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But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful. Romans 5:8

A friend of mine recently ran the Boston Marathon. He’s the kind of guy who takes ‘running to the store’ very seriously! The Boston Marathon has always been considered the granddaddy of all marathons but this year’s marathon drew even more attention because of the bombing in 2013. That event shook the nation much like, although on a smaller scale, the horror of 911.

Whenever a tragedy of that scope comes out, stories of heroic measures by others come to trescuedhe forefront. Stories of men and women who risk their lives to save the lives of other people who are often total strangers. Tragically, those ‘heroes’ often give their lives so others can live.

We all have our heroes. Some of our heroes are athletes or others who, because of their abilities are noteworthy. Other people are heroes because they set aside their own comfort and safety for others. Sometimes they are just people who are at the right place (or wrong place as it may be) and act sponta
neously. Often times they are innocent bystanders just ‘doing the right thing.

Sometimes heroic measures are driven by a need to serve, but ultimately heroic measures are driven by love either for mankind in general (the sanctity of life) or individually (love). Love, at whatever level, is perhaps the biggest reason for people to become heroes.

Heroes generally have four things in common:

First, heroes are known for their sacrificial actions. Many heroes have died saving others with no thought of their own personal safety. Jesus is my hero because he gave the greatest sacrifice anyone can give by giving his own life for me. We know the depth of someone’s love for us by what they are willing to sacrifice for us. Jesus gave everything for me.

Second, heroes often act without regard for whether the person they are working to save is deserving of saving or not. Police officers, Firefighters and medical personnel don’t check a person’s background before risking their lives to save them. They realize time is of essence. The other questions can be dealt with later. That’s the kind of love my hero, Jesus Christ, has. His love, true love is unconditional. Romans 5:8 tells me that God demonstrated his love for me while I was still a sinner! I don’t deserve his love, but he died for me anyway.

Third, we benefit greatly from heroes actions. We see many examples of that when people risk their lives at accident scenes to save total strangers, and then disappear into the crowd. The one saved benefits from a second chance at life. The hero may go unnoticed!

1 John 3:1-3 tells me the benefits I receive because of Jesus. It says, See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Lastly, heroes give us freedom. The men and women of our armed forces are excellent human examples of heroes that give us the freedoms we enjoy in this nation. The amount of love a person has for you is proportionate to the freedom you receive from that love. Jesus resurrection gives me complete freedom from guilt and sin because of his great love. The mark of the freedom I have in Jesus is inner joy that nothing or no one can take from me. Jesus’ joy is unconditional.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, thank you for being my hero. Thank you for the many blessings you have given me. I am so undeserving of anything you have given me yet you give freely. Help me to live in the freedom and joy you give through your forgiveness. In your name I pray, Amen.


“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” John 13:1

We see it every once in awhile on social media or the news. The story of someone who has lost a friend, a mate, a partner and stands guard over the grave site or the body, unwilling to leave, held captive as it were by love.

blank-tombstone-26137514One of the more touching stories I remember was that of an elderly couple who passed away together in their hospital room holding hands. They had been together for nearly 75 years as I recall and they became, to me, the essence of ‘loving one another to the end.’

In John 13:34 Jesus tells us the true essence of love when he says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

Jesus said these words just hours before he would be arrested and murdered innocently on the cross. As the disciples gathered together for what would be the final Passover Meal they would celebrate with Jesus, the focus of his teaching with them gathered around two words: Love and humility.

He showed them, at that last supper, a true example of love and humility by washing their feet. In fact, throughout his ministry Jesus showed us love that wasn’t just in word but in action.

Jesus loved the unlovely; reached out to those who we avoid; accepted those we criticize; touched those we consider untouchable, all in the name of love. When he said ‘I give you a new commandment’ the commandment wasn’t ‘new’ in the sense of something never before seen, but new in the sense that he showed us a ‘new way of considering love. God has always been love. God has always sought a love relationship with his children.

Jesus didn’t replace or change the commandment, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He filled it out and gave it clear illustration by saying, ‘Here is what I mean by loving one another. Watch me. Just as you want to be free, set others free; just as you want to experience life in its fullest, live in such a way as to help others find freedom; just as you want to be free of guilt; forgive others of the guilt of their sin towards you.

The Apostle John writes, in I John 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” Love is shown by how we treat ourselves and others.

Ephesians 5:29–30 says, “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”

When we love as Christ loves our lives are marked by joy. Hebrews 12:1-3 encourages us with these words, ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’

It was Jesus’ love for me and for you that gave him the strength to endure all he had to endure on the cross. It was Jesus love for me that proves what John tells us in John 13:1, ‘Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.’

With this perfect example of undying love before us we should not only be encouraged in our daily walk, we should be motivated to show that same kind of love Jesus has shown us. An unconditional live in which He laid his life down for us so that we could lay our lives down for others. Jesus truly loved us to the end.

PRAYER: “Lord Jesus, I thank you for the example of love you gave us as you walked among a rebellious and immoral people. I praise you for this love that is available to me even though I don’t deserve it. Forgive me for my hateful and judgmental attitudes. Help me to show the same love you showed me to those around me who need your touch today. In your precious name, Amen.


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He was a rookie, not just any rookie but one who immediately made an impact on the NBA in general and his upstart team in particular. The other guy was a seasoned veteran with a couple rings on his finger. He was tough, well-known and confident.

Maybe that’s why he fouled the rookie late in a game in which the upstart team was within seconds of an upset. After a brief time-out for strategy the veteran approached the rookie as he took his place on the lane. The TV cameras caught the exchange. The most novice lip-reader could see the ‘advice’ the veteran gave the rookie: “Don’t be short.”

All eyes were on the rookie who had made several of these shots earlier in the game. This was for the win. This would make the highlight reels. It would have that is unless the ball bounced off the front of the rim. The opposition grabbed the ball, moved it down the floor and shot the winning shot. The problem wasn’t that the rookie missed the shot, the real problem was that he lost his focus. Rather than thinking about the ball going through the hoop, he thought about the ball being short, which of course, it was.

Our focus determines how we respond to life’s circumstances. If our focus is on the negative, or on the problem itself we live defeated. If our focus is on the positive, on working towards or seeking solutions our chances of making it through the crisis are multiplied.

Jesus knew about focus. When he first appeared on the scene that night in Bethlehem his focus was on growing up in faith and maturity. Our only glimpse of him as a child was in the temple where his focus was obviously on learning. Luke tells us he returned home to grow physically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually.

Life changed dramatically when he was anointed by the Holy Spirit and his focus changed from being Jesus, son of Mary to being Jesus, Son of God and he began a ministry of spiritual and physical healing in the Judean countryside.

However, perhaps the biggest change comes as Luke records it in Luke 9:51 when Jesus turned his face towards Jerusalem. Then his focus changed from Jesus Son of God to Jesus, Savior of the world!

While Jesus remained focused on the task at hand, the same can’t be said for his disciples. While he was healing and teaching their focus seemed to be on their position on the ‘discipleship ladder’ and how they could improve it. Countless times it seems Jesus would take his band of brothers aside to remind them that this wasn’t about their position it was about service.

Not only does focus determine how we respond to life circumstances, focus determines the direction of our motivation. If our motivation is on self-preservation our motivation is on defending what we have (or think we have). If our motivation is based on service then our focus is inevitably on others.

Jesus death wasn’t the result of an angry mob. His death didn’t happen by accident. His death wasn’t unplanned. When Jesus set his heart and mind towards Jerusalem and the cross he did it for one reason and one reason alone – his love for you and me. As someone once said, it wasn’t the nails that held Jesus to the cross; it wasn’t my sin that held him to the cross. It was his love for me that held him to the cross.

John 10:18 says,No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

What an amazing statement! Jesus loves me so much that he willingly suffered on the cross for my sin and for yours as well. There is nothing we can do to earn this love. There is nothing more to give, no sacrifice asked for. All that’s required is acceptance of his grace and mercy behalf. What a savior. What a Lord.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus. I’m in awe as I remember the motivation for your trip to Jerusalem. You knew what lay ahead of you, yet you bore the pain of the cross for me because of your great love for me. Empower me with your Spirit so that I can focus my life on serving you by loving others. In your name I pray, Amen.

 

 


“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32

Have you ever found yourself in the position of buying a ‘gift’ for someone under obligation? It’s not that you don’t like the person, or that you have no desire to be kind, it’s just that the gift you are looking for is out of ‘expectation’ rather than passion. Maybe it’s not a gift. Maybe it’s some other act of kindness. Rather than random acts of kindness we often perform random acts of obligation.

There is no joy in obligatory giving. It can leave us feeling violated, taken advantage of or used. We feel controlled and manipulated by the person we are buying the gift for and it’s easy to become bitter, angry and alienated.

Sometimes people see God as an obligatory giver.  We see him as a controlling, manipulative being who is really intent on making our lives miserable and that we live in constant fear of his wrath. We see him as a being that is constantly looking for our sacrifice to prove our allegiance to him. It’s sad to say, but sometimes, organized religion has either intentionally or unintentionally propagated that idea by placing rules and regulations on how we act or making demands on our time and money.

In the middle of Jesus’ teaching on worry he gives us a picture of his Father that we should never forget. Jesus likens the Father’s love and care of us to his watch care over nature. The birds don’t worry about their next meal; the flowers burst forth to show their beauty without worrying about how the wind blows.

Then He says “Don’t be afraid little flock”. Pay attention to that phrase because it is a term of affection, endearment and protection. As the good shepherd Jesus knew that sheep would wander aimlessly into danger without guidance and leadership. While some want to paint God as a being who is, at best, hesitant to bestow his blessings and is angry or begrudging in showing kindness, Jesus says the opposite is true. He tells us God’s actions towards us aren’t based on his power, which he certainly has a right to do, but on his love for us.

The next phrase in this verse is important because it tells us of the very character of God. Don’t be afraid little flock because “your father is pleased’ to give you the kingdom. Did you catch that? The Father, the Creator God of the universe is pleased to give you the kingdom. God doesn’t hold back; He doesn’t give grudgingly. He is pleased, honored and looking forward to bestowing on us his good pleasure.

The problem is, sometimes we seek only the physical blessings of life. We seek the three R’s of riches, relationships and religion. We tell ourselves we are ‘blessed if we have a healthy bank account and retirement plan. We are blessed if we have a strong family relationship. We are blessed if we attend the right church.

While all these things can point to God’s blessings, God’s true blessings come through a healed heart, a contented soul and a hope built on the forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ. We have a God who takes great pleasure in giving us all the blessings of his kingdom; blessings of forgiveness, hope and peace of heart.

PRAYER: Father God, as I think of that phrase “it is your pleasure to give me your blessings’, I’m in awe. I’m so undeserving of your grace. I fail you daily. I hurt others and ultimately myself by my actions. I forget what is truly important in life. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for taking great pleasure in blessing me with your kingdom through Jesus Christ. Amen.


A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”Isaiah 42:3-4

smoldering wickOur family loves to go camping every opportunity we can. There’s something about hooking up the camper and heading into the woods to get away from it all, even if for only a couple days. On one such camping trip we stopped at the gift shop of the campgrounds we would call home for several days.

While we all love camping, my daughter enjoys it the most. She like the conveniences of a full service campground with playgrounds and pools, but she is equally enthralled with escaping to the remotest places in the world (our world anyway) to enjoy the barest of facilities.

On this particular occasion she saw a fire-starting kit complete with flint and steel. Now, mind you, I am NOT a Boy Scout. My idea of starting a fire in remote areas is making sure my Aim & Flame is fresh and ready to go! However, we bought the kit and proceeded to our campsite to start the fire that would cook our supper.

The task was quite a challenge for one novice and a young child. We tried over and over to get the flame started. A couple times we got a small piece of leaf to smolder but time and again it would die out and we’d have to start over. I confess to you that we gave up. Hunger proved more of an incentive than rustic living!

When Isaiah was writing to the nation of Israel they were a tired nation. Largely due to their own rebellion, they were suffering under enemy rule as God’s judgment of their idolatry. They were tired. They were full of hopelessness. They saw no easy solution to their problems. Many died never seeing the deliverance promised them.

Later, Matthew would quote Isaiah in his gospel. Not many things had changed for Israel. They were still a people under bondage. They were still a people in hopeless despair. They were economically depressed, politically oppressed and religiously distressed. Then Jesus came.

Isaiah’s description of the Messiah was just what the people needed in his day, during the time Jesus walked this earth and today as well.

We need a Savior who will understand the delicacy of a smoldering wick. We need a Savior that understands our fragile condition. We need a Savior that realizes that just one more puff of wind may put an end to our ability to cope.

As we feel the life ebb from our emotional souls it’s easy to look for the easy solution, to look at what I like to call the three R’s of life: Religion, Riches and Relationships. The problem is that we have learned, or are learning the hard way that none of these help. All of them may seem to fan the flame for a time, but eventually they snuff us out.

Jesus didn’t come to snuff out our flame. He didn’t come to break us into submission. This God that can calm the storm; this God that hangs the stars in their place; this God that casts out demons, is also a God of gentleness. He comes to shore us  up in our weakness, to fan the flame that has all but died out in our souls.

Regardless of what is attacking you now, realize that Jesus Christ came to gently, but firmly rekindle the flame within you. It may take time, but he has all the time in the world.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I thank you this morning for the power you showed in the storms of Galilee; how you healed the sick, the lame and those hounded by demons. Most of all, Lord Jesus I thank you that in my weakest moments when I feel the flame of my hope about to be snuffed out, you come to me to fan the flame once again in my soul. Amen.

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