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).

Don’t Pack Up the Christmas Spirit

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Christmas Day has come and gone and my living room looks like a toy store exploded all over the place, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. So what now? Well, I’ll clean up the blast zone and eventually pack away the ornaments on the tree. We’ll finish off the last of the Christmas dinner leftovers today. But, where does the Christmas spirit go for the next 11 months?

You probably know by now that Joy abides in my house year-round in my precious granddaughter. But what of the peace the angels declared? According to Jesus, that peace was His gift to me, something the world can’t offer (John 14:27). It doesn’t belong in a box in the shed. It belongs in my heart to rule over my relationships (Col. 3:15). 

Is there a box in my shed for the “Hope” of Christmas? The Hope that God is who He claimed to be, that He is trustworthy and faithful (2 Thess 3:3), that His love is unfailing (Ps. 136) and His promises are as sure as His Name (Heb. 6:13). Hope that His eye is ever on me and His ear is tuned to my cries (Gen. 21:13, 11). Hope that one day this wicked world will be turned right-side-up (Rev. 21:5). I am hanging on to hope – it is my word from the Lord for the coming year. I need it desperately; this past year has drained most of my hope.

And then there is love – the greatest of all gifts (1 Cor. 13:13). Love slept in a manger (Luke 2:7). Love walked the dirty streets, healing and lifting up the downtrodden (Matt. 8:1-3). Love died on a cross (Mark 15: 37) and love brought life from death (Mark 16:6). Love must never be packed away for the world needs it more than any other thing. Love – holy love – is the only thing that can save mankind. And it is the only thing that will draw men out of darkness into the light.

I don’t know if your Christmas was merry or jolly or less than you’d hoped, but I know that the spirit of Christmas lives in the hearts of God’s people all year long. Beloved, pack up the decorations but don’t pack away the Joy and peace and hope and love. Set it out for all the world to see.

The (Complete) Nativity Creche

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When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star above the stable, and we add the animals – cows and sheep (but no pigs, this is a good Jewish family) – and an angel or two (which the Bible doesn’t mention in the birth scene) and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.

The truth is, Satan is also part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.

As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

Hebrews: And Now, a Word of Encouragement

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Parenting – and grandparenting – is not for the faint of heart or the weak of conviction. My granddaughter is 2 ½ now and is equal parts sweet and sour. She is struggling to learn how to listen and mind.  We often have to put her in “time out” because she ignores us when we tell her to stop or ask her to pick up her toys. I know it is all part and parcel of her age, but I’m pretty sure there is a familial stubborn streak there that is a mile wide and just as deep.  After a time-out session and after she has complied with my requests, I take her in my lap and thank her for (finally) minding me. I always tell her I love her and that she is still Nana’s sweet girl. I think it’s very important to follow discipline with affection and affirmation.

The writer of Hebrews followed a similar pattern. After a difficult discourse on not falling away from Christ he was careful to tell his readers, “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation” (Heb 6:9). “I know you are struggling, but I love you and know you will prove faithful.” Follow the hard words with encouragement. He added, “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (v. 10).  God was well aware of the genuineness of their faith, as evidenced by their faithful work and more so by their love toward Him and fellow believers.

He returned to the theme with which he started as a gentle reminder that endurance in the Christian life requires more than just good thoughts. “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure.  We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (vv. 11-12). Ah, there’s that word again – lazy. If you want to endure to the end, you cannot become lazy and apathetic. A lazy Christian is really an oxymoron. Jesus said, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). If, as Paul said, we are “being transformed into the likeness of His Son, (Rom 8:29), we will always be at work.  That work involves love, diligence, faith, and patience.  But it’s worth it because God has promised us “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Peter 1:4). That, Beloved, is worth hanging onto.

Thus Saith the Lord

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This morning I was reading in Proverbs (a great source of practical and spiritual wisdom) and came to this: “Every word of God is flawless, He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him” (Proverbs 30:5). Immediately my mind went to the armor of God in Ephesians 6 and the Shield of Faith, and a light went off in my mind. I’ve always understood that the shield of faith is my confidence, my trust, my determination to stand strong behind my faith in God. Do you see the weak link in that chain – my. It’s all dependant on me. And I am not that strong. My faith is feeble on my best days, and I’ve had some pretty rough days of late.

But if my shield is God’s own words – what a strong and study defense I hold in my hand. If my confidence is in God’s promise to “never leave you nor forsake you” (Jos 1:5) and to “be with you where you go” (v. 9), the enemy cannot penetrate God’s faithfulness.  If I am clinging to His declaration that “You are my servant; I have chosen you and have not rejected you . . . I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Is 41:9-10), I know satan cannot defeat me. And if He said “Remain in me, and I will remain in you” (John 15:4), it’s His hand in my hand that is holding strong to that shield and nothing and no one can break His grip. When Jesus was in the wilderness, what was His response when the devil tried to tempt Him? “It is written . . .” (Matt 4:4, 7, 10).

Just a side note: did you notice the second part of Proverbs 30:5? Go back and read it again – I’ll wait for you. When your faith is crafted from the very Word of God, God Himself takes up the position of defense. He is YHWH Magan – The LORD the Shield. If that Shield of Faith is going to protect you it must be made of something stronger than steel – the mighty Word of the living God. Beloved, if you will put your faith in “Thus saith the Lord” you will see your Shield standing between you and the enemy (see 2 Kings 6:15-17). That’s a position of security and victory.

Hebrews: The Resurrection of the Dead

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What kinds of things did you learn in elementary school? Of course reading, writing, and arithmetic, probably some basic earth science, and social studies. But I doubt you learned about “the resurrection of the dead.” That is one of the things the author of Hebrews classified as an “elementary teaching,” a foundational truth of the faith. But ask church members today about the resurrection of the dead and you are likely to get a lot of hemming and hawing. What does this mean?

The resurrection of the dead is both the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of believers in the last days. I expect you know about the former, that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day, proving that he was the Son of God. Every tenet of the Christian faith rests on this truth. If you do not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead then you have no hope for salvation and eternal life.

But Christ also promised resurrection for those who trust in Him. Hear Paul’s explanation: “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will rise” ( (1 Thessalonians 4:16). That means my Mom and my big brother and Billy Graham and Paul himself and every believer who has died will all be raised on that grand and glorious day. I don’t understand all the theology of the resurrection but I believe it is the truth.

Consider what Jesus told Martha at the grave of her brother Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25). Then He posed a question to Martha that I want to pose to you: “Do you believe this?” Do you believe that Jesus is who He claims to be? Do you believe that He is the Son of God, that He has been raised from the dead, and that He has the authority and power to give you eternal life?

Beloved, I pray you said, “Yes.” I pray that your eternal future is secure and that one day you and I will cast our crowns before our Savior and fall down together at His feet. If you said, “No” I pray you will come to faith in Christ today. Eternity is a long, long time my friend. Don’t spend it without Jesus.

Rock Solid Faith

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“We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:43).

A sinful woman encountered Jesus one day and an entire village was changed.  The Samaritan woman found Jesus at a well.  He told her who she was, and then He told her who He was.  She ran to her village and called her neighbors to meet the man who changed her life.  And they came.  And they believed.  Not because of what the woman said about Jesus, but because of what He said about Himself.  “Because of His words many more became believers” (v. 41).  Second-hand faith is not a sustaining faith.  We must hear and know Jesus for ourselves.

I am so grateful for my time as a seminary student.  That experience stretched my mind and my faith in ways I never imagined.  In seminary, I learned how to study the Bible for life, how to search out its treasures, and discern God’s truth.  I learned how to think critically.  Most of all, I was challenged to consider what I believe.  I looked at everything I believed and examined it carefully, scripturally, practically.  I found some things that needed to be challenged and changed, and some things that needed to be nailed down as the foundation of my faith. I no longer stand on what others told me about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the Church, and my faith, I stand on what I know is true and right.  I know what I believe and I believe what I know.

You don’t need to go to seminary to build a strong foundation of faith.  All you need is the Bible and the courage to examine your beliefs through God’s Word and His Spirit. You need to find out if what you believe is really true.  Because that’s the kind of faith that stands firm against the winds of the culture, against the “wisdom” of the world, against the threat of suffering, persecution, and death.  Do you really think the martyrs of old would have died for something they weren’t convinced was true?  Beloved, you need to be sure of your faith and your convictions. You need to be certain that you have a faith that’s worth living – and dying for.

Looking in all the wrong places

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If I have a broken leg, I will go to the doctor.  If I have a problem with my car I go to a mechanic.  If something needs fixing around the house, I go to my husband. When I need encouragement and prayer, I call my best friend. And when I need sunshine on a dreary day, I go to my granddaughter.  The wisest people I know are not the ones who try to solve everything for themselves, but they are the ones who know where to go to find someone who can. No one in their right mind would go to the mechanic to fix their broken leg.

So why do we go to all the wrong sources for the answers to life? Why are we constantly “looking for love in all the wrong places?” Why do we seek wisdom from social media (!)? Why do we run to a bottle or a pill to soothe our weary, wounded hearts? Why do we expect our spouse or children to fill in all the empty places in us?

In John 6:25-69, Jesus has been teaching some hard things. Calling Himself “the Bread of Life” (v. 35), He talked of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, something that was forbidden by God. His words were shocking and even offensive to the Jewish people, and many who followed Him turned back. Even His disciples who were closest to Him grumbled.  His response was not a gentle, “I guess I shouldn’t have said that, I’m sorry.” No. The Scripture says, “Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (v. 67). And Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (v. 68-69).

Can you say the same? Who else could you go to for eternal life but to the Lord? Who else can redeem your wretched lost soul? Who else can take all your broken pieces and make you whole? Who else can restore what the enemy has stolen from you? Who else is would die to save you? Beloved, it’s time to stop looking everywhere else for what only He can do. It’s time to throw your lot in with Him – heart, mind, soul, and strength. Who else but Jesus?

Jesus

“. . .the One and Only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth”  John 1:14b

Who is this Jesus?

Matthew said He is “God with us” – “Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23).  For thirty-three years He was “God-in-the-flesh with us,” walking among His people, touching them with hands they could feel, speaking words their ears could hear.  Yet He was very much God, performing miracles and speaking with divine authority.  Twice Matthew reports a voice from heaven saying, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him, I am well pleased” (3:17; 17:5).

Mark expands the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, showing His uncommon power to heal, raise the dead,  give sight to the blind,  multiply a few loaves and fishes, calm the raging sea, and drive out demons who recognized Him as “the Holy One of God” (1:24).  He also shows Him to be a King who endured uncommon suffering to rescue His people from the sentence of death.

Luke revealed Jesus as the salvation of all people (2:32).  He wrote to give an ordered account of Jesus from reliable eye-witness testimonies.  Luke offers the most detailed version of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, and tradition holds that these were Mary’s own memories.   How incredible that we have the testimony of Jesus’ Father, and the recollections of His mother to confirm that this Jesus was fully God and fully man.

From his opening testimony – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1) – John most powerfully proved Jesus as the Son of God, the One and Only, divine in nature and one with His Father.  John records Jesus’ “I AM” statements, a direct connection to God’s own self-revelation (Exodus 3:14). He recorded Jesus’ statement:  “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9).  John also devotes half of his gospel to Jesus’ final week, His death, burial, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances. (John 12-21).

Paul said that He is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and the writer of Hebrews said “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being’ (Hebrews 1:3).  Jesus. “God with us.” “The Son of God.” “The Salvation of God.” “The Word of God” “One with the Father.” “The image of God.” “The radiance of God.” “The exact representation of God.” And that barely scratches the surface. Jesus is . . . everything. Beloved, what more do you need to believe?

Rock the Boat!

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When I read in the Scriptures about the early church, I’m jealous. They had such an incredible experience witnessing “many wonders and miraculous signs” (Acts 2:43).  I long for the sense of purpose and community that they had: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v.42). They met daily and “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God (v. 46). And He blessed them greatly: “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (v. 47). What an exciting, fulfilling time to “belong to the Way” (9:2). Even the community outside of the faith appreciated them, “they enjoyed the favor of all the people” (47).

Well maybe not everyone.

After healing a man who had been crippled from birth, Peter and John proclaimed the gospel to the astonished crowd.  A great number of people believed and that angered the Jewish authorities. They questioned the apostles who then boldly proclaimed the name of Jesus to them. They commanded Peter and John to stop teaching in His name. Their response? “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (4:19-20). Later they arrested and flogged them. Remarkably, they rejoiced at their mistreatment “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (5:17-41)

How very different from our modern, western culture, where religion is regarded as a personal preference and not a life-giving entity. In the US the battle cry is “separation of church and state,” and in our workplaces, schools, the public square, even among our peers, we are told to keep our religion to ourselves. Unlike the bold apostles, we do it because we don’t want to rock the boat. But true Christianity is all-or-nothing. It spills over into every aspect of our lives because “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” We’ll gladly take the scorn of the world for the Name. Besides, it’s only going to get worse, not better. Beloved, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, it’s time to not only rock the boat but get out of it and walk on the water.