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).

The Measure of Love

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When I am being a little lazy and I want something to drink, I’ll ask my husband “How much do you love me?” He will answer “With all my heart.” Then he’ll ask, “What do you want?” I’m really not trying to “measure” his affection, besides, there’s no tape measure long enough to gauge love.

Paul said, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19.

How high is the love of God? Psalm 103:11 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him.” Man may have climbed to great heights through space exploration, but we have yet to pierce the highest heavens. God’s love exceeds heights man can never reach.

How long is the love of God? Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” God loved us before time began, and He will continue to love us throughout all eternity. His love for you and me will never end.

How deep is the love of God? “Jesus Christ, being in very nature God…made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…humbled Himself…to death” (Philippians 2:6-8.) Jesus Christ stepped from the glory of heaven and humbled Himself all the way to the depths of the grave for you and me.

How wide is the love of God? “Carrying His own cross, He went to the place of the Skull. Here they crucified Him” (John 19:17-18) Jesus willingly stretched His arms out to their full span, so His hands could be cruelly nailed to the cross.

Beloved, you will never be able to measure the love of God, but you can trust it. It’s a firm foundation on which to build your life, and it’s a sweet, soft pillow on which to rest your head at night.

Will God Give up on Me?

God's Unfailing Love Loving-kindness – Mercy – Kindness Goodness – Favor – Steadfast  Love – Loyalty. - ppt download

I love the power of God. I love the truth of God. I love the sovereignty of God, the grace of God, the wisdom of God, and the goodness of God. I love the kindness of God, the strength, creativity, and mercy of God. But you know what I love most? I love the stubbornness of God. I love His tenacity, His persistence, His doggedness. Because God doesn’t give up on those He loves.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had people who once said they loved me to give up on me. I became too much for them – or in the case of a broken marriage, too little. But God has never and will never. Oh, I am sure I have disappointed Him, frustrated Him, and made Him sigh. If God has a last nerve, I have no doubt I’ve gotten on it more than once. But He has never even contemplated walking away from me no matter how rebellious, foolish, reckless, and just plain stupid I’ve been.

Listen to His promise in Isaiah 54:10:  “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord who has compassion on you.” Nothing in all the world can make God stop loving His children.

Pastor and songwriter Frederick M. Lehman wrote a beautiful song simply entitled, “The Love of God.” The third verse, which is my favorite, is said to come from a cell wall, written by a prisoner some 200 years before Lehman wrote the first two in 1917. They are a translation of an Aramaic poem, “Haddamut”, written in1050 by Rabbi Meir of Worms, Germany.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

No, Beloved, God will never give up on you because His love will never fail (1 Corinthians 13:8). It is the most certain thing in all the universe. God loves you. Let your heart rest in that assurance today.

For the One Who is Losing Hope

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It’s been such a hard year and a half for the world. So much tragedy and pain and loss and anger. So much despair and hopelessness. I see you, friend – struggling to hold your head up. This message is for you – the one who is losing hope. I know how that feels. I have been there. When you think that these hard days will never end, the pain will never stop, the sin will never leave you, the loneliness will never go away. When you wonder if there’s any point in going on.

Please hear me: there is a reason to keep going – you are only in the middle of your story. When I read a book, and the plot twists put the heroine in a desperate situation, I know there are more pages and chapters for the story to turn around. But when we are in the middle of our life story, we think this is all there is, and this is how it will always be. But there are more pages and chapters to come. And with them comes hope. Because the Author of your story is the God who loves you, and He is writing a glorious turnaround for you. He sees your story from beginning to end. He sees you in the middle, where the struggle is now – and He sees you on the other side, whole, stronger, at peace.

Psalm 33:11 says “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” He has a plan and a purpose for your life – and for this present season that seems unbearably hard – and He has the power to fulfill His plan. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). He never leaves anything unfinished. And that includes you and me.

If life is hard right now, remember that this is one page in the story of your life – but it’s not the whole story. The struggle, the pain, the ache you’re feeling now is not the final word. Let God keep writing your story. Trust Him to turn the plot around. Beloved, as long as there is breath in your body, your story is not done – there is hope. Please keep reading – the best is yet to come.

Solid Rock of Love

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It was a very draining weekend– physically and emotionally. I’m struggling to be spiritually insightful this morning. I really just want to sit on my back porch swing and listen to the birds greet the morning sun. My dad’s health is failing. I’m fighting to stay motivated in school and especially to finish my final paper. A friend and spiritual mentor is struggling in her faith. We endured a lot of drama with a loved one yesterday. I had to fold our campus Bible study for lack of participation. Finances are very strained. And I miss my granddaughter. I told God, “I don’t just need you to speak through me this morning – I need you to speak to me.” As I skimmed the Psalms – that’s a great place to go when you’re down – God gently pointed to a verse.

“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ Your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought Joy to my soul” (Psalms 94:18-19).

Yes, it feels like I am slipping. So much has been shaken in my life recently – except God’s love. As I lean my weary self against Him, I find strength. He embraces me with His goodness, kindness, and grace and braces me with His never-ending, never-failing, ever-faithful love.

Yes, anxiety has nearly beaten me up lately. I know, I’m supposed to be “anxious for nothing,” but I confess that I’ve been anxious for a lot. But God hasn’t berated me. Instead, He has comforted me through His Word and through dear brothers and sisters in Christ who have reminded me that He is still very much in control of all these things that worry me. And then we got to Facetime with Joy and that did my heart so much good.

Yes, I desperately need God’s love and consolation. I’ll bet you do too. Life gets hard sometimes. God knows that. He cares about what you care about because He cares about you. Beloved, when everything around you is shaking, He is the solid rock of love.

This is My Testimony

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I was always a church kid. From the cradle roll in the church nursery to a “sunbeam” with perfect attendance bars cascading from my pin.  I “asked Jesus into my heart” and was baptized when I was 9. I tried hard to live by the rules, but always had a nagging sense that something was “off.” So I tried harder. For every time I fought with my brothers or disobeyed my mother, I sentenced myself to extra chores as penance.  I swore I would do better – that I would be better. I repeatedly “rededicated my life to Christ,” And I failed more and more. As an adult I heard preachers talk about thinking they were saved, even serving in ministry, only to discover that they were really not. Surely that was me. So I would pray the “sinner’s prayer” again and wade through those baptism waters trying to get it right.  I was convinced that I had to do and say all the right things to be saved and finally stop the cycle of sin in my life.

Then in my late 30’s through the Scriptures, I came to understand grace. Paul said, “It [meaning God’s compassion to sinners] does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:16). A light dawned in my heart and I realized that it wasn’t anything I did or anything I was that saved me. It was the work of Christ because of the love of God that saved me. The only thing I contributed to my salvation was realizing that I was a sinner in need of a Savior.  I surrendered to His amazing mercy and grace and was set free from the demands of my own guilt and shame. I am no longer driven by the need to be good enough for God. Now I am driven to live by the Word and the Spirit. I desire righteousness, not doing everything right.

Mine isn’t one of those “powerful testimonies” of Jesus saving me out of a life of debauchery – though I was just as lost as the ones who were. But I’ve discovered that it is a testimony a lot of people who live a frustrated Christian life can connect with. Beloved, God didn’t save you because of you, He saved you because of Jesus. And Jesus is enough.

Are You Hiding From God?

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“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?'” (Genesis 3:9)

Did God really not know where Adam and Eve were? Is it possible that the omniscient, omnipresent God was clueless to His beloved creation’s whereabouts and actions? Not a chance. I believe God was asking Adam, “Do YOU know where you are?” “Do you realize what you have done?” They had walked with God every day in the goodness of His creation, but now they feared His presence and thought they needed to avoid their Creator. Sound familiar?

When you and I fall to the temptation of the enemy, when we surrender to sin, our first inclination is to hide, to cover ourselves so God can’t see our shame, and to avoid Him at all costs. But do we really believe that He is unaware of our actions? Do you think God doesn’t see us cowering in the bushes? We can’t hide from Him. We can’t cover up our sin. But the love of God can (1 Peter 4:8). The blood of Jesus covers over our sins and makes us acceptable in God’s sight.

When David sinned, he tried to dismiss it, but it was futile. Eventually, he had to confess “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3). You and I know that too. We can try to dodge it and hide it and pretend it didn’t happen. We can even rename it and make it sound like less than a sin, but it’s always there. When David finally came clean with God, confessed his sin with brokenness and sorrow, he found sweet forgiveness. His spirit was renewed, The Joy of God’s salvation was restored and he now had a testimony of redemption. (See Psalm 51)

Where are you? What are you trying to cover up? God knows all about it. It’s time to bring your sin out of hiding. God will forgive you. He will hide your sin under the blood of Jesus. He will restore your Joy and turn your failure into a beautiful testimony. Come out of the bushes Beloved, your God stands ready with arms open wide.

Happy Valentine’s Day

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Is it possible to define the love of God? The best “definition” of God’s love is found in “The Love Chapter.” It is read at many weddings, but I believe it best describes God’s love in words we can grasp. As you read, I encourage you to follow along in your Bible in 1 Corinthians 13.

God’s love is patient and kind (v. 4). Romans 2:4 tells us that “the riches of His kindness, tolerance, and patience…leads you toward repentance.” 

God’s love is not boastful or proud (v. 4), but is best shown in the humility of Christ – Philippians 2:7 & 8 says “He made Himself nothing…He humbled Himself and became obedient to death on a cross.” 

God’s love is gracious (being not rude), and certainly not self-seeking (v. 5), as Christ graciously sought to save you and me at the cost of His own life.

God’s love is not easily angered (v. 5), as He declared to Moses: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Oh, how glad I am that God “keeps no record of wrong” (v. 5). The blood of Jesus wipes away our sins and we stand before God cleared, declared innocent – forgiven.

God is perfect holiness and there is no evil in Him (v. 6), and so we know that we can trust Him to always act from His loving and good nature.

God is truth (v. 6). Hebrews 6:18 says “it is impossible for God to lie.”  When the Bible says God loves you, you can know without a shadow of a doubt that it is true.

God’s love protects us (v. 7) – after all He is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), and we are His sheep, and the shepherd’s first priority is the safety and security of His flock.

God’s love is trustworthy (v. 7), we can relax our anxious hearts and minds knowing that He is always for us, always working for good in our lives, always aware of every need and situation we face, and always prepared with the best solution.

God’s love gives us hope (v. 7) – anticipation and expectation that He will fulfill every promise He has ever made.

God’s love perseveres with us (v. 7).  I am so grateful that God has never given up on me, and never will.

And finally, God’s love will never fail (v. 8).  Because God will never fail.  “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, now any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

Did you realize that you, Beloved, are God’s Valentine?

What Kind of Love is This

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What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

This old hymn is the gospel message, the glorious proclamation of wondrous love. 

God loves people, He created us and wants a relationship with us. But we are bound to sin and sin is an offense to God. The penalty for sin is death. Someone, the sinner or a substitute, has to die. Rather than lose us eternally, “[God] sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). What kind of love would do that? Holy love. 

We did not love God. In fact, the Bible says we “were alienated from God and were [His] enemies” (Colossians 1:21). I don’t know about you, but I gave Him a thousand reasons not to love me, but none of them have ever changed His mind. He loves me anyway. His is perfect love.

God’s love for us is never-failing, never-ending, flawless, and more certain than the earth itself.  He says, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken” (Isaiah 54:10). It is a greater love.

This is the message of the Gospel: that God’s heart would be so tender toward mankind – toward you and me – that He would give His own Son to save us, even though we turned away from Him.  Only love could make such a sacrifice.

What wondrous love is this? A holy love. A perfect love A greater love.  This love is Jesus.

Got Love?

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Got anybody in your life who is hard to love? Yeah, me too. I think every person who seeks to follow Christ will have the “blessing’ of hard-to-love people. It’s one of the tools God uses to shape and mold us into the image of His Son, which is the point of our lives (Romans 8:29). 

Hallmark makes love look so easy. It’s not.  Love is hard. It’s painful. It’s demanding. It’s often unfair. Love will take you to hard places and cost you more than you ever imagined. That’s why people give up on love so easily.

I’m struggling with some of those people so this morning I prayed: “Lord, help me to love as You love.” He sent me to 1 John. I learned some stuff I thought I’d share with you. By the way, I purposefully left off the actual verse so you would look these up for yourself.

First, I cannot love difficult people on my own.  I can only love them out of the love God has for me (4:16).

Love comes only from Him (4:7). (Not my human emotions).

God is love (4:16). He has lavished His great love on me (3:1).

Because God loves me, I can love them (4:19).

Because I know God – who is love – I can love them (4:8)

Because He lives in me through His Spirit, His love for others lives in me as well and completes and perfects my insufficient love so that  I can love them (1:12, 17, 18).

God loved me sacrificially (4:9-10). The love I show to others must follow suit (4:11).

God expects me to love them (4:20-21).

When I consider how unloveable I have been – and often still am – I marvel that God loves me. Yet He does. So how can I, as His child, in whom His Spirit dwells, withhold love from those who are unloveable to me?  I have read the Bible from cover to cover and I find no place where God said, “Stand up for your rights!”  But over and over I find two things I lean on hard: God calls me to love, and He promises to fight for me.

Beloved, I don’t know how much clearer it can be. We are called to love God and love others – even, especially, the ones who make it hard to love. They need it most of all.