The Killeen carnival left this week, coincidentally just in time for Ash Wednesday. So, what does the carnival and Ash Wednesday have in common?
Carnival comes from the word “meat” (carne) and “leave” (Latin: levare). Historically, Roman Catholics and other believers have said “goodbye to meat” on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during the season of Lent.
Whether or not you forego meat in the upcoming days before Resurrection Sunday, I encourage you to add a little more “spiritual meat” from the Word of God to your spiritual diet.
The King James version translates Heb. 5:12 this way, “Ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.”
Too many Christians are having to be bottle-fed rather than digesting the stronger meat of the Word of God. Twice in the Bible (see also 1 Cor. 3:1-2) Christians are told they are so spiritually malnourished that they could not handle solid “food.”
So what should be our spiritual diet of both milk and meat, or basic and deeper spiritual truths? To answer that, let’s do a little time travel.
First, let’s go to the time of Moses, when the great prophet told God’s people they should love God with all their heart, soul, mind and might (Deut. 6:5). If we were to build a food pyramid of spiritual nourishment, loving God would absolutely be foundational.
Go forward in time (or if you don’t have a time machine, flip a few pages forward in your Bible) and see in Leviticus 19:18 to perhaps the most hidden but important verses in the otherwise tedious book: “Do not take vengeance or hold grudges against your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”
Yes, you know that verse, but probably not from Leviticus. Go forward in time just a little more and see how Jesus takes that obscure verse and turns it as well as a testy little lawyer on his ear. (Still no time machine? OK, turn to Luke 10:25-37.)
You know this story. Jesus deepens the law student’s diet from milk to meat by telling him that he was not only to just love his neighbor, that is people of the same area, nationality and race. He was also to love those dirty, filthy foreigners like the “Good Samaritan.” Twice Paul said that loving your neighbor as yourself summarized all the commandments (Rom. 13:9 and Gal. 5:14). James 2:18 calls it the “royal law.”
But wait. There is one more time travel we must do. Go forward to the end of the first century. John, the beloved disciple, is no longer a young, strapping fisherman, a son of thunder (Mark 3:17) ready to call fire down from heaven on those who disagree with him (Luke 9:54). He’s now old and tired, scars on his body from living a martyr’s life, the sole survivor of all of the original disciples. He’s writing down the final eyewitness testimony, telling memories otherwise untold in the previous gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
“My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work,” John recorded Jesus as saying in John 4:34. John strains his mind to recall anything from 60 years earlier. Suddenly Holy Spirit seizes him. How could he and all of the disciples forgotten that? “A New Commandment,” Jesus said!
In my time machine, I imagine the Apostle John suddenly feeling the surge of energy of that young disciple brain-picker that he was when Jesus called him off the boat! For more than a half a century, no one had written down the “New Commandment” Jesus had given them on the night before his betrayal and crucifixion.
You see, love is not just for our neighbors; that is, those near us. Love is not even merely to love others as we love ourselves. No! Jesus’ new commandment (surely John slapped his forehead as he remembered and recorded it!) was even greater than loving others like the Samaritans, Gentiles, Romans and, yes, even the Syrians.
John scribbles hurriedly, looks at the parchment and drops the pen. “Now this is love,” he says to himself, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son.” He dabs his moistened eyes as he reads it again, then holds those words to his chest, hearing again the almost forgotten words of the Master:
“A New Commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) He will write it again in John 15:12, 1 John 2:8 and 1 John 3:16.
After penning those words which had never been recorded before, surely John sighed with a contentment like one would have after eating a full-course meal! Love others as He loved us.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11)
Tim McKeown is the associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Killeen and blogger at timothymckeown.blogspot.com.