True Love

At what point in your life do you think you really began to understand love? Love is introduced to us by our parents, if we have good ones. The love of family is a foundation upon which children grow in their understanding of love. But a child’s love is selfish and limited. It isn’t what it will be when they mature.

Now think about the first time you thought you were “in love.” Maybe you ended up with that person, or maybe that was just a test run for the real thing when it came along.

Loving someone in a long term, committed relationship probably comes closer to the real thing. I have been tremendously blessed to be totally in love with the same guy for over 40 years. And as good as that is, there is another love that I have experienced that is closer yet to true love…when I became a mother.

Parental love is sacrificial, whole-hearted, life-long, and often exhausting. You never stop worrying about your children and you know you would do anything for their happiness.

Parental love is what God feels for you. You are his blessed child, and he would do anything for your happiness…even send his only son to die on a cross for you. His love for you is true love.

1 John 3 (The Message)

16-17 This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

Love is real when it is given away without any thought of recompense, return, or cost. Love is real when someone else’s needs trump your own. Love is real when it looks like Jesus.

When We Practice Real Love

18-20 My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

John challenges us to practice REAL LOVE by giving ourselves away just as Jesus gave himself. Just talking about love won’t cut it. Doing love-in-action is the true measure of our love for Jesus. When you live sacrificially for those around you, you are truly living in God’s reality.

21-24 And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command.

When we commit acts of love in Jesus’ name, we are doing what pleases him. He told us to love one another. This is his greatest command.

As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.

So go out today and commit an act of true, unconditional, and sacrificial love for someone who needs love. Just as you live deeply in Jesus, so he lives in you. Go and be Jesus today!

Love in Bloom

Compelled

I continue to be constantly amazed at how the lectionary reaches deep into our lives and teaches us lessons that are timely, accurate, and humbling. I have said before that I went years without giving the lectionary much attention because I was serving in churches that chose not to follow it. (The lectionary is a three-year program of assigned scriptures for every week to be used in preaching and Christian education.) I once worked with a senior pastor who liked to preach either in a series, or as “the spirit led.” He was a wonderful preacher and his methodology certainly blessed the congregation.

But today’s lectionary speaks so closely to my heart and my current situation, I could have penned it myself, though clearly not with such eloquence. But every word in this passage resonates with me about why I get up early every day and slog through writing At Water’s Edge. I have been criticized, praised, supported, and dismissed. None of that matters. When Paul says, “I’m compelled to do it, and doomed if I don’t!” I rise up in my chair, raise my coffee cup and yell, “PREACH IT BROTHER!”

I apologize if this is somewhat self-absorbed, but I bet there is something in here for you, too.

Are you in a family situation where your beliefs have separated you from your loved ones? Do you struggle with those who discredit you for your faith? Are you surrounded by meticulous moralists? Paul GETS YOU.

1 Corinthians 9 (The Message)

15-18 Still, I want it made clear that I’ve never gotten anything out of this for myself, and that I’m not writing now to get something. I’d rather die than give anyone ammunition to discredit me or question my motives. If I proclaim the Message, it’s not to get something out of it for myself. I’m compelled to do it, and doomed if I don’t! If this was my own idea of just another way to make a living, I’d expect some pay. But since it’s not my idea but something solemnly entrusted to me, why would I expect to get paid? So am I getting anything out of it? Yes, as a matter of fact: the pleasure of proclaiming the Message at no cost to you. You don’t even have to pay my expenses!

When we accept the call to be witnesses for Christ in our lives, it is necessary to do exactly what Paul describes: to enter the world of those who haven’t encountered Christ yet, but to not take on their way of life. To keep your bearings IN Christ while trying to experience things from other people’s point of view. To become whatever sort of servant God can use to lead others to him.

19-23 Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!

The lesson today is to be like Paul. Don’t just talk about it…get in on it! You too will be criticized, supported, praised, or dismissed. So be it. If God is for us, nothing can harm us. NOTHING can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus.

Don’t just read the message…be the message.

A New Day by Michelle Robertson

Here Am I

What do you think God wants from you? Loyalty? Obedience? Worship? Adoration? Action?

The early Israelites struggled with this question. That struggle continued into New Testament times as Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, and others tried to form sects structured around their notion of what God wanted from them. They were hung up on things like fasting, class distinctions, sabbath regulations, piety, and a plethora of laws. Jesus brought absolute clarity to the question, but well before his arrival on the scene the prophet Isaiah beautifully articulated what God wants from his people.

The people had chosen to fast from inconsequential things. (You know, like when you give up donuts for Lent but you don’t really like donuts.) God had something entirely different in mind:

Isaiah 58 (New International Version)

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?

For example, the modern church puts a lot of effort, resources, energy, and activity toward worship. But notice that worship doesn’t make the top of the list. Worship is always a life-giving necessity, but breaking the chains of injustice and setting the oppressed free seem to rank higher, according to Isaiah.

Maybe worship comes next on the list…

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Nope, not yet. Sharing food with the hungry and providing shelter are listed. Clothing the naked is important, too. It seems that God is more interested in social justice issues than whether the altar candles should have wax, wicks, or oil…which is actually a dilemma that altar guilds have lost sleep over.

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

We would do well to listen to Isaiah. Serving the needs around us is akin to light breaking through upon the people of God when they engage in acts of righteousness. People who serve God in this manner find wholeness and healing, and God himself comes alongside to assist.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

When we are following God’s call, there is never a time that he is not with us. Not. Ever. So if your only interaction with God is once a week for an hour on Sundays, think that through again. God is more interested in your treatment of his people throughout the week than your attention for an hour.

In other words, you are not called to just hear the word. You are called to go out and BE the word.

So go be the word today.

Be the Word by Karen Warlitner

Welcome?

How many of you are familiar with the British actor known as Mr. Bean? Played by Rowan Atkinson, Mr. Bean is a rubber-faced physical comedy master in the vein of Jim Carry or the Three Stooges. I stumbled upon a skit called Mr. Bean Goes to Church that I found to be both hilarious and distressingly true.

Mr. Bean visits a country church for the first time and struggles with how to do things “properly” because he is new. He can’t figure out the liturgy, sings off tempo, makes too much noise opening a cough drop, and eventually falls asleep during the sermon with his head bobbing on the shoulder and chest of the VERY visibly disgruntled church member sitting next to him.

Watching the reactions of the disapproving church member is where the story of hospitality in the church is told. He is very inconvenienced with this newbie next to him, is reluctant to share his pew and his hymnal, rolls his eyes when Mr. Bean sings at the wrong time, and does everything in his power to say “You’re not welcome here.” Mr. Bean doesn’t fit in.

Have you ever felt that way in a church? I have. My worst experience was in a church in New Orleans where we were spotted as “new” and made by the pastor to stand and not only introduce ourselves but tell “a little something about us.” We were just trying out all the Methodist churches in the area and simply wanted to worship. I am sure that pastor thought he had a very strong hospitality game by doing this. He was wrong. We never went back.

I have used this clip as an ice-breaker when training churches on how to be more welcoming. Hospitality in the church is the most vital part of our evangelism ministry yet we have no idea how we are perceived.

In Paul’s letter to the new church at Thessalonica, he praises them for their outreach efforts. Note that none of it has to do with brochures, a committee, calling out visitors in worship, or any of the things churches do in the name of “hospitality.”

1 Thessalonians (The Message)

7-10 Do you know that all over the provinces of both Macedonia and Achaia believers look up to you? The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore—you’re the message!

All of us are in the “Evangelism Ministry.” True outreach happens when we authentically walk the talk and live out the Good News of Jesus in front of people with the simple example of our lives. When a fellowship of people truly love the Lord and ALL of his people, the word gets out.

People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom.

This actually has nothing to do with church and everything to do with you. When you put away the dead idols of your preconceived notion of who is included in “God’s people,” it is only then that you can embrace and serve God, the true God.

So be the message. Receive strangers with open arms in the name of Jesus. Jesus rescued us from certain doom! Find a way today to tell this Good News to someone who hasn’t heard it yet. YOU are an evangelist when your life echoes the Master’s Word. Go and tell!

Need a laugh? Watch this.

Go and Tell by Michelle Robertson