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Back in the 1990’s there was a clever marketing campaign which, I believe, was a true attempt to remind people of our original calling: To live by example the good news of the Gospel as personified in the life of Jesus Christ.

Many a T-shirt, can cooler, visor, and bracelet were sold with the initials, WWJD. Today, the question is as valid as it was then. What would Jesus do? I doubt he would lash out at Caesar for his handling of the Roman Empire. Judging from his treatment of the woman guilty of adultery, I”m guessing he would not condemn those who live a life contrary to God’s original plan for family.

Jesus Christ found the perfect balance between reaching out to the ‘deplorables’ while at the same time standing for the standards of his Heavenly Father. How unfortunate that 2000 years ago people of ill repute sought Jesus out and today they tend to scoff, run or hide from the mere mention of his name.

Now more than ever, we who are ‘little Christs’ (the original implication of the title ‘Christian’) ought to strive with every word, with every action, with every attitude, to exemplify the life of the one who called us from darkness.

Be a light. Shine like Jesus did.

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. 2 Corinthians 7:10 (NLT)

It’s hard to let go of things. There’s an age old story about how people used to catch monkeys. The story has several versions and may or may not be true. However, its message is worth a repeat here. In the story a jar or coconut was used to catch a monkey by putting peanuts through the opening. The neck of the vessel was small enough for a monkey to put its open hand in so it could grab the peanuts. However, the opening was too small for it to remove his clenched fist. As the story goes, the monkey would be so intent on keeping its prize (the peanuts) that he would be easily captured with its hand ‘in the cookie jar’, so to speak.

Like the monkey each of us has those things in our lives that are hard to let go of. It could be the pain of rejection; a broken or unfulfilled relationship; the emotional scars of abuse; fear of failure; the loss of a dream or the guilt of our poor choices and mistake ridden past. Reality is, it doesn’t really matter what the ‘peanuts’ in our lives are, until we can let go of them we are trapped.

The writer to the Hebrews relates a similar situation when he encourages his readers to get rid of everything that holds us down. He uses the analogy of a runner getting rid of any extra clothing so that nothing would encumber them. In the ancient Olympic games runners ran nude (or nearly so) in order to be completely free of anything that would keep them from winning.

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted”. Normally we associate mourning with death and while that is the most severe type of mourning, there are many other ways in which we mourn. Those things we mourn over become the ‘peanuts’ in our lives.

The good news is that Jesus came to give comfort for the things that cause pain; that cause mourning in our lives. Never lose sight of the fact that Jesus Christ desperately wants to comfort you in your pain. He came to earth so that we could have relationship with him, freedom from guilt. His purpose isn’t to laden us with more rules or remind us of our failures. His purpose is to give us freedom.

The problem is those ‘peanuts’. We need to let go of the pain. We need to let go of the anger and resentment. We need to let go of the false belief that we are a failure. We need to let go of the lofty dreams of a fairy tale existence where everyone lives happily ever after. The Apostle Paul tells us that until we let go of those things, God cannot free us.

When we truly let go of our sin and negative feelings, He will come in and comfort us and show us the true meaning of relationship and forgiveness. Let the following prayer be your gateway to letting go and getting life.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus. It seems like I can’t let go of this feeling of guilt, remorse, anger [fill in your own pain]. I try so hard to make the right choices and they blow up in my face. I’m asking you today to forgive me and help me to live for you. Help me change the things that need changing and let go of the things that keep me from life. Amen.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3 (NIV)

Jesus tells the story of a man who was beaten and robbed by a bunch of thugs. Severely injured and left on the road to die, he was without hope. Soon two men came upon his beaten, bruised and battered body. Each of them took stock of the situation and decided it was best if they moved on. The third man, a hated Samaritan came along and saw the man laying there in a pool of blood. Realizing there was no time to waste, he bandaged the man’s wounds and brought him to safety. He had compassion on him.

Compassion. The dictionary defines it as a consciousness of someone else’s distress with an urgent desire to alleviate it. Sympathy is understanding and perhaps even sharing the emotions of another person in distress, but compassion takes that a step farther by seeking ways in which to alleviate the pain.

James tells us, what good is it, when you see someone in need to say “I’ll pray for you, I feel bad about your plight.” (My paraphrase from James 2) Referring back to our example of the story Jesus told. Let’s give the first two men that came upon the victim some credit. Let’s say, for the sake of argument that they stopped, looked and even prayed over the man who was beaten to a bloody pulp. Of what benefit were there prayers.

It’s interesting that Jesus chose the characters he did. The two that passed by were ‘the religious elite’ of the day. The type of people any pastor would love to have on their board or staff. The one that stopped to give compassion would be looked down upon in most churches.

Perhaps you are the one wounded on the side of the road. You’ve had a history of abuse and abandonment. Your wounds aren’t readily visible to those around you, but the pain is unbearable. Perhaps those bruises were given to you in the name of the church, or for your own good.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth to remind them that we are to be examples of God. God is the one that not only stops to look at your pain, He’s the one that stoops to our level, bandages your wounds, and comforts you in your pain. You may think you have fallen too far. You may think your wounds too deep. You may say you have nothing to offer.

That’s the beauty of our God. None of us have anything of any value to offer him for his kindness. None of us have the resources to purchase his forgiveness. We are comforted only because of his grace.

PRAYER: Father God. I praise you for the assurance we have that you will bandage our wounds and show us your compassion. We are a needy people. We are a wounded people. Thank you for the comfort you offer us through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Unfortunately, there have been several mass shootings of late. In 1999 the Columbine shootings awakened us to the horrific possibility that schools weren’t as safe as we once thought. Since then we’ve realized no place, not even houses of worship, are safe anymore.

But this one hit hard. Maybe it’s because of the age of the victims. Perhaps it’s because to have this happen so close to Christmas dashes our hopes, and taints the holiday most looked forward to by our babies. Maybe it’s because it is one more reminder of the frailty and uncertainty of life.

Hopefully it drives each of us to appreciate the ones we love and tell them and show them so…often. Every time we part company with them, we need to be reminded in some small way that this could be the last time we see them. No drama there, no attempt to preach doomsday logic. Just a quiet reminder to show those we love that we love them.

My prayers, of course go out to the parents and families of the victims. The brothers and sisters that won’t see their brother or sister this side of heaven. The grandparents that won’t get to see that Christmas Concert this year (and it’s the first one they’d have). The Aunts and Uncles who just lost their pride and joy. Simply can’t imagine the pain.

My prayer is for the teachers and staff of Sandy Brook. Those of in education know that it doesn’t matter if you are the class instructor, the janitor or the cook, you play a vital role in the life of the Kids. At any given moment you are a parent, a coach, and encourager, a disciplinarian, a doctor, a counselor, a pastor,  a playmate, and perhaps most importantly, a friend…a best friend at times.

People choose to go into education to make a difference in lives of children. We don’t go into it for the pay (which isn’t that great) or so we can ‘have summers off (which rarely happens) or for status. We work long hours, struggle with increasing government regulations and paper work; with increasing scrutiny by parents, politicians and the community at large; when the kids fail it’s our fault, when they succeed it’s their determination that does it.

We don’t just deal with sick kids, scared kids, abused kids, violent kids, smart kids, and kids with special needs. We become a part of their family system. Maybe that’s why this one hit so hard for me.

I still believe in God’s love although sometimes I question why He allows these things to happen. My prayers are for comfort and strength for the victims’ families. But most of all right now, I pray for the teachers, and for all the 1000’s of teachers across this country that are hurting over this. God Bless you. You do a service everyday that many can’t do. Thank you for your dedication. Thank you for your love.

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:9 (NIV)

“Don’t you know me?”

The words are stunning really. It’s a phrase that hurts both the one saying it and the one to whom it’s directed. After all this time we’ve spent together, you don’t know me? After going through all these struggles, you haven’t noticed? I’ve walked by your side. I’ve eaten with you.

When you were sick I comforted you; when you were scared I held your hand; when you were confused, I gave you direction; when you were frustrated, I encouraged you. I stood up for you when you were under attack; I picked you up when you fell; I held the light when the path was dark and an umbrella when it rained.

Like Philip, each of us can get so used to the ‘idea’ of Jesus we tend to really appreciate who he is and what he does for us on a daily basis. Do you KNOW Jesus? Meditate on that question for a moment.

I know the guy at the coffee shop where I get coffee every morning. I know my neighbor across the street. I know the person in the next cubicle at work. But the way I know each of them is completely different from the way I know my wife, or she knows me. After being together all these years it still amazes us how we will be ‘lost in thought’ and blurt out the same idea. Completely random thoughts? Yes, but we know each other so well we often know exactly where our thought processes are going.

But even the intimacy and comfort of knowing my wife as well as I do is nothing compared to how Jesus knows me. Those thoughts I can’t put into words? He knows them. Those fears and doubts I don’t dare tell anyone? He understands.

And during those times when I feel too weak to go on, he turns to me and asks, “Don’t you know me?” Do you remember the storms I’ve calmed, the sick I’ve healed, the broken hearts I’ve mended? I haven’t changed. My love for you is, as it has always been. My power is available to you just as it was to the blind man, the crippled, and a bunch of fishermen being tossed wildly in the boat.

Do you know Jesus? Do you know the Jesus that is ready and willing to walk through the tempest with you? It’s much more than getting acquainted. It’s a life-long journey bathed in prayer and digging deep into his word. Knowing Jesus, really KNOWING him is the best thing for whatever trial you are going through.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I’m as guilty as Philip of not seeing you for who you really are. I depend on myself when I should depend on you. I doubt when I should trust. I am weak when I should tap into your power. Help me from this day forward to see you as you are. Amen.

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