Dealing With Failure- Luke 15:20, Isaiah 54:8

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.

COMMENTARY

He arose, and came to his father. And his father saw him, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him
There is a great myth in our society that we cannot love a person unless we also sweep all their misdeeds under the rug. It is believed that if we call a behavior wrong, then by extension we must hate all people that participate in that behavior.
The parable of the prodigal son shows a father that loves his son perfectly, is eager to forgive, and accepts his son’s return without question. But at the same time, he never condones the boy’s wayward behavior. He never claims that sin is not sin. He is able to both disapprove of the boy’s mistakes and also retain his love for him.

In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee
I believe a major reason for the myth that we cannot be opposed to sin but still love the sinner is because anger is so often coupled with hate. As small children anger quickly becomes associated with things like neglect, cruel criticisms, and even physical abuse.
But anger, in and of itself, is not hate. And while hate is never a correct response to failure, sometimes anger is. When we let ourselves down it is possible to be upset with our behavior and call ourselves out for it, while also still immersing ourselves in self-love and care.

Dealing With Failure- Matthew 18:21-22

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

COMMENTARY

Peter said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, not until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Each of us must learn in life how to deal with those that disappoint and offend us. And while often we speak of that in terms of other people sinning against us, the truth is that the person who most often upsets us is our own self.
And in return, we usually are also our own worst critics, giving ourselves self-talk that is far crueler than what we would say to any other person. When we do something that lets us down, we mentally shake ourselves and ask when we’re finally going to get it right!
But I feel that Jesus’s counsel in this verse condemns withholding forgiveness from ourselves, as much as from another. And eventually, I started treating myself better after I felt God say to me: “Hey, don’t be so hard on Abe. I love that guy!”
We can forgive ourselves, be kind to ourselves, and still ask ourselves to grow and improve. In fact, our behavior is most likely to improve, when we set our expectations for ourselves with a heavy dose of self-love.

Count Your Blessings- 1 John 4:18-19

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
We love him, because he first loved us.

COMMENTARY

There is no fear in love; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love
It is impossible to properly love God when we are afraid. And the value of loving God is not only in rendering to Him what He is due, it is for our own benefit as well. For when people do not love God, they are not good to themselves or others. When people do not love God, and are instead afraid, they compromise their soul and make choices that they are ashamed of. Thus fear is not only unpleasant, it is one of the great destroyers of the self.

But perfect love casteth out fear
We love him, because he first loved us
Fear can be dispelled, but only by retaining a lively sense of love in our hearts. Where love is, fear cannot also be.
But how to obtain that perfect love that casteth out fear? It is not something that we have the ability to conjure up in ourselves. As we learn in the second verse from John, it is something that God gives to us first, and then we maintain it by loving Him back. Thus by regularly exchanging love with Him we keep our fears at bay and live as our best selves.
And inherent in that exchange of love is a remembering of that love. Every time we praise and give devotion to God, we signify that we recall what He has given to us.
Or, to work it backwards, those that regularly count their blessings are the ones in whom the cycle of perfect love is turning. They are constantly refreshing in their minds the reasons that they do not fear, the reasons that they know it is worthy to rely on the Lord. For He has already loved them once, and they remember it, and know that He will love them again.

Worthy Vessels- John 5:19, 1 John 4:19

Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

We love him, because he first loved us.

COMMENTARY

The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do
Each one of us has seen others doing good, and even been the recipients of that good. And having experienced this, naturally we desire to do good things to others, and we try to follow the pattern of those that showed us the example.
But those that did the good things to us were themselves only following the example of others who previously did good to them, and so on and so on. Each of these paths of goodness ultimately leads to the same singular source. As Jesus taught, even he only followed the example of his father. His proclamation is total: the son can do nothing of himself. He does not say that the Father taught one virtue and that then he, Jesus, riffed his own new ones off of it, he claims that any good act done on earth first had its template written in heaven.

We love him, because he first loved us
I have seen the truth of that in my own life. For many years I was fully capable of fearing God, but I couldn’t sincerely love Him until I felt His own love bursting into my soul. I had wanted to love Him, but I had to have Him teach me how. As Graham Cooke so eloquently put it: God loves us first, and then He allows us to love Him back with that love.

Graham Cooke’s message starts at 1:15, quote comes from 4:35

The Way That Things Are- Personal Example

I first thought of conducting this study after a recent experience with our newborn daughter in the hospital. She was still trying to get the hang of nursing, and it was a difficult task for her. She wanted to nurse, but she kept going about it the wrong way. She would bite, when she needed to suck. She would push away, when she need to pull in. She would lay idly, when she needed to work for it.

And through all this she became very frustrated. She needed nourishment, but she wanted it to come in particular ways, which ways were not in harmony with the ways of nature. At this point she had a choice. She could adapt to the way that things are, or she could try to force the world to work the way that she wanted.

Like most infants, she adapted. We are each born with a wonderful ability to recognize when we are being ineffective, and to learn from our mistakes. We feel resistance and we naturally align with the proper flow of things.

Imagine if my daughter had not done this though. What if she had thought to herself “biting, and pushing, and laying idly doesn’t give me the stream of nourishment I need…so therefore the stream of nourishment must simply not exist.” She could deny the existence of mother’s milk, she could even deny the existence of a loving mother. She could mistake the earnest efforts of that mother to correct her as being mean and punitive, refusing to meet her on her own terms.

Sadly, this sounds like a very familiar state of mind. Though we are born with the tendency to adapt and learn from our mistakes, as we get older we learn how to be more stubborn. We lean into our follies, even as they continually fail to provide us any gratification. And when our way does not work, we then deny that any right way exists at all. We claim that God must be a myth, or else He is a cruel being for not working the way that we want Him to work.

But the reality would remain what it was even so. If my daughter had chosen to deny milk, a mother, and parental love, all those elements would have existed even so. And if we choose to deny righteousness, God, and divine love, all those elements exist even so. They exist in the way that they do, and they are set in their nature. Thus it is up to us to adapt to their terms, not the other way around.

The Need for Refreshing- Psalm 143:8 (GNT), Lamentations 3:21-23 (NLT)

Remind me each morning of your constant love, for I put my trust in you. My prayers go up to you; show me the way I should go.

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

COMMENTARY

Remind me each morning of your constant love
We have just discussed our need to regularly recommit ourselves to God. We often forget the feelings of the past, and thus need to establish new connections to replace those which have grown stale.
Similarly, we also need to regularly be reminded of God’s love for us. Suppose He were to one time say to us “I love you, and I will love you forever,” and then never again profess His devotion to us. Though those one-time words should theoretically suffice, they never would. A single proclamation for eternity grows hollow within us over time. That is just our nature. What we need is a constant reaffirming of just how much we mean to Him.

The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

Ours is a transitory existence. We eat, but later again we hunger. We sleep, but later again we are fatigued. God professes His love, but later again we are doubtful. As a kind and patient parent, God does not despise our forgetfulness. He reminds of it us over and over, the same as we do to our own children. Each morning He is ready to tell us that He is just as committed to us as He was the day before. We feel His renewed pledge, and it rejuvenates to remake our own pledges as well.

Sacrifice and Consecration- Acts 9:1-2, 19-22

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests
But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.

COMMENTARY

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord
But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ
Saul was a very committed, very motivated man. He seems to have been a being of great power and capability, and one that struck fear into the hearts of the saints. Indeed he had a gift, but he put it to a terrible use.
When Saul was converted, two changes occurred in him, and I think it is important to note the difference between those changes.
First, he no longer breathed out “threatening and slaughter.” Indeed, some of the most beautiful messages of love and peace come from the epistles he later wrote.

  • 1 Corinthians 13:2- If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:13- And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.


It would seem that Paul sacrificed, or forever gave up, all of his hate and violence. He did not, however, become some meek simpleton. He was still just as committed, motivated, and powerful. Therefore it would not be appropriate to say that he “sacrificed” his gifts and talents. What he did do, though, was channel them to a new purpose. He consecrated, or set apart, these skills for the building up of God’s kingdom.
Coming to God entails sacrifice and consecration. Our evil parts are given away, but the good parts are repurposed for something higher.

The Family of God- 1 John 4:7-8, 11

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

COMMENTARY

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love
I think we all know that we are supposed to love each of God’s children…but sometimes we just don’t. How can we make ourselves feel things for those that we don’t know, or for those that irritate or even offend us? It seems an impossible requirement.
But then, when I look at my young son I realize that most of us were once able to love so freely, when we were still children. Children are able to love others as soon as they meet them, children are able to forgive and restore love instantly. But while growing up we become jaded and cynical, we start making stipulations to limit the affection we show our fellow man.
That does not have to be the end of the story though. The maker of all things is also the re-maker of the heart.
We must never forget that we did not invent love. We are not the authors of how it works. We are not the ones that set the rules for when it comes into the heart. All we have power over is whether we keep it out.
God is the gatekeeper of love, and the closer we get to Him the more love He gives us for His children, the more He restores our natural affection for all mankind, the more He binds us to them. Perhaps you cannot make yourself love another, but God can.

Service to Others- Moses 7:32-33, Galatians 5:13-14

The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

COMMENTARY

They are the workmanship of mine own hands…and also gave commandment, that they should love one another
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

These verses suggest that our selfish indulgences are misappropriations of the freedom God gives us. All people at all times have been given an inherent freedom in the form of being able to choose for themselves. Yet that freedom was give to us for a purpose, there is a reason to our liberty.
That reason, it would appear, is to “love one another” and by that love “serve one another.” In other words, because we are free we can then bind ourselves to whatever we choose. God’s hope is that we will choose to bind ourselves to Him and to our fellowman. Unfortunately, we all too often bind ourselves back to our own selves instead. We consider our own pleasure before all else, and resort to serving others only when we have something to gain by it.
I am supposed to be free and then make myself a servant to others, not make myself a slave to my appetites. So long as I fail to fit this part of my creation, I will feel incomplete. A hole inside that no amount of self-indulgence can ever fill. It is only in the giving of myself that I can ever find the full me.

Service to Others- Personal Example #1

One week ago I had an experience which was the catalyst for this whole study session. I had been thinking for a while about a couple in our neighborhood, and how I ought to bring them some cookies and ask how they’re doing. I always found reasons to put it off until later, but finally last Monday I decided “no, today I’m doing it.”

So I made the treat, packed my son in his push-car, and walked over to their house. They weren’t home, which was a bit disappointing, but after having finally committed to doing something good I decided that this moment couldn’t end in failure. My son and I looked for someone else to deliver the cookies to.

Three homes later we finally found a person at home. We had a brief, but nice chat, and left the cookies with him. I have no idea if he felt touched by the gesture or not, but I felt content in my heart.

That contentment stood out to me a good deal. In fact I noticed that my resolve to bring a treat to the initial couple almost entirely deflated. I still feel just as strongly that I should, but I don’t feel very motivated for it. As I did some introspection, it seems that I have two motivations for doing service to others. One is because someone I see someone specific that I think needs a kind act, and the other is because I generally need to do service to feel complete.

And so with my little excursion last week I satiated the general need, but not the specific one. For whatever reason, it is that general need that comes on more strongly for me, and without it I have difficulty in acting. I guess I just happen to have a stronger love for all mankind in general than for any random stranger.

That’s not an ideal way to be, but having recognized this weakness I accept that it is real, and I resolve to improve on it. And to that end, I am committing to try and reach out to that married couple again tonight. Because even if I do not yet feel strongly motivated, I can do it anyhow and so exercise my weaker spiritual muscles. I’ll report tomorrow how things go.