Love One Another

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It is very compelling to me that in all the Gospels, there is only one time that Jesus declared a commandment: “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17). A command means it’s not up for debate. Ah, but we do debate it, don’t we? “Who are the ‘others’?” “Did Jesus just mean fellow Christians?” “Did He mean everyone everywhere?” “And what did He mean by ‘love’?” We are much like the lawyer who asked Jesus “And who is my neighbor?” And Jesus told Him the story of the Good Samaritan. You know this parable from Luke 10: 25-37.

A man was beaten and robbed and left for dead on the side of the road where two very religious men passed him by on the way to do their religious duties. But a Samaritan, whom the Jews despised, stopped and helped the man, took him to an inn, and paid for his care.  When the lawyer asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” he wanted to know whom he was “required” to love. Jesus turned his question around by defining the neighbor as the one who gave love, not the one who received it. The one giving love is living out the second great commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).

So love your neighbor. But God doesn’t allow us to pick and choose our neighbors. He commands us to love the person He places in front of us. Sometimes that’s a hard love because they are prickly and unpleasant and downright hateful. They take and never give. They growl and complain. Does that mean we are excused from the love command? I think they are the very ones Jesus had in mind.

Several years ago I read something in “Reader’s Digest” that has stuck with me ever since: “Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.” I think sometimes we withhold love because are afraid we will be “cheated” – giving more love than we receive. But the very act of loving others fills the one who gives it all away. Here’s how John said it: “If we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” (1 Jn 4:12).  Beloved, the more love you give away the more of God’s love you have to give. Love each other – all the others – the way Jesus loves you (John 15:12).

Walking into the New Year

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I had no clue on January 1 what 2021 would hold, but God knew everything thing that was to occur in the next 365 days.  And as 2022 begins, He is equally aware of how it will unfold.  How can I be so confident?  Because Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last, and they are used to express completeness from beginning to end.  Three times in Revelation Jesus declares, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” and each time He adds a little more to His self-proclamation.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8).

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (21:6).

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (22:13).

Jesus is the Beginning of time (Genesis 1:14) and the End of time; because He is timeless (1 Peter 1:11). He called forth the first light (Genesis 1:3) and He will extinguish it and replace it with Himself (Revelation 21:23). He is the Beginning of all righteousness and the end of all evil (Matthew 25:46).

If you are in Christ, He is also the Alpha and the Omega of your life.  He is Beginning and the End of your day—He is there with you when you wake in the morning and when you lay your head down at night and every hour in between. He continues to watch over you through the night.  He is the First and the Last over your life—He was there when you drew your first breath, and He will walk with you into heaven when you draw your last, and He will never leave your side all the days of your life.

We do not know what 2022 will bring, what blessings and struggles, hellos and goodbyes, joys and sorrows.  But we can greet the coming year confident that the Alpha and Omega is already there.  Beloved, I invite you to begin the New Year with words of this beautiful old hymn:

I don’t worry o’er the future

For I know what Jesus said

And today I’ll walk beside Him

For He knows what is ahead

Many things about tomorrow

I don’t seem to understand;

But I know who holds tomorrow

and I know who holds my hand.

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow – words and music by Ira F. Stanphill, @ 1950.

Mary’s Treasure

I love Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth because, according to church tradition, it is Mary’s own recollections. Only Mary could recall intimate details about Gabriel’s visit the remarkable announcement: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (vs. 31-32). She remembered her question “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (v. 34), and the angel’s reply about the Holy Spirit’s part in the conception.

She even included the report about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy and her aged cousin’s joyful greeting, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed I the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (vs. 42, 43). And “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (v. 45). She remembered the song she sang: My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .”  (vs. 46-55).

Mary was the one who included Caesar Augustus’ decree that sent them to Bethlehem where her Son was born among the beasts of domestic life, bound up in rags, and laid to sleep in the animal’s feed trough.

Mary told about the shepherds who surely reported the angel’s proclamation to the parents. And the angel’s song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (2:14). Mary also remembered when Jesus was presented in the temple according to the law and the old man and woman who spoke powerfully about her son (2:25-38). Mary remembered Jesus when he was twelve years old, being separated from her and Joseph, and how He amazed the Jewish teachers by speaking with wisdom and authority beyond His years (2:41-50). And he amazed His mother by answering her scolding by saying, “Did you know I had to be in my Father’s house? (v. 49). Oh, how I wish Luke had picked her memory for more details of His childhood – clearly He was no ordinary child. Or maybe He was and the details are much the same as your childhood and mine.

Luke said that Mary, “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). I’m so glad she did because we have the most detailed, intimate account of our Savior’s birth and early glimpses of His ministry. Here’s my question for us both: What marvelous things has God done for you? Have you treasured them up in your heart (or written them down in a journal)? When someone (a grandchild, perhaps) asks you about your relationship with Jesus you will be glad you did.

Blessed Faith

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“Did that really happen? It must have been a dream. I have been so anxious over all the preparations Joseph and I are making – it must have caused me to have this strange dream.” Mary was traveling through the hill country of Judea on her way to visit her dear relative, Elizabeth. The angel in her dream had said something strange about her too – that she was going to have a child – in fact, he said she was in her sixth month. Elizabeth – of all people. She and Zechariah were too old to have a baby. Yes, this had to have just been a dream.JBut what if it wasn’t.Could she really be with child – with THE child – the Messiah? Why would he have chosen her? She was nothing special, wouldn’t God have chosen the wife of the high priest for such an honor? Someone in a lofty position in the temple, someone more mature, more wealthy, more righteous. No. She shook her head as if to shake loose the crazy idea. This was just not possible. She saw the familiar house and spied her relative in the doorway with her back turned toward the road. “Elizabeth!” Mary called out and gasped as the older woman turned to face her. The smile on her face was warm and welcoming, but the bulge under her dress was a shock to Mary’s heart. It was true! Elizabeth was pregnant! If that were true – then . . . “Mary! Dear Mary!” Elizabeth exclaimed, and then as if from deep within her spirit she began to speak. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for Joy” (Luke 1:42-44).

Oh, it was true! It was all true! Elizabeth was pregnant. That meant she really was pregnant too – with the Messiah! Then, as if reading the thoughts the younger woman had carried with her along the journey, Elizabeth took Mary’s hands in her own and said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (v. 45).

Beloved, faith is the sweetest blessing of all.

Faith in the Unexpected

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She stood in the dim light of the early morning with her hand over her belly and her heart full of awe and wonder at the life growing within her. It was all so surreal. She tried to remember every detail but it was so wonderful and frightening at the same time. She pulled her cloak tighter around her and noticed that she was trembling – fear mixed with excitement ran like shockwaves through her small frame. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:30). Then the angel said the most remarkable thing – that this child would “be called the Son of the Most High God” (v. 35). Oh my! Did he mean that she – Mary of Nazareth – would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah? She was a simple peasant girl from the nothing town of Nazareth.

In the stillness of the morning, the angel’s announcement still rang in her ears. She repeated aloud the words she said to him that day as if reassuring herself and reaffirming her willingness, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (v. 38).

Mary’s quiet, well-planned life was suddenly interrupted by God. Her highest aspirations were to marry Joseph and fill their home with lots of children. She was in a most scandalous situation, one that could have cost her her beloved, and possibly even her life. Yet she humbly surrendered herself to the will of God and embraced an unknown future with awe and wonder and faith.

When God interrupts our lives, it rarely comes preannounced by an angel. It usually involves a heart-wrenching phone call, a doctor’s sad face, a police officer’s knock at your door, your teenage daughter’s morning sickness, or a memo that the company is downsizing. We don’t often get advanced notice of life-altering occurrences as Mary did. Still, we can respond with the same humble submission and faith that she exhibited. Why? Because God is with us in the unexpected, just as He was with Mary. Because He still has a plan and a purpose. Because, Beloved, there is still nothing that is impossible with God.

The Church Jesus Loves

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“God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” Ephesians 1:22

Yesterday I wrote about the influence of the world on the church and how the church today has drifted away from God. That is on every member and every leader because we do not go to church, we are the church, and as the people go, so goes the church. But there is hope.  Jesus didn’t establish this band of believers and walk away. He is intimately connected with His church.  

Scripture says that the church is the living, breathing Body of Christ in the world.  And because He is holy, His Body is holy. Look around you today when you gather for worship.  These are holy people.  Not because they wear the right clothes or say the right things, not even because they serve or usher to teach or sing.  They are holy because as Hebrews 13:12 says, “Jesus… [made] the people holy through His own blood.” A congregation of people who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ makes up a holy church.

The church is also the Bride of Christ.  Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Him.” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Paul’s promise still stands as we wait for that glorious day when our bridegroom will come and take us home.  This is the picture behind Revelation 19:7: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.”  Do you see the beauty in the church being called the Bride of Christ?  The church is to be making preparations for that glorious day when the bride comes face-to-face with her adoring Bridegroom.  Listen to John’s description of her: “[She] shone with the glory of God, and [her] brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel.” (Revelation 21:11) 

Jesus loves the church and will never give up on her – on us. Together with all the saints past, present, and future, we are His holy Body and His beloved Bride.  Let’s get ready for our glorious wedding day.

But I don’t want to be a cattle rustler

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Genealogy is a big deal these days. But then again, it’s always been so. In the very early years of the nation of Israel, land rights, property, and position were determined by genealogical records. Many of the ancestral lines held certain positions for generations.  Like the lines of Issachar and Zebulun who, during the forty years of wilderness wandering were commanded by God to guard the tribe of Judah, the royal line from which the kings of Israel (and the King of Kings) would come. These two tribes took their charge very seriously. The Bible notes that almost a millennium later, the sons of the sons of the sons of Issachar and Zebulun were still at their post, protecting the king in his palace.

I love that. I love a strong, godly heritage that continues through the generations. I think of the family of Billy Graham and his many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who serve in ministry. I know of many families who have multi-generational pastors, missionaries, and ministry leaders. I love to see several generations crowded together on the church pew every Sunday. A godly heritage is a precious thing.

But maybe that is not your heritage. Maybe your family tree, like mine produced a lot of bad fruit and more than a few nuts. My maternal great-great-grandfather was a cattle rustler and my great uncle spent more of his life in jail than out of it. There is a long sinful thread running through my paternal family. Does that mean that I am destined to follow their paths? Not if God has anything to say about it.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  When He saved me, God gave me a new name, a new lineage, and a new future. I am now a child of God and my family lineage is that of Jesus Christ and all the saints who have gone before me.  My family heritage is godliness, obedience, endurance, faithfulness, righteousness, holiness, and blessedness. When the enemy tells me who I was I tell him who I am: God’s daughter. Beloved, don’t accept the lie that you can’t rise above the past. Take God at His Word and grab hold of the new life and the new destiny that awaits you in Jesus Christ.

Holy Sandpaper

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“. . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17).

One summer my mom asked me to repaint the porch swing so I grabbed some paint and brushes from the shed and headed toward the porch. She stopped me and said, “You have to prep it before you can paint.” We went back into the shed and she pulled out the electric sander and said, “You have to sand off the old paint and get the wood smooth.” And so I set to work, day after day sanding every inch of that swing. The wood had to be as smooth as glass before she pronounced it ready for primer and paint. That was more work than I bargained for, but in the end, that swing looked awesome!

When God wants to make a person ready for Himself, He also uses divine sandpaper to take off the layers of sin and worldliness and to smooth off our jagged edges. Sometimes He uses circumstances and situations that are rough – an illness, a job loss, a financial setback, sudden losses, unexpected responsibilities. But most of the time He uses people – at least it’s been true for me.

God has used “sandpaper people” to scrape off judgment and arrogance, to rub off selfishness, and strip away my “victim mentality.”  He used some of them to sand out my attitude of self-righteousness, to teach me humility, kindness, generosity, compassion, patience, and forgiveness.  But most of all, He exploded my understanding about His unconditional love when He called me to be a conduit of love into others’ lives.  Every person left an indelible mark on my life – some imprints of grace and forgiveness, some scars of wisdom, and some cracks in the wall I had built around my heart.

Beloved, who has God brought into your life that rubs you the wrong way? Maybe they are the very ones He is using to prepare you.  Maybe they are there to teach you some valuable lessons about grace, compassion, forgiveness, or discernment.  Ask God what He’s up to in your life and theirs.  Not every relationship is going to be sunshine and roses – some people will bring on the rain.  But rain makes the roses grow and their fragrance is a sweet aroma.  Above all remember – every person is a soul God loves and Jesus died to save.  That’s reason enough to love them.

Devoted

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I’m writing a paper for my grad class on Romans 12:9-21. Paul wrote the book of Romans to address the tension between the Jewish and Gentile believers.  He explained that they were all sinners in need of God’s grace through Jesus Christ and that God didn’t favor one group over the other. Then he told them how that grace should be lived out every day as a community – a unified body.  He talked about choosing good and overcoming evil.  He talked about being zealous in serving the Lord, about being Joyful, hopeful, patient, generous, and hospitable.  He talked about how to endure persecution with grace. All good stuff and all very important.  But the verse that keeps drawing my attention is “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (v. 10). I have to ask myself, “Am I?” and I don’t like the answer.

The word “devoted” implies affection that parents feel for their children (and grandchildren). It is tenderness and compassion. It is concern and earnestness to do what is best for the beloved. If you know me at all you know I am “devoted” to my granddaughter and I will do whatever is necessary to care for and about her.  I know you feel the same toward your own children and grands. But how am I toward those outside of my own home? Not as devoted if I’m honest. Ah, but in my defense, I’m busy. I work. I’m a grad student. I am very involved in caring for Joy. I teach Sunday School. I write every day. I’m trying to keep my household running. (I don’t cook much – props to my husband.)  And your life is very full as well. We probably all feel that we’re doing the best we can.

I think busyness is one of the devil’s favorite tools for shutting down real relationships – and real evangelism. With work, school, family, church, and community responsibilities, we just don’t have a lot of time to get involved in other people’s lives.` But then again, it comes down to love, doesn’t it? I don’t know . . . maybe this word is just for me today.  Maybe not.  The truth is we will always make time for what we love: making money, sports, entertainment, leisure, T.V., scrapbooking, gaming, Facebook . . .  and hopefully squeeze in some time for Jesus, Bible study, prayer, and people. Beloved, who or what are you devoted to?

Peace, Love, and, Baseball

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Several years ago my husband was a Little League umpire. He stood behind the plate looking over every pitch and called them “balls” or “strikes.” He also called players out or safe as they came to home plate. His call was the rule on the field. Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15). He uses a word that brings to mind the modern-day umpire. He said that peace should always govern everything we do. The context for this passage is speaking of community life (vs. 12-14) and he is saying that we should determine what will bring peace to the Body of Christ and in situations with others and respond accordingly. Let peace be the rule.

Now, this was originally going to just be a post about having peaceful relationships, but two things literally just jumped out at me. First, Paul said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” While his context is the community, this is also a personal word. You let peace rule in your heart. It’s our responsibility. Then the word, “Love.” When he spoke of community life in verses 12-14, Paul said, “over all these [compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness,] put on love which binds them all together” (Col. 3:14). And suddenly it all makes sense. Love is the driving force of peace. I can be compassionate and kind and humble and gentle and patient and even forgive, but if I fail at love – “sincere love” as Paul commanded in Romans 12:9 – I will not have peace. Oh, the exterior may look good, but without love, these actions are forced at best and resented at worst – and there is no peace in my heart. And eventually, that exterior peace erodes. And isn’t that the point of 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter?” If I have gifts and faith and can preach and teach and even perform miracles, but don’t have love – “I am nothing” (v. 2). 

Look at the world around us. What are people crying out for? Peace. But what do they need to have peace? Love. Sincere Love. God’s love. When we “know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16), there will be peace – in our hearts, in our homes, in our churches and communities, and in the world. Beloved, you and I are called to be the catalysts of peace by being the conduits of God’s love in a broken, angry, dark world. Maybe even in your own home. Let love be the rule and peace make the call.