Last Words

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“Drive carefully.” “Have a good day.” “Call when you get there.” “I love you.” Last words. When your kids are climbing out of the car, when your wife heads off for a weekend with her friends, when your nephew leaves for college. It’s our final opportunity to connect and leave them with something important. Many times those last words express our heart more than voluminous conversations.

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote about wisdom, immorality, marriage, freedom in Christ, spiritual gifts, love, and the resurrection. Out of all these very weighty topics, Paul’s final instructions to his friends were: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of good courage; be strong. Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). Firm faith. Good courage. Love in all things. What powerful watchwords for Christ’s church! And we still need them today.

Corinth was a multi-cultural, polytheistic culture – they had people from many backgrounds who held to many different beliefs. It was so easy to take a little bit from each one – including Christianity – to make a self-serving religion. That sounds very much like our world today, doesn’t it? Paul reminds us to stand firm in our faith in Christ and Christ alone. But he also assures us we don’t stand on our own.  He opened this letter by telling the Corinthians, “[The Lord Jesus Christ] will keep you strong to the end” (1:8). Firm faith leans heavily on Christ for strength and courage.

Why do we need courage? Have you been out there lately? The powers (human and spiritual) that rule the world are trying to destroy the Christian faith. We need courage just to walk out the door. We need courage to resist the enemy. We need courage to stand for truth and righteousness. In a day and age when sin is celebrated, we need courage to say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

And oh, how important love is. Jesus said love is the defining factor in the lives of His followers – “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). And love, more than any other means will draw men to Christ. In everything – our jobs, in school, in our families, in our relationships, in good times and hard times, in peace and in disagreement – let love be the rule.

If today were my last day on earth and I wanted to leave you with the most important words, I would say the same thing.  Beloved have faith, be courageous, and live in love.

The Never-Get-Out-of-Debt Payment Plan

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The American economy seems to run on spending more than we earn. The average credit card debt per household in the U.S. is $5,700 – $9,333 with a total outstanding U.S. consumer debt of $4 trillion. Being in debt is one of the most discouraging struggles. I know this struggle well as we have been under the self-made burden of financial debt. The Bible has a great deal to say about financial stewardship, but even more about relational stewardship. The apostle Paul says that we should only have one debt on our balance sheet: “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8).

Financial advisors can help you devise a plan to pay off your credit debt, but the Bible says that love for one another is a “continuing debt,” that can never be finished. It is a life-long obligation. Love is more than a “warm fuzzy feeling,” love is a choice we make every day. 1 Corinthians 13 offers us a practical example of choosing to love. You may be very familiar with it, but I want to challenge you to read this passage a little differently. Instead of the word “love,” put your own name in the verse and read it aloud:

_______________ is patient, _____________ is kind. ____________ does not envy, ______________does not boast, _______________ is not proud. ______________ is not rude, ______________ is not self-seeking, _______________ is not easily angered. ______________ keeps no record of wrongs. ______________ does not delight in evil, but ______________ rejoices with the truth. _____________ always protects, _______________ always trusts, _____________ always hopes, _______________ always perseveres (v. 4-7).

So how did you do? I don’t know about you but I started to get uncomfortable early in.

Love, as Paul outlined it in these verses, doesn’t require any money, but it is costly. It will cost you time and attention and patience and ego, but it brings amazing dividends. Every day you and I have the opportunity to share the love of God in this world. When we are patient, kind, humble, considerate, forgiving, honest, and compassionate we are making installments on our never-ending debt of love. Beloved, what would your home, workplace, church, and community look like if you followed the Bible’s payment plan?

Love One Another

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As long as I’ve studied the Bible, many verses still make me pause and wonder – what does this mean? 1 Peter 4:8 is one of those: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” The first part of this verse seems pretty clear – love one another. Paul said, “you have been taught by God to love each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:9). Jesus is our Teacher and He taught by example. John said that Jesus “showed [the disciples] the full extent of His love” when He knelt before them with a washbasin and a towel (John 13:1-17). Love drove Him to wash their nasty feet. Then He said, “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Humbly. Sacrificially. Graciously.

But it’s the second part of the verse that I want to understand better: “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”  Peter may be borrowing from Solomon who said, “Love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:9). Certainly, we know that the love of God “covered over” our sins with the blood of Jesus. But Peter is speaking about loving one another, so this must have practical application for you and me.

Let’s first talk about what “covering over” doesn’t mean. It absolutely does not mean taking abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek safety and help now.  It doesn’t mean sweeping someone’s wrong actions under a rug and pretending nothing has happened. And it doesn’t mean not seeking wise counsel for difficult relationships.

Here’s what I am convinced it means: Love forgives wrongs and does not dwell on them or broadcast them. Here’s where I’m squirming with conviction. I want to talk about it. I want someone to know what this person has done to me. I want them to be just as offended as I am. That isn’t love. That’s ugly human nature.

Yes, we can certainly ask our brothers and sisters for prayer, but we must take care that our prayer requests don’t become a gripe session. Because that isn’t love. This is deeply personal for me and I’m asking the Lord to help me love more and complain less.

Because people need love. A love that is patient, kind, humble, peaceful, forgiving, honest, protective, trusting, hopeful, and enduring (1 Corinthians 13, paraphrased). Beloved, let’s commit to love like Jesus – I believe it will change the world.

Love

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1 Corinthians 13:7 says “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

That’s a beautiful sentiment for a wedding day. With stars in our eyes surrounded by family and friends and “white lace and promises,”[1] we pledge our love forever. But love – real love – is for far more than wedding days. This verse – in fact, all of the “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 – is not just flowery prose, it is the mark of a follower of Christ. Jesus said that the world would know that we belong to Him by our love (John 13:35).

Some people are easy to love. Some not so much. The truth is, love – this kind of love – shows up the best in difficult relationships. Do you have any of those? I’m pretty sure we all do. And to be honest, there are times when I’m the difficult one. So how do we maintain love when it’s hard?

First, looking at these words we find that love always stands with the beloved and covers their failings with mercy and grace. (Note: that does NOT mean we tolerate abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship run now to safety.) Love believes the best of and for the beloved and acts on those beliefs, love looks ahead to a good outcome and love endures to the end. How different from the world’s throw-away response to hard relationships. How different from our own human nature.

Then, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The simple truth about love is that we only do it because God did it first. He declared His love for us at the cross of His Son, when we were covered with sin and unworthy. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  We don’t wait until they “get their act together” to love them. We love them while they are a work in progress.

Is it easy? No. But I am confident that if we follow this prescription in difficult relationships, amazing things will happen. How do I know that? Because “Love never fails” (v. 8 )

Do you know why I always call you “Beloved?” Because God loves you. Now, go love someone today.


[1] We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters @ 1970 – written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams

What Is a Christian?

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How do others know you’re a follower of Christ? Is it your “Daughter of the King” T-shirt? Maybe it’s the fish on your car or posting Jesus memes on social media. Perhaps it’s how you rail against sins you would never commit. Do these things say you are a Christian? No more than sitting in a garage says you are a car. There are three things that Jesus identified as marking His followers.

Love – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Twice: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” ((John 15:12). And again: “This is my command: Love each other” (15:17). Three times Jesus said, “Love one another.” And this is the only time in all four gospels that Jesus called His words a “command.”

Fruit – “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). Fruit is the evidence of what something or someone is. A peach tree bears peaches. A banana tree bears bananas. A Christian bears the fruit of the Spirit: love (there it is again), Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Persecution – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). If you belong to Christ, you have a target painted on your back.

The church wants to say it is all about doing and saying the right things. The world says it is approving all kinds of sin for the sake of “love.” But Jesus said the mark of a Christian is love for the Body of Christ, producing fruit, and being hated by the world. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little uneasy right now. Beloved, what is it about you that tells the world you belong to Jesus?

Love One Another

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In this week building up to Valentine’s Day, we’re talking about love – not “Hollywood” love, but real love as the Bible defines it.

There is only one time in the four biblical accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings that He utters “This is my command.” It wasn’t, “Thou must tithe.” It wasn’t, “Thou must be in church every time the doors are open.” It wasn’t even, “Thou must not cuss.” It was a simple but profound statement: “Love one another.” That’s not to say that we can ignore all the rest of what He said, but it means that this is a non-negotiable. We must love one another. John recorded four times Jesus said it. The epistles say it another eight times ( six of them in 1 John). God is serious about loving one another. Jesus specified how we are to love one another: “as I have loved you.” (John 15:12, 17). How did He love us? “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (v. 13). He loved us by laying down His life for you and me giving Himself for us that we might be saved. It’s very unlikely you will be called upon to die for someone, although many a soldier has done it, but you may be called to lay down something else for another. Like your time, your privilege, your resources, your opinion, your dreams, even – gasp – your phone. When Jesus commanded us to love one another as He loved us He meant with no reservation or hesitation. Whether you think they deserve it or not.

Jesus is the perfect model of loving others. The cross is the ultimate expression of His love, but there are some practical ways we can love others. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love” by washing the disciples’ nasty feet. (John 13:1-17). When He was done He said, ”Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (13:14-15). Washing feet can take many forms – giving when there is a need, taking a meal, grocery shopping, taking care of kids, cutting the grass, repairing a leaky faucet, walking the dog, opening your home, sharing your resources.  They are practical ways to show you are a follower of Christ.

Here are a few other ways the Bible says we can “Love one another.”

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom 12:10).

“Live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:16).

“Stop passing judgment on one another” (Rom 14:13).

“Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you,” (Rom. 15:7)

“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19).

“Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another (Col 5:13).

“Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

“Have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7).

“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14). Socially distanced, of course.

Did you notice that none of these are labor some or costly in terms of money? But they sure can be a challenge. Love one another Beloved, because Jesus loves you. And that’s reason enough.

The Enemy’s Not Who You Think

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Going a completely different direction this morning, all because of a . . . well, let me start at the beginning. I was working on a very passionate and theological post. But something wasn’t right. With the post, but also with my computer. I was waxing elephants with my words, but not making any real sense. Plus, I noticed a random period between two words where a period shouldn’t be. I backspaced to erase it and retyped the sentence. There’s that stupid period again. I thought I must be accidentally hitting the period key. Backspace and try again. It’s still there. What in the world? Then I wiped the screen and wiped away a tiny little black spot that was perfectly positioned to pretend to be a naughty period. And drive me crazy.

Oh, you bet there is a spiritual application here my friends. Things are not always what we think they are. You and I can be deceived and end up fighting the wrong battles. That’s why Paul said we must take a stand against the devil’s schemes because “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:11, 12). Just as I blamed that errant period for being in the wrong place, you and I often put the blame in the wrong place. Satan loves to stir up tension between you and your spouse, your child, your coworker, your parent, your sibling, or even – especially – a brother or sister in Christ. We have to remember that the enemy s not the other person – it is the evil one “behind the curtain,” using your loved one’s finger to push your buttons. It is the devil who loves to drive a wedge between us. And yes, I know, sometimes people do some pretty awful things to us. They’re still not the enemy. Satan and his evil minions are.

Who has “pushed your button” lately? Who has caused friction and tension in your life? Your real enemy wants you to be angry and hate them. Instead, Peter admonished, “All of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, because to this {harmony, sympathy, love, compassion, humility] you were called” (1 Peter 3:8-9). Fight the real enemy, Beloved, and love one another.

Caring for the Wounded Body (of Christ)

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“But God has combined the members of the body . . . so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25)
Have you ever noticed when one body part suffers, your whole body becomes invested in the healing process? When I had a severe infection in my leg a couple of years ago my whole body had to be committed to rest and elevation and medication for my leg to heal. My whole body was flat of my back for four weeks.  My arms didn’t grumble about it. My other leg didn’t resent it. My heart and lungs kept doing their job so that the wounded part could heal. No part of my body forgot about that leg for a second.
I think, in our modern “personal” and private religion, we’ve forgotten how to take care of one another. How to give attention to the wounded parts of our body – the wounded people in the Body of Christ. We throw a half-hearted “praying for ya!” in their direction and maybe even take them a meal if we have the time to spare, but I feel like we’ve lost something. Commitment to one another? One part of my ministry is listening to hurting people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “When my life became difficult, my church forgot about me . . .ignored me . . . overlooked me . . . gave up on me.” I know they’re telling the truth because it has happened to me too.  What would our Head think of all this?
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (v. 26)
Am I rambling or is any of this resonating with anyone?

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

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“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2.

I love the Lord of the Rings movies. I read the books by J.R.R. Tolkien when I was much younger, but the Peter Jackson directed movies left a deep impression on me. One of my favorite scenes is in the third installment, The Return of the King. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee have made their way to Mordor and are climbing up the side of Mount Doom to destroy the ring and free Middle Earth from Sauron’s control. Frodo is worn and weary, battered and beaten and falls nearly dead from the oppressive weight of this small ring with such evil power. His faithful friend comes to his side and tries to encourage Frodo by reminding him of how good and right life in the Shire will be when the ring is gone. But Frodo is completely spent and can no longer go on. Knowing that only his friend can destroy the ring, Samwise, with tears streaking his grimy face says, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.” With that he lifts Frodo across his shoulders and continues to climb the side of the mountain, carrying his friend while his friend carries his burden.

I’ve always thought that was the perfect picture of Christian friendship and beautifully fits our key verse. One of the sweetest blessings of being part of the Body of Christ is the relationships we share in the church. The best friendships I’ve ever had – and still have – were born in the church. There is a bond between brothers and sisters in Christ that is unique and special. It is the Spirit of Christ that dwells in us as believers and, like David and Jonathan “knits our souls together” (1 Samuel 18:1). I have laughed with my Christian friends and cried with them. I have studied the Word of God with fellow believers and mingled my voice with theirs in songs of praise and worship. I have shared the bread and wine of communion, then shared bread and a bowl of soup together after the service.

But the blessing of having someone help you carry your burden is the most precious of all. Like most people, my life has been a series of “ups and downs” – and some of those downs can swing pretty low. My Christian friends have come through for me time after time. There has been food when we faced illness or surgery, funds when the transmission went out on my car, notes and calls and cards of encouragement, even a roof over our heads for a season. There have been gallons of coffee and hundreds of prayers that have kept me going when, like Frodo I thought I could not take another step. I only pray I am as faithful to my precious friends as they have been to me.

Notice Paul said that helping carry one another’s burdens, “fulfills the law of Christ.” What does that mean? It is the command Jesus gave His disciples before His death on the cross when he said “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). In fact, He said that our love for one another would be the distinguishing mark of a believer, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). And He showed His love for you and me and all of humanity by carrying our burden – our sin – all the way to Calvary. That love and devotion and caring for one another was the one of the hallmarks of the church in the first century.

There is an Old Testament story that I think also displays this idea of carrying one another’s burdens. It is found in Exodus 17:8-16. The Israelites have just escaped from Egypt and are making their way toward the Promised Land with two million plus people when they are attacked by the Amalekites. Moses tells Joshua to pull an army together and engage the battle, meanwhile he will stand atop the mountain and hold “the staff of God” high above his head as a sign to the Israelite army that God is on their side. Now if you’ve ever tried to hold anything over your head for very long you understand how tiring that can be, and Moses was no exception. When he dropped his weary arms, the tide of the battle turned and the Amalekites got the upper hand.   No one else could hold that staff up – it was Moses’ God-given responsibility. But others could help him bear his burden, and a rock was placed behind him so he could sit down and “Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his arms remained steady till sunset” (v. 12). The result? “So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (v. 13). Joshua fought the battle, Moses held the staff and Aaron and Hur held Moses’ arms till the enemy was defeated. That is how the church works when it is at its best. Holding one another up till the battle is over and Christ has claimed the victory.

Do you know someone who is carrying a heavy burden? You can come to their side and – while they bear the weight of their burden – you can bear the weight of love.

Holy Father, love means bearing one another’s burdens, even if it means carrying one another. Thank you for the many times my Christian friends have carried me through difficult times. Help me be a friend that loves like Christ loved me. Amen.

God is Not First Place in My Life

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.”   Luke 14:26

Sometimes the Bible appears to contradict itself.  Our key passage seems to conflict with Jesus’ command to “Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:12”   Loving others is so vital to the life of a Christian – why on earth (or heaven) would Jesus make such a strange statement?  What could He possibly mean?

This morning as I was in prayer, I asked God to help me always give Him the highest place in my life, to love Him above all else – my husband, son, friends and passions.  I want Him to always be at the top of my list, if you will.  Isn’t that what we have always been taught – to give God “first place” in our hearts, assigning our families, friends and passions 2nd, 3rd and so on?  It does seem like the best way to order our priorities

But I heard a still, small voice very clearly say – “I don’t want first place in your heart child, I want all of your heart.”  Then the Spirit brought to mind Jesus’ words in Mark 12:30, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  He even emphasized the word “all.”   “But Lord,” I said, “that doesn’t leave any room for anyone else, not my husband or son or friends.”  “Exactly.”, came His reply.

Then I understood.  God doesn’t want to be one among many loves in our life, not even the highest love above all the rest.  He want to be our only love.  Not our highest priority, but our only priority.  Not first place, but the only place.  God loves us with complete and total devotion and love, and He desires the same in return from us.  He created us for the sole purpose of a love relationship.  He did not create us so that we would worship Him, though He deserves our worship – His angels worship Him night and day.  He did not create us because He needed us to do His will on earth, though we are called to a life of service – He is all powerful and doesn’t need us for anything.  He created us for LOVE.  To love Him alone and to receive His love.  The truth is, He didn’t even create us to love others.

You see, we think that if we place God at the top of our list, and all others below Him, we will have plenty of love to go around to everyone.  So why then, do we tend to run short?  Jesus’ words in Mark 12:30 (2 paragraphs above) are from The Shema, a daily prayer of the Hebrew people as a confirmation of their belief in God.  Shema, in the original Hebrew language means “hear” and is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.  Jesus added to the Shema in Mark 12:31 by saying “The second [command] is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”  Jesus was teaching the people, and us, that love for others comes out of the overflow of a heart that is fully devoted and in love with God.  Jesus’ words in our key verse are not contradicting His commandment to love one another, but He paints a picture of hearts so fully consumed with love for the Lord God, that, in comparison, we hate our mother and father, husband, wife and children.  For if we truly love God with all of our hearts, that love will be so overwhelming, there will be more than enough love to pour out on our family and friends, our neighbors, strangers, and yes – even our enemies.  If He is our only priority, then His passion will become our passion.  His desire will become our desire.  We will not be “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.”  Rather when we become fully consumed with God, we are able to do the most good here on earth.

Where do we find that kind of all-consuming love? Here is where it gets really awesome.   1 John 4:7 says “love comes from God.” and verse 19 says “We love because He first loved us.” Love is also a fruit of the Spirit, (Galatians 5:22-23) a by-product of the heart that abides in the love of Christ. (John 15:9) Get this: The love we have for God comes from … God.  It comes to us when we open ourselves up fully to Him, surrender our hearts completely to Him and let Him fill us with His love.  Do you see the full circle here? What an amazing truth!

Is it any wonder that we live in a world so starved for love? Nations are overwhelmed with war, poverty, disease and a lack of care and compassion from the world.  Humanitarians declare the need to love and care for our fellow human beings.  Religion teaches the mandate of Christ to love others.  Yet we are falling farther and farther behind. In 1965 Jackie DeShannon recorded Hal Davis and Burt Bacharach’s song, “What the World Needs Now.” The lyrics say “What the world needs now is love, sweet love; no not just for some, but for everyone.”  Truly, what the world needs now is men and women who are filled with love for God that flows from the love of God and spills out on everyone around us. Oh, if only we could understand that when we reject God and His love for us we are rejecting the very thing this world needs!

I am committed to no longer give God first place in my heart and life.  He is no longer my highest priority.  I am committed to giving Him all of my heart and life.  He is now my only priority.  Will you give Him all of you?

Holy Father, loving God – I want to love your with all of my heart, mind, soul and strength.  I want to be a conduit of your love – sweet love – to everyone around me.  I empty myself of everything else and open my heart to You.  Amen.