love

Passions

Have you ever lost your cool?

Or in a moment of weakness, have you ever made a decision you regretted?

If we’re to be honest, life is full of regrets. We regret the sins of our past, our bad decisions, the things that bring us shame and even the things no one knows about.

I think to a large degree this is one reason why many people skip church. Life can become one big guilt trip, and hearing a sermon about sin and impure motivations in the heart can compound that guilt.

Guilt is universal. The late Dr. J. Vernon McGee once said that he has never been the preacher, husband or father he thought he should be. A man who spent his life teaching millions of people through the Bible felt like he didn’t measure up.

And then there’s the Apostle Paul, who said in Acts 14:15, “ We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God.”

The like passions Paul experienced are the same ones Dr. McGee experienced, which are the same passions you and I experience. It’s the sin nature. It’s temptation. And all too often, we fall before it.

Yet Christianity goes beyond defining the problem of sin and temptation. Christianity teaches us about God’s grace, forgiveness and redemption from that sin and temptation.

Notice how Paul, in Acts 14:15 exhorted the people to turn from their sin to God. Obviously to please God, we must believe in Him and trust Jesus Christ as Savior. That involves the confession that sin is evil and the decision that we no longer want a part in it.

Yet, our passions pull us back in. At this point we truly see how awesome the grace of God is, because even though we continue to struggle and fall, God continually forgives us. He loves us in spite of our weaknesses and failures.

When I read Dr. McGee’s statement that he falls short, and when I read Paul’s statements about his shortcomings, and when James mentions Elijah’s passions in James 5, I am reminded that I am not alone. You are not alone. We all struggle with sin, and come short of the glory of God.

But God be praised, He loves us anyway.

Don’t let sin and shame keep you out of the Lord’s presence. He already knows all about it. Come on in, and let Him love you through it.

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Love

In Luke 6, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. In this episode of The Point, we discuss how Jesus taught us about love. He taught us what love is, why we should love, and whom we should love.

What stops love?

DSC_0213Fear.

The one obstacle to following the Biblical command to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love our enemies, is fear.

The Biblical commandments to love go beyond a tender affection toward others. The Biblical command to love involves putting that love into action. Indeed, the very meaning of agape love indicates that a personal sacrifice is made on behalf of the recipient of love.

This bears out in the way Christ taught us to love. In Luke 6:30, He says, “Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.” Then, in Luke 6:35, Jesus says, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.”

While we want to follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, the idea of loving so sacrificially can carry with it the fear that our love will not be returned, or even worse, those we help will turn around and hurt us. We fear the result would leave us empty handed, and looking foolish.

There’s not a person alive who hasn’t loved someone who in turn rejected or betrayed them. It’s not a good feeling. It can leave one jaded, angry, and fearful to love again. To find yourself in that state is to find yourself in a dark place.

Yet, we worship the Light of the world. Jesus Christ shined His light into darkness, dispelling sin, degradation and hopelessness. Perhaps our focus should be on the Light, as opposed to the possible darkness.

Fear of love comes from not trusting the Lord to work in the situation. It comes from not seeing the redemptive power of love, and not trusting the Lord to work through the love toward the redemption and well-being of the one loved. Without that faith, one can only see the risk, and the possible negative consequences.

Love is not a risk. Love is not a gamble. It’s not even an investment. Love is a promise. While the one to whom you show agape may reject or betray you, the Lord promises to bless you for that love.

You see, when you focus on the Lord as you show love to your neighbors and enemies, the same people He loves, then the risk of rejection and betrayal is no longer as big of a deal. It may still happen, but it’s secondary to the fellowship you build with your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the process. Furthermore, it’s secondary to the change and reconciliation that can come as a result of your love toward others.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., may not have changed the hearts of segregationalists and white supremacists in the South. Indeed, his efforts landed him in jail on multiple occasions, and even saw him assaulted numerous times. Yet, when we discuss the legacy of Dr. King, we don’t say, “There lived a man who was beaten and jailed.” We say, “There’s a man who forever changed our nation for the better.”

Was the change he made worth the suffering he endured? If he were alive today, I think he would say yes.

Let’s elevate this conversation.

Jesus Christ loves sinners. He loved the publicans and the sinners, and dined with them many times. Scripture teaches that He loves all people. The Lord, who loved people, took on the form of a person, and came and lived among us. He came to save us. Yet, mankind rejected Him, beat and tortured Him, then killed Him in the most brutal way possible.

Yet, His love for us, which propelled Him to the cross, accomplished something no one understood at the time. His death on that cross satisfied the need for judgment, and thus our sins are forgiven if we believe on Him.

He loved. He was rejected. He suffered. Yet, His love redeemed us. For Christ, was it worth it? In scripture, He says, “Yes.”

So, in Luke 6:38, Jesus says, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”

Far too often this verse is interpreted that we will be materially rewarded for love. In reality, this verse promises that your love will not be in vain, and by loving, you could very well change the world.

Love your neighbors and enemies, and keep your eyes on the BIG picture.

Leland Acker is the pastor of Life Point Baptist Church. Life Point meets for Sunday School at 10 a.m., Morning Worship at 11 a.m. Services are held at the Early Chamber of Commerce building at 104 E. Industrial in Early. This week, Bro. Waymon Childress will bring the morning message. 

What it means to love

WP_20141002_003Love is a word that has captured the imaginations and inspired poets, authors, artists and musicians for generations. If we took a snapshot of the music industry in the 1980s, we’d see a plethora of poetic explorations of love, including but not limited to, “Is This Love,” “Love Bites,” “The Greatest Love,” “Love Song (Love Will Find a Way)” and of course, “The Power of Love.”

Love is a word that is thrown around in modern society.

“I love that jacket.”

“I love the Dallas Cowboys.”

“I love L.A.”

“I love going to the beach during the spring.”

Love. Then there’s the ever present “I love you” spoken between romantic partners, whether love truly exists in the relationship, or not. Love is so commonly used in today’s language that it no longer carries the gravity it did when spoken by Christ and the apostles 2,000 years ago.

Periodically on this blog, I’ve written about the meaning of the Greek word, agape. Agape love is a self-sacrificial love that puts the needs of others above your own. Agape has a redemptive quality. It’s agape that propelled Christ to the cross. Agape.

The definition makes sense, but what does agape look like in action? How can I know if I truly love my brother, let alone my enemy? There are certain characteristics that identify agape love.

We’ll start with Paul’s explanation in I Corinthians 13.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth:

Agape love is marked by:

  • Patience
  • Unselfishness
  • Humility
  • Good behavior
  • Pure thoughts
  • Rejection of evil, rejection of wrongfulness
  • Rejoicing in truth
  • Belief
  • Hope
  • Endurance
  • Never ends, hence, it is unconditional.

So, when we ask ourselves if we love our brother, we must ask ourselves, “Am I patient with him?

“Is my friendship with him for my benefit, or his?”

“Do I gossip about him? Or do I reject rumors shared about him?

“Do I trust him?”

“Is my friendship with him contingent on what he can do for me?”

Philippians 2:4-5 concurs with 1 Corinthians 13, stating that love is outwardly focused, not inwardly focused. Love puts the emphasis on the other person.

Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

When you have agape love toward someone, you are not looking to see what you can get out of the relationship. You are looking at how you can meet the needs of the other. This is why the love from a parent to a child, or from our Lord to us are such powerful examples. A mother loves her son and sacrifices for him greatly, expecting nothing in return. Jesus left the glories of Heaven to suffer for mankind.

In fact, the passage in Philippians 2 speaks to that, saying “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus was in Heaven, enjoying a close personal relationship with the Father, and being praised by the angels. Life was good. Had Jesus been self-centered, He would have been minded to stay in Heaven. Instead, He looked not only on His on things, but also on our things, particularly, our need for salvation.

Therefore, He “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8) As I’ve stated many times, the love of Christ propelled Him to the cross to purchase our salvation. 

And that’s why Luke 6 teaches us to love, not expecting anything in return (Luke 6:35), because that’s who God is. And if we truly want to be conformed to the image of Christ, we will learn to love like Christ. Our focus will be on others without consideration for how we will benefit from the relationship.

So, with that insight from the scriptures concerning love, do we actually love each other? Do we look to each others’ needs? Or are we more concerned that our own needs are not met?

Let’s challenge ourselves to love one another this year. Look on each others’ needs, fears, scars and hurts, and see what you can do to help or heal. Learning to love one another like this will not only create a powerful environment in our lives, but it also brings us into closer fellowship with the Father, which will result in blessings beyond what we can imagine.

Leland Acker is the pastor of Life Point Baptist Church. Life Point meets for Sunday School at 10 a.m., Morning Worship at 11 a.m. Services are held at the Early Chamber of Commerce building at 104 E. Industrial in Early. This week, Bro. Waymon Childress will bring the morning message. 

Why Jesus said, “Love Your Enemies”

Sunday, November 17, 1957, the young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stepped into the pulpit at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, Ala., to deliver one of his most profound sermons, ever. The sermon, entitled, “Love Your Enemies,” taken from Matthew 5, not only presented a Biblical definition of love, and God’s commandment to have this love toward all men. It also outlined the philosophy of Dr. King’s Civil Rights Movement from that day forward.

The Civil Rights Movement had just secured a major victory after the Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery’s ordinances segregating the bus lines were unconstitutional. In the aftermath of that victory, Dr. King saw that his method of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience to the Jim Crow laws of the South could secure more freedoms for his people, and put an end to racial segregation.

However, Dr. King also realized that while those political, legislative and judicial victories could put an end to institutional racial discrimination, they could never put an end to racism, or heal the wounds left from America’s racial strife. Dr. King understood that for there to be true peace and equality, America had to be redeemed from its past, not defeated because of it.

Therefore, love became central to Dr. King’s message. In His sermon, “Love Your Enemies,” Dr. King said that God commanded us to love our enemies, not only because God is love, because God loves them, and He wants to redeem them, but because love itself has a redemptive quality.

“Love has within it, a redemptive power,” Dr. King stated. “And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals.

“That’s why Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies,'” he continued, “Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and transform them.”

Dr. King went on to say that at the root of love is the power of redemption.

This concept is not only a philosophy put forth by Dr. King. It was stated by Jesus Christ Himself in Luke 6:35-36:

But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

This love that God had toward us motivated Him to give His only begotten Son for our salvation (John 3:16). The love God had toward us redeemed us. We can extend that same redeeming love to others, and in doing so, we can see others transformed by the power of the Gospel into the people God created them to be.

Today, America is divided. Political discourse has grown harsh, cold, and even leads to physical violence. With each passing day, our society becomes more about us vs. them than it is about E pluribus unim.

With more sin and evil being propagated in our society, and more rancid division arising daily, it becomes easy to look at those on the other side as enemies, and work to defeat them. This runs contrary to scripture.

While scripture teaches us to hate sin and to hate evil, we are also commanded to love the sinner. While “love the sinner but hate the sin” seems to be a modern cliche, we are taught by the Word that if we love the sinner, we can see him redeemed from the sin. Isn’t that the goal that all believers should have toward non-believers?

So, as we move toward 2018, let’s make an effort to see people as God sees them. Let’s love people, and see the redemptive power of love come alive.

Leland Acker is the pastor of Life Point Baptist Church. Life Point meets for Sunday School at 10 a.m., Morning Worship at 11 a.m. Services are held at the Early Chamber of Commerce building at 104 E. Industrial in Early. This week, Bro. Waymon Childress will bring the morning message. 

Entertaining Angels

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Hebrews 13:2

“Y’all come on out and see me,” echo’ed the voice of Pastor Bill Simpson throughout the sanctuary of the Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church of Denison, Tex. “I have a credit card, and a bedroom. I’ll take you to dinner, and I’ll give you a place to sleep.”

It was the annual messenger meeting of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas, and Pastor Simpson was called upon to give the response to the welcome by the host church. Simpson had served as the pastor of Tall City Baptist Church in Midland, Tex., for as long as anyone could remember. He was well-known for his hospitality, generosity and kindness.

As pastor of Tall City, he worked to keep West Texas Baptist Institute in operation, published the Tall City Messenger, and supported missionaries worldwide. Those who had traveled through West Texas would tell you that Pastor Simpson would take in anyone who showed up at his doorstep. He loved fellowship, and he loved God’s people. Therefore, if any showed up to his door, he entertained them.

Pastor Simpson exemplified Hebrews 13:1, which says, “Let brotherly love continue,” as well as Hebrews 13:2, which says, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

When the Bible says to entertain strangers, it is commanding us to be hospitable. This thought is a continuation of the command to “let brotherly love continue.” God wants us to have a genuine affection for one another, for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and for everyone around us.

Pastor Simpson’s hospitality stood out in a world where we’d rather put someone up in a hotel room with a McDonald’s gift card rather than invite them in and cook them dinner, but there was a time when most Americans were as hospitable as Pastor Simpson. Hospitality is a dying courtesy in a world where we fear crime and value our privacy.

Still, if we are affectionate toward each other as scripture teaches, then we will also be hospitable.

Now, Hebrews 13:2 takes an interesting turn when it says “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

In the church where I grew up Spiritually, I was taught that this verse meant that we should be kind to everyone, because we never know when we are dealing with an angel in disguise who is checking to make sure we are showing the love of Christ to a lost and dying world. Therefore, I was always nervous when presented with a choice to give to a homeless individual, or whether to withhold out of suspicion that I was being scammed.

I have since overcome this fear by learning these three things. (1) I have learned that I will never regret generosity, (2) I have learned that if the recipient of my benevolence misuses it (if the homeless man to whom I give money uses it to buy beer), then he will be held accountable to God, not me, and (3) angels (as in the Spiritual beings) do not go around posing as homeless people in an effort to make you be more benevolent.

The context of Hebrews 13:2 is that the scriptures are teaching us to be affectionate, loving and benevolent toward each other. We are being taught how to love and interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is on that note that we are told to “entertain strangers,” that is to be hospitable to other Christians. (In the context of time, there were no Motel 6s where traveling Christians could stay. Their options were to sleep outside, stay at an inn and contract bedbugs, or stay with acquaintances or fellow Christians.)

The scripture then notes that by “entertaining strangers,” or being hospitable to Christian brothers and sisters, that some “entertained angels unawares.”

The word “angel” comes from the Greek word ang-eh-loss which simply means “messenger.” The angels who were Spiritual beings were merely messengers of God, as demonstrated in the books of Genesis, Joshua, Daniel, and Luke.

In other passages, the word “angel” is used to describe the pastor of a church, such as in Revelation 2:1, where Jesus says, “Unto the angel of the church at Ephesus, write….” That angel wasn’t a Spiritual being appointed to oversee the church at Ephesus. It was the pastor called to lead Ephesus. The message Christ dictated for John to write was intended for the pastor at Ephesus to deliver to his church.

So, given the context of Hebrews 13:2, the phrase “entertaining angels unawares” could very well be paraphrased, “you never know who you’re helping.”

While it is an interesting idea that Spiritual angels are checking in on us, a more powerful truth is that, by letting brotherly love continue and being hospitable, you may actually make a difference in someone’s life, who will in turn make a difference in the lives of hundreds of people. You never know if the person you are helping will one day become a great angel (messenger) like the great Billy Graham.

So be generous. Be hospitable. Be friendly. Help those around you as you have opportunity. You will never regret loving, and you will never regret the good you do, neither in this lifetime, nor when you stand before the Lord Jesus Christ on judgment day.

Leland Acker has served as pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. He is currently leading the congregation through a study of the book of Hebrews, which will conclude Sunday, Dec. 17, with a study of Chapter 13.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia_skyline_from_the_southwest_2015

Let brotherly love continue.

-Hebrews 13:1

Philadelphia. It’s probably the best known Greek word among Americans. Most know it as a city in Pennsylvania, where our founding fathers met and signed The Declaration of Independence. Others know the meaning of the name, brotherly love. Hence, Philadelphia is “The City of Brotherly Love.”

Known as the home of the Eagles, 76ers and Phillies, Philadelphia was named after a Greek word which means brotherly kindness. That word, Philadelphia, is the opening word in Hebrews 13.

Much has been made in theological circles about the different Greek words translated into “love” in the modern English language. Eros means romantic love, Phileo means brotherly love, or affection. Agape is the highest form of love. It’s the self-sacrificial love that has that redemptive quality.

Agape love is a fundamental doctrine of true Christianity. It was agape love that propelled Jesus Christ to the cross. It is agape love that a man is commanded to have toward his wife. It is agape love that Christ commanded his disciples to have toward each other. It’s agape love that we are to have toward our enemies.

This doctrine has been preached throughout the ages, from the Apostle John’s epistles to the 1st Century Christians, to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, efforts during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Agape is also a Spiritual gift, and should be a hallmark of the life of the believer in Christ. However, agape is not exclusionary. We are also to have phileo love toward one another.

Hebrews 13:1 begins with the word, philadelphia. This word is a variation of phileo. It carries the notion that brotherly love and affection is not merely a feeling, but an action. If phileo  is the feeling, then philadelphia is the action motivated by the feeling.

Scripture here commands us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, not only in an agape manner, but also in a phileo manner. We are to truly love and appreciate each other, and if we have the opportunity, to do good for each other. That means either helping in a time of need, or simply doing something nice for one another.

One spring day, a church member of Life Point called and asked to meet with me and my wife. Often, when these calls come, bad news will follow. The church member is leaving the church, has been offended, or there is a personal crisis happening. Not this time.

Upon meeting with this church member, she asked us if we would like to attend an upcoming “Weekend to Remember” retreat in The Woodlands, Tex. This would be a three-day weekend retreat, just the two us us, with Bible sessions, marriage improvement classes, and date nights. No kids. In fact, she volunteered to keep our kids for that weekend, which is a really big deal if you consider how many children my wife and I have.

The church member offered to pay the tuition, but hotels and meals were on us. We jumped at the chance!

She did not see us as having marital problems, nor was she trying to rescue us from a major calamity. Instead, she saw an opportunity to bless us, so she did. Her action was motivated by the fact that she not only had agape love toward us, but phileo love as well.

God smiles when we express our affection toward each other in these ways. And you don’t have to drop several hundred dollars either. Simply stopping by for a visit, taking someone out to lunch, or sending a card count as philadelphia.

Hebrews 13:1 in its entirety reads, “Let brotherly love continue.” The word “continue” comes from a Greek word which means to abide. It is a permanent presence. Brotherly love and affection should be a permanent hallmark of our lives together in Christ, and should be expressed through fellowship, benevolence and good will toward each other.

The old phrase “I love him, but I don’t like him” should never apply to our brothers in Christ.

It is with this context that we will learn new insight on Hebrews 13:2, where the Bible discusses the concept of “entertaining angels.” We’ll look at that tomorrow.

May God bless you today. Call up a brother or sister in Christ, and go spend some time together.