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Archive for April, 2016

It was Jonathan Swift, in Gulliver’s Travels, who said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Swift’s characterization is far too often true of Christians. This is why we need to know that the primary evidence of spiritual maturity is a growing love for God, for fellow believers, and for others.

The Apostle Paul exhorts fellow believers to, “Be imitators of God, and beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved us, and gave Himself for us” (Ephesians 5:1-2). What he is saying is this: Since love is the essence of the nature of God, then love must be an essential element of a believer’s character. In our day-to-day living we are to display the love of God in everything we do.

But what exactly is God’s love? And how do we walk in it? The finest definition of what love is can be found in chapter 13 of First Corinthians, especially in verses 4 and 5.

Love is patient. The word “patience” here refers to people more than to situations and circumstances. People who experience love are tolerant and slow to anger. Anyone who possesses agape love will not be overly restless or short with others. Rather, he or she will exhibit a gentle, patient spirit, even when wronged.

Patience is not necessarily achieved overnight. To give you a better indication of how much loving patience you have in your life, ask yourself these questions: “Do I have difficulty waiting patiently on the Lord, or do I tend to run ahead of Him? Do I feel overly anxious and impatient in times of trials and difficulties? Am I impatient with the weaknesses of others?” If you answer any of these questions in the affirmative, you need to seek God’s direction through prayer.

Love is kind. The Greek word for kind in this verse is not found anywhere else in the New Testament. Paul may have coined the word himself. It refers to a pure kindness, a genuinely gracious behavior. A Christian can display kindness on the surface, but still possess a critical, even selfish character within. However, a kindness produced by God’s love will create an unquestionable tenderness in your behavior. In an uncharitable, unsympathetic world you will be God’s instrument to draw people to Him.

Love is not jealous. In other words, it is not prompted by selfishness or greed by the gains or possessions of others. A believer in love with God will be content and even pleased when others are successful. It is a part of our fallen human nature to covet another’s possessions or successes, but the love of God overshadows and neutralizes those desires by causing us to be content in Him. It is how Paul could say, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself” (Philippians 4:1). For the believer who is walking close to God there is no room for jealousy.

Love is not arrogant. The Greek word for arrogant means “puffed up with pride.” William Barclay puts it this way: “inflated with its own importance.” Love and pride are in direct opposition to one another. They cannot rightly coexist. Being “puffed up” with one’s owns importance directly violates the sovereignty of God. Those who are overly impressed with themselves tend to trust their own wisdom and knowledge before seeking God’s will in prayer.

Love is not easily provoked. In other words, it is not touchy, irritable, or prone to “fly off the handle.” Persons infused with the love of God will not become exasperated with people. They will exhibit a gentle, patient disposition, handling frustrations in stride. The ability to control one’s temper does not develop overnight. Walking in love is the best protection against a fiery temper, for it is then the love of Christ that controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Measured by the truth contained in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, do you “walk in love?” Be honest!

 

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Making regular trips to the grocery store to purchase food or many of the other things we need to live in today’s world makes us aware of the high cost of living. We are not as aware as we should be of the high cost of loving. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . .”  (John 3:16). This is the story of the Incarnation – from our Savior’s birth in Bethlehem to a Roman cross on a hill called Golgotha. This is the ultimate example of love, and it is the pattern and model of love that every Christian is enjoined to manifest to others.

There is absolutely no way anyone will ever be able to fathom the price of true love as it is demonstrated by Christ’s crucifixion and all that it means to us in respect to our relationship to God. “But we see Jesus,” said the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, “who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). It is the kind of love that we see demonstrated in Jesus that we are to extend to the human family about us. “This is my commandment,” said Jesus, “that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Chet Bitterman was a young man who knew the high cost of loving, for he gave his life attempting to share Christ’s love with others. Kidnapped by terrorists who were hoping to force the Summer Institute of Linguistics (a part of Wycliffe Bible Translators) out of their country, Bitterman was held for ransom, which ended in his murder. He was given the task of working with the Caryona-speaking Indians of Columbia, South America in their native language.

Terrorists disguised as policemen knocked on the door early one morning at 6:30 a.m. When the door was opened, six terrorists, hooded and armed with machine guns, rushed in. They were looking for the director of the Bogota Summer Institute of Linguistics office. When they could not find him, they instead chose Chet Bitterman, apparently because he seemed to be the one in charge.

Four days later they made their demands: “Chet Bitterman will be executed unless the Summer Institute of Linguistics and all its members leave Columbia by 6:00 p.m. February 19th.” The Wycliffe Bible Translators had already adopted a policy that they would not submit to the demand of Chet’s captors. Several days passed as negotiations were attempted to save Chet’s life, but these were unsuccessful. Apparently drugged, Chet was driven around the city of Bogota by his captors in a hijacked minibus. After a few hours they pulled over and shot Chet once in the heart and fled.

Chet’s death came as a shock, but the love of God in the hearts of Chet’s wife and parents was so great that the tragedy was viewed in the perspective of God’s perfect and sovereign will. Chet’s wife remarked, “We committed him to the Lord a long time ago . . . We have perfect peace.” Chet’s entire family was fully aware of the price of loving.

Loving others as Christ loved us cost Chet Bitterman his life. There will always be a cost involved when we love in the way that Christ loves. It costs to love the addicted and perverted, the selfish and the corrupted, those who are members of classes and races other than our own, our neighbors down the block, or perhaps even some of the people with whom we worship in our own churches. It costs to love, as Jesus said, “those who have persecuted us and despitefully used us.” But that is what Jesus Christ has asked us to do. Our great God who gave us His love extends His love for others – through us.

The truth is that loving others as Christ loved us will possibly involve sacrifice, pain, suffering, discomfort and inconvenience. At the same time, the very effort to love serves to stretch our souls and enlarge our capacity for enrichment. “He who does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14b). We see this fact demonstrated every day in the lives of people we know. We are truly alive only when we reach out in love – even if it does or does not secure a positive response.

Christians are not responsible for how others respond; we are only responsible for being obedient to Christ’s command that we pattern our love for others after His love for us. If you haven’t done so already, why not try it?

 

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I knew when I was fifteen years old that God was calling me to become a Christian minister. In December, 1949, three months into my sophomore year as a ministerial student in Mercer University, the Bethsaida Baptist Church in Dublin, Georgia called me to become their pastor. I was just three months past my eighteenth birthday. I am amazed that any church would have the audacity and courage to call someone so young to be their spiritual leader.

Sitting in that congregation was a beautiful young lady named Jessie Lord. Neither of us knew at the time that she was destined to become my bride – not that I would have objected to the idea! It is just that God planned it before the idea crossed our minds. The following summer I traveled to a grocery in Dublin to purchase a box of salt my mother, who lived 18 miles away in a small town, had asked me to bring when I came home at the end of that day. I believe it was God’s will – and my good fortune — that Jessie happened to be driving out of the parking lot as I was entering.

At this point the plot begins to thicken. I told Jessie that I needed to earn some extra money during the summer. My salary as a pastor was a whopping $35 per week. She said she thought she could get me a job measuring land for the Production Marketing Association where she worked. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity, went for an interview the very next day, and was hired. She supervised 15 or 16 other ladies in the office. All sixteen of them went to lunch from 12:00 noon to 1:00 PM each day. Jessie went to lunch from 1:00 – 2:00 PM. Naturally, I started going in to get my map assignments from Jessie when the other girls were at lunch.

The plot thickened even more at the end of that summer. She and I, along with her best friend and her date made plans to attend the Georgia state fair fifty-five miles away in Macon. The fair was so crowded that we had to walk very close together. You know, of course, that I was just doing my pastoral duty! You believe that, don’t you? A friend recently described me as being “A man with a plan!” Six weeks later I asked her to marry me, and she accepted. Eight months later we stood at God’s altar and pledged our lives to each other in marriage and jointly to God.

When the wedding service was over, we began our exciting journey toward Daytona Beach, Florida on our honeymoon. We stopped at the St. Mary’s Motel near the Georgia – Florida line to spend our first night together. The following morning we drove past Jacksonville to St. Augustine and were on the Old Fort when Jessie said, “Over there on the other side of the fort I see one of my former pastors. I would like for you to meet him.”

Jessie introduced me to him by saying, “Brother Bowen, I want you to meet my current pastor. We left Dublin yesterday, spent the night at the St. Mary’s Motel near the Georgia – Florida line, and are on our way to Daytona Beach.”. She had never introduced me to anyone as her husband before, and since she had told him I was her pastor and that we had spent the previous night in a motel, I said to her, “Shouldn’t you tell him that we got married yesterday?”

We were married on August 18, 1951. That was nearly sixty-five years ago. One week ago God called her home to be with Him. No pastor, literally no pastor, ever had a more faithful wife with whom to serve the Lord. She was as committed to being a pastor’s wife as I have tried to be as a pastor. She was the kind of mate and teammate that every pastor needs to fulfill his or her calling. We were a team. Her numerous spiritual gifts were totally dedicated to the Lord in all of the churches where we have served. These spiritual gifts God used to touch lives in unique and special ways.

My heart is heavy, of course, but God is faithful and will supply my every need in the days ahead. I like the words written by an anonymous author: “Grief never ends . . . . But it changes. It is a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith. . . .It is the price of love.” Those who do not love do not care.

I was holding Jessie’s right hand when she slipped away to be with our Lord. Our daughter, Gail, was holding her left hand. At a time of God’s choosing, I will meet her, the love of my life, at the front door of the Father’s House. – “the house not made by hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

 

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Is there a greater quality needed in churches today than endurance? I doubt it! On an average Sunday morning in most congregations, maybe fifty percent of the members are present for worship. Many who are absent came in the front door – but somewhere along the way they went out the back door. What they lack is endurance. They want to go to heaven when they die, but regular worship until then is just not that important.

The word “endurance” brings to mind different pictures of strength, commitment, and fulfillment. It is also a word of respect, reflecting the positive quality in a person’s character. The dictionary defines endurance as “the ability to last; to continue; to bear or tolerate pain and discomfort without flinching, quitting or letting down.” In other words, it describes someone who has begun a journey and does not falter or turn aside.

We are familiar with the importance of endurance in athletic competition. Running a marathon (26 miles, 385 yards) requires tremendous endurance. The athletic event requiring the most endurance is likely the Tour de France, the premier cycling event in the world, for it stretches out over twenty-four days and covers 2,500 miles of difficult terrain.

The word “endure” corresponds with a Greek word which literally means “to remain under.” In the New Testament it refers to preserving something while under trials, and holding on to one’s faith in Christ (Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:2), but it is much more active than that. In the Christian life endurance is a key principle for spiritual stamina and growth. It is the quality that enables the believer to acknowledge and serve the Lord through the most difficult circumstances.

“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials; knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). From this passage, we can observe three specific purposes for endurance:

  • It serves to discipline us. God treats us as sons and daughters when He disciplines us, for discipline builds up our faith. As our love for Christ increases, so does our capacity to endure hardships, because our faith and trust in Him rests in the knowledge that He will always do what is in our best interest, as well as His.
  • It helps to mature us spiritually. Spiritual maturity is, in many respects, like climbing a mountain. At the start, you intensely contemplate the climb. Apprehension sets in as you think of the complications along the way. As the journey proceeds, fatigue begins to set in. Your legs become weak and your feet become sore. You start to slow down and maybe entertain thoughts of quitting and turning back. But as one challenge after another is conquered, you keep on going. As you get near the top, the hardships of the climb become less threatening and less annoying. Finally you reach the peak because you possessed endurance.
  • It helps to complete us. Endurance is one of the most important virtues a Christian can possess. It is that all-encompassing trait that will survive anything the world forces on us. It is the one complete quality helping us to “run the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith “ (Hebrews 12:1-2).

The world will listen to Christians who are sincere, dedicated, and possess the quality of endurance. Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

 

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