Job describes it, you can hear His glory in some crashing, fearsome thunderbolts (Job 37:5-6):

“God’s voice is glorious in the thunder. We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power. He directs the snow to fall on the earth and tells the rain to pour down.”

Thunderbolts are pretty awe-inspiring and can certainly get people’s attention; nevertheless, if we want to grow closer to God, we need to tune into His still small voice, the gentle whisper in our hearts. As depressed as we can be about a seemingly hopeless situation, it is never as bad as it looks. Seeking the Lord, listening to what He has to say, we will see that God always makes a way in the desert, and expertly guides us through the wilderness called life.

“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain”   
Dewey Bunnell