LOVE ALWAYS

(Matthew 5:44) But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

(1 Corinthians 13:4-7) Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered.  It keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  His last command to his disciples was to love one another.  He also taught us that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  My conclusion then is that we should love everybody.  How often should we love?  Love always seems to be the answer.

I am grateful to the Apostle Paul for his definitive description of what love is, but knowing what love is doesn’t make following the teaching any easier.  Now that I know I’m to love always, I ask myself, “Do I do this in all my encounters with others?”  Not really is the true answer.  As a teacher, I wonder what grade I might receive.  Actually, I don’t want to know.  I think I’m going to need to retake the class.  I’ve come up short in application of the lesson.

Love is a lesson that requires daily and continuous application.  There are many obstacles, moods, fears, emotions, prejudices, and cultural attitudes to name a few.  Oh, and there is always my self-seeking nature.  In order to love always, I’m going to need a lot of tutoring.  Thanks be to Jesus that he sent the Holy Spirit to be constantly with me.

I’m reminded that the closer I am to Jesus, and the more I am able to receive the Father’s love, the easier it will be to give love to others.  I have my work cut out for me.  I not sure I have enough to get a decent grade for this lesson, but I’ll keep taking the class as long as I can.  It’s worth every effort.

WALKING BEFORE GOD

(Genesis 17:1) When Abram was ninety-nine years old, The Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.”

(Matthew 5:16) In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

When I read what God said to Abram, “walk before me,” I pictured in my mind Abram walking along a path, and God the Father watching over him like a proud Father.  Imagine, when you go out to start your day, God your Father is there watching over you like a proud Father.  He is looking to see you walking out as his faithful and blameless child.  Wouldn’t that modify your view of the day?  Your Father is watching over you, and he’s smiling a pleased smile over you.

With this image of walking before God in your mind, it seems easier to envision being a shining light to everyone you encounter.  God’s smile yields a smile in you that flows forth into your world, shining a light of good deeds throughout the day, and bringing glory to your Father in heaven.

I woke up the other day quite grouchy.  Then, slowly, the topic that I planned to write about this week began to creep into my awareness.  Oh yes, I’m walking before God my Father,  He’s smiling over me,  I’m going to let my light shine and bring glory to him.  Sheepishly, I turned to the Lord for help.  It took a while, but I finally got a dim light going.  The more I thought about walking before God, the brighter my light and the more pleasant my encounters.  My wife and others were the recipients of good rather than evil that day.  I felt good about the victory that the Holy Spirit led me through. Then the questions started forming. Will I be able to humble myself before God tomorrow?  Will I remember that I’m walking before my Father God?  Will those I encounter be blessed?   I hope so! 

THE SECRET TO A SUCCESSFUL NEW YEAR

(Matthew 6:9-13)    This, then, is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven, hollowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Jesus taught this prayer to his Disciples.  It is amazingly comprehensive.  It starts out with the way we should address God.  “Our Father” clarifies that God wants a personal and relational interaction with us.  Then Jesus leads us into the praise and recognition that God is holy. 

Does watching world news lead you to despair?  “Your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is the best prayer we can offer for the devastation we hear from news reports.  We find comfort in God’s will.  We trust in him for all things.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  This covers not just our food but the provisions we will need for the day.  Jesus told us to not worry about tomorrow.  Today has enough for us to deal with, so we pray for today.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  I prefer the word sins over debts; it seems to be more pointed.  God has every right to demand justice and claim revenge over us for our sins.  Instead, he sent his son to pay the debt for our sins.  Justice has been served.  In his grace and mercy, he forgave our sins and forgot his claim to revenge.  Now he expects us to do the same for those who sin against us.  Jesus paid the price for their sins as well as ours.  We need to surrender our claim for justice and revenge to the Lord and forgive those who sin against us.

Forgiving others is difficult.  As in all things we need Jesus’ help to overcome our flesh.  The importance of forgiving others cannot be overemphasized.  After his prayer, Jesus said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14&15).  Forgiveness, difficult as it may be, is required of God’s children.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  We have a weakness called our sinful nature.  Jesus ends the prayer by asking for God’s help to overcome our weakness. We seek God’s protection from the one who would tempt us.  

Jesus’ prayer is a personal pray for God’s children.  It is not meant to be the only prayer.  We also pray for the sick, lost souls, and many other important things that we want to bring before our Father in heaven.  This prayer covers our daily need to connect with our heavenly Father, and it sets the tone for the day.  Starting our day the way Jesus taught us to pray will definitely improve each day of the year for us.  Living the way Jesus’ prayer directs us will definitely make 2023 more successful.  Praying for and trusting in God’s will, trusting in God’s daily provision, actively forgiving others, and asking for God’s help and protection will go a long way towards that success. 

A CHRISTMAS PRAYER

I pray that we be full of joy and thankfulness as we celebrate the Arrival of your Son and the realization of your great love for us.  Father, we celebrate what you have planned for us and the grace and mercy you have granted to us.  We approach you in humble amazement as we join together in our Christmas celebration.  All glory, honor, and praise be unto you, our Heavenly Father. Amen!

Have a very merry Christmas, and may God’s blessings be yours throughout the New Year.

CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS

With the advent of Christmas we celebrate the greatest event that ever happened on the earth.  God entered time and took on human flesh.  He spent time as one of us.  He walked beside us, and with his eventual death and resurrection, brought new and eternal life for all who would receive him.  This is worthy of celebration.  No other event on earth has stirred the hearts of men to such joyous celebration.  People all-over the world celebrate this wondrous occasion.

 Our joining together in celebration helps us focus on something grander than our individual lives; something more real than the temporal.  Celebration sets a mood of happiness and oneness.  I remember singing in a community choir at Christmas.  Our hearts were lifted as we performed traditional Christmas music.  We experienced oneness of joy.

The angels celebrated that first night when Jesus was born, and mankind has ever since had the opportunity to celebrate with them.  As we continue the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we acknowledge the wonder of God’s plan for our salvation.  That glorious night of Jesus’ birth was the beginning of God’s renewal of his creation.

                   A promise has been fulfilled

                   A reclamation for all the earth,

                   A virgin has brought forth child

                   A most miraculous birth.

                   A prophesy from ancient times

                   A hope that’s now achieved,

                   A salvation realized

                   A redemption for Adam’s seed.

God bless you, and have a Merry Christmas celebration!

 PSALM 82 AND GOD’S SOLUTION

Humans are at war all over the earth.  There is no peace on earth.  They kill each other and rob from each other.  Evil abounds!  The author of Psalm 82 laments the injustice on the earth.  He calls for God to intervene. We often hear cries for God to do something.  Why does he allow all this evil?

On the other hand there many acts of love and caring on the earth.  People sacrifice for the benefit of others.  They give their money and time to the needy.  Some have even given their lives for others.  Kindness and compassion do exist in the midst of daily life.

I recall that in the beginning we were created in the image of God himself.  Therefore, we are like God, beings of love.  I also remember that we chose to rebel against God and bring sin into the world.  Thus we have the by-polar existence of great good and great evil.  What can be done?

God in his infinite wisdom chose not to fix the symptoms but the cause.  His solution began with an infant born in a stable.  From this humble beginning, He brought about redemption from sin for all humans.  Yet, as in the beginning, He didn’t take away our right to choose.  He did give us the opportunity to be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  We can choose to repent of our sinful life and accept Jesus as our savior or continue in the pursuit of evil. 

 Yes, peace on earth is a possibility, but it is held in the hands of each person who lives on the earth.  We can elect to return to God or remain in our sins.  Evil or good, we get to choose.  God has heard our cries, and Jesus his Son is the solution for our dilemma.

RECEIVING BLESSINGS FROM OTHERS

(Romans 15:2 MSG) Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

I have a large tree in my front yard.  In the fall the leaves of this tree turn yellow, orange and red.  It is quite beautiful.  Usually the leaves fall between the last two weeks of November the first few weeks of December giving me a nice period of time to pick them up.  This year was different.

November was unseasonably cold this year leading to a surprise event. The colder weather prepares the leaves to break loose from the tree and fall to the earth more quickly.  Sunday and Monday of this week, a strong northwestern wind presented itself. Within twenty-four hours, ninety present of those beautiful leaves fell to the ground.  Four weeks of work turn into a one day experience. The good news, I was blessed with unanticipated help.  As I faced my overwhelming task, three Good Samaritans passed by. 

The first was a young man delivering a package to my neighbor.  He stopped to verify the address, and I pointed him to the right house.  On the way back to his truck, he stopped and offered to help me.  He stayed long enough to load a large bag with leaves.  I thanked him, and he replied that he used to pick up leaves with his grandfather.  He smiled and said he enjoyed helping me.

It takes many weeks to dispose of so many leaves.  I can only fill up one lawn waste can per week which would have taken me more than a month.  Then the second Good Samaritan came by. I don’t know who this was, so they remain anonymous.  When I went into the house for a coffee break, I left two large bags of leaves lying in the driveway.  When I returned one of those bags was gone.  I can only assume that a neighbor came by and took one home to put in his lawn waste can.    

The third Good Samaritan was my neighbor from across the street.  He noticed me laboring there in my front yard and offered his green can for me to fill.  He probably would have stayed to help me fill it, but he had broken his wrist and it was covered with a large brace. Now getting rid of the leaves will happen in just a couple of weeks thanks to my neighbors.

Three people, out of the kindness of their hearts, made my arduous task less difficult and more enjoyable. Their acts of kindness blessed my heart.  With their simple acts of kindness, they embodied our scripture from Romans. 

THE REASON FOR THANKSGIVING

(Ephesians 1:7-10 MSG) Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people – free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds.  And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free!  He thought of everything, providing for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making.  He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

So here in America, we have a day set aside for thankfulness.  What a great idea!  Americans have much to be thankful for – such as our freedom.  This freedom has been bought and maintain at a great price. We are thankful for all those who have sacrificed for our country.  Yet there is an eternal freedom that has been afforded us by the sacrifice of just one.  This freedom is offered to all who live on the earth.

Our scripture from Ephesians begins with this statement, “Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people…”  I don’t mean to trivialize the freedom we have in America, but I do want to emphasize the magnitude of what God has done.  All of mankind has been given the opportunity of being forgiven for their sins and to have eternal life. We in America and every other person on the earth can experience this freedom no matter what their circumstances.

Though I have many things that give me reason to be thankful, the foundation of my gratitude rest in Jesus Christ and him crucified.  All that I have and hold dear are because he redeemed me and gave me freedom from my sins. Jesus is my reason for being thankful.  I have a family and friends that I am privileged to enjoy here in this life, and I have the comfort in knowing they will be with me in eternity.  I am eternally thankful to my Heavenly Father and my Savior Jesus Christ.

ANGER

(Ephesians 4:26) “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Anger is an emotion and not necessarily a sin.  God can’t sin, but he gets angry. Most everyone can attest to the fact that anger is dangerous and can potentially lead to sin. Other emotions like love for instance can affect our reasoning ability.  Love can make us silly and whimsical, while anger can make us aggressive and violent.  Our enemy is prowling around looking for an opportunity to lead us into sin (see 1Peter 5:8).  Our anger looks like an invitation.

Anger can cause us to think, say, or do things we would never do under normal conditions.  So when anger arises, it should be a red light of warning.  I have many times allowed my anger to get out of control, most often with disastrous results.  Now when I recognize myself getting angry, the caution flag comes up, and the battle for control is on.

You’ve probably heard people say count to ten before you react.  That’s great advice, but I frequently need more time. The Apostle Paul teaches us to take every thought captive (see 2Corintians 10:5).  He goes on to say in that verse to make those thoughts obedient to Christ. That in itself is a challenge, yet it is a great reminder of where the strength to take those thoughts captive comes from. Anger is a strong emotion, and we need help to control it.  Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to help us. 

We could do a whole seminar on the subject of anger, however today we are just touching on the task of controlling it.  Being angry, controlling that anger, and avoiding letting that anger become sin, affords good results like peaceful relationships, less stress, and returning to loving one another.  These are things worth fighting for.  We need to do the battle, and win the victory of obedience to Christ.  In the long run I know we’ll be glad we did.

THE SECOND DEATH

(Revelation 21:8) But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death.

Last week I wrote about the future of the children of God.  God has planned wonderful things for his children.  Those who refuse God’s invitation to forgiveness and eternal life will not be so fortunate.  The scripture for this week points to the second death.

Thoughts of the second death lead to a jumble of concerns and visions.  It’s hard to imagine the horror that this will be.  I know people who are running down that wide road to destruction.  It makes me want to carry a sign that reads, “THE END IS NEAR – BEWARE OF THE SECOND DEATH”.  I don’t think a sign would be very affective.  I can hear people saying, “Did you see the nut on the street corner with the big sign?”  However, this scripture does add urgency to my prayer life.

  Sometimes I get lax in my prayer time, but reading this scripture has stirred me to a greater resolve.  I think that prayer is the most effective way to reach those who have not accepted the salvation God has provided through his son Jesus.  I want to always be ready to share my faith, but I know that my words would not reach the heart of the listener, unless the Father is drawing them.  Salvation is a miraculous act of God, so lifting up a person through prayer is the foundational beginning for reaching the unsaved. 

The children of God have such a wonderful future.  There is always room for new brothers and sisters to join us.  Let’s be diligent praying for our friends, family members, neighbors, and those God has put on our heart, so we can be servants in his plan of redemption. Remember, our God desires that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9).