Get Real!

  I have several atheist/agnostic friends. My Christian friends are often puzzled as to why those who were raised in the church no longer believe in God. What, we wonder, has stood in their way?
  One major issue is: the church is in the way! We say one thing and live another. We call ourselves “little Christs” and act like little devils! We judge non-Christians for acting like non-Christians, but turn our heads when our fellow Christians act like non-Christians!
  Another serious issue is our acute carelessness with our words. Think about this: what do we say to that young, unmarried, girl who is pregnant (and probably feeling scared and alone), and visits our church one Sunday? Do we even bother to greet her?
  Or, do we stand to the side, in our little cliques, loudly whispering about what “an exceptionally horrible sinner” someone “surely” is, to get pregnant out of wedlock? Or maybe we’re nice enough to her face, but in our head, and after church, on the way home, we’re thinking what a “disgusting sinner” she is.
  Or what about the ex-con who comes in to church, alone and ashamed? Do we hurry past him, hoping he won’t want to greet us? Or we tell him he’s not welcome there? Didn’t Jesus say he qualifies as “one of the least of these”?
  Aren’t we forgetting that we’re no better than him/her? Who of us can say that we’re without sin? No one! We have all sinned, and it’s only by the incredible mercy and grace of God, who died for us, that we are without blemish in God’s eyes.
  Guess what? That sinner you know, can be saved just as simply as you were! We are no better than them, and if we pretend that our salvation is by our merit, then we are slapping God in the face, and we are driving away those who most need to be in church, learning who God is: the spiritually sick and broken ones.
 

  “The church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” – Unknown

  “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'” – Matthew 25:45

  “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace though the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” – Romans 3:22-24

  “Whoever had my commands and obeys them, He is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” – John 14:21

  “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:8

  “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. Of one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead…. In the same way, read more even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she have lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” – James 2:14-17, 25-26

  (All verses from New International Version)

Mirror Mirror on the Wall…

  It is much easier to hate those who we do not understand than those we do understand. This (at least in part) is because to understand someone, we have to glimpse their soul. The more of their soul we see, the more of ourselves we see in them.
  If their soul is dark with hate, this points out to us our own secret hatreds. If their soul is bright with love (perhaps love born of great sorrow) this reminds us of our own potential to shine with love and therefore calls us to a higher standard.
  We cannot transcend what we do not understand. We must know ourselves – the good, the bad, and the ugly – if we are to grasp the urgency of our need to surrender to God’s transformative power.
  Take Hitler, for example. A classic example of evil personified. None of us want to compare ourselves to Hitler – and understandably so! He was a bigot, a cruel dictator, a psychopathic murderer, etc. Adolf Hitler senselessly murdered at least six million human beings of every age and gender, mostly Jews, though other races were fair game as well. Few, if any, human beings in the history of this planet, could possibly compare in terms of carnage caused.
  However, at the root of his horrible actions were emotions common to all of us: anger, hurt, fear, greed, lack of empathy, selfishness, and bigotry. How many of us, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, have at some point, allowed those very same emotions to rule our decisions? To control our actions? To speak for us? If we’re honest, -to our shame- we all have.
  Don’t misunderstand: I am by no means saying we are all destined to follow in Hitler’s footsteps. I am, however, saying that we need to learn from history before we repeat its dangerous mistakes.
  Some lessons we can learn from Adolf Hitler would be:
    I. Never let your emotions drive the bus. They always take you over the cliff.
    II. Never think you are above doing the unthinkable. The potential to do as Hitler did is within each of us.
    III. Never think you’re doomed to follow in the footsteps of Hitler, or any other evil person. If you surrender to the Holy Spirit rather than your emotions, you can live like Christ, practicing agape in every situation – BY HIS POWER, NOT YOURS!
    IV. Never dismiss horrible people (whether historical figures such as Adolf Hitler or that boss who you are pretty sure is not fully human) as having nothing valuable to teach us. We DO learn from everyone we encounter.- the question is, WHAT do we learn from them? The lessons God would have us learn? Or those which come naturally to us as fallen mankind?
    V. Let the Holy Spirit be your teacher, with “bad people”, and their actions, as the object lesson. By keeping everything in its proper place, we allow God to teach us the lesson HE WANTS us to learn (such as the examples above).

  “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” – Luke 6:40 (NIV)

  Who will you learn to imitate?

  “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau

  “What can we gain by sailing to the Moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but dangerous.” – Thomas Merton

  “You cannot transcend what you do not know. To go beyond yourself, you must know yourself.” – Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

  “We pity in others only those evils which we ourselves have experienced.” – Rousseau
 
   

Agape Love

    ~Agape: “Self-sacrificing, unconditional love, such as that which Christ demonstrated on the cross.”~
 
  Some people give unreservedly, unhesitatingly, and unabashedly. They may not have much money, but they give all they have and are. They dedicate their time, creativity, energy, talents, etc to honoring God by serving others. They don’t think for a second about receiving anything in return. These people daily carry out Christ’s admonition to be “salt and light”. They are the ones who make this world inhabitable!
  However, sadly, those who live so sacrificially are typically underappreciated and unnoticed. Resultantly, they become discouraged and lonely, feeling that their outpouring of love upon others has been fruitless. They long to be loved and appreciated.
  If you’re one of those who practice agape, God has a word for you today!
 
  ~”Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; HIS LOVE ENDURES FOREVER.” (NIV; emphasis added)~
 
  Don’t feel guilty that you crave receiving (as well as giving) agape love. God created each of us with an inner longing, which only His love can fulfill. Let me remind you though, that just as you’ve surely failed others, so other people will surely fail you sooner or later. So let GOD shower you with HIS “enduring” love!
 
  ~”And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” – Matthew 10:42 (NIV)~

  ~”‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” – Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV)~

  ~”As He looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ He said, ‘This poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'” – Luke 21:1-4 (NIV)~

  After years of sacrificial love that reaps no immediately noticeable results, it is normal to feel that those “small” acts of kindness are pointless, inconsequential, and insignificant.
But think about this poor widow! She probably hadn’t any idea that the God of the universe stood nearby, admiring and appreciating her sacrificial love for Him. She could easily have allowed herself to believe that there was no way those two cents could possibly change the world, and just kept them to provide for herself.
  Thankfully, she instead wisely chose to go forward in faith, trusting that her God could use her sacrifice. Guess what? He did! God has used her seemingly insignificant gift to teach generations of His disciples to love sacrificially and to inspire us to give all we have to God. May we find the faith to do likewise….

Agape Love

  ~Agape: “Self-sacrificing love, such as that which Christ demonstrated for us by being crucified. Can and should be lived out in any context and at every opportunity.”~
 
  Some people lovingly give, without reservation or hesitation. They may not have much money, but they give all they have, and all they are – not just financially, but primarily of their talents, time, energies, etc. They don’t care if they ever receive anything in return, rather their desire is to give for the sake of blessing others and honoring God.
  These are the people who, often without realizing it, daily practice living out Christ’s admonition to be salt and light. These people make this world inhabitable!
  However, after years of sacrificial living, these precious souls may become discouraged and lonely, feeling unappreciated and useless. They ache to be loved as they’ve loved others. If you, dear reader, are one of those people, God has a word for you today!
  “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; HIS LOVE ENDURES FOREVER.” – Psalm 107:1 (NIV; emphasis added)
  Don’t feel guilty that you want to be loved unconditionally, and appreciated for who you are! God created all of us with a craving for His AGAPE love. The key is to always bear in mind that God, and God alone, can satisfy this longing, no one else! Just as doubtless you’ve failed others, so others doubtless will fail you.

  ~”And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because He is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” – Matthew 10:42 (NIV)~
 
  It is perfectly normal to feel that your “small” deeds of kindness are insignificant. However Jesus makes it abundantly clear that there are no small or insignificant acts of kindness! He sees all that you do for Him by loving His children, and He will honor it. Rest in His arms – He will always love you. You don’t have to perform for Him, or live up to a certain standard. He knows your failures, and loves you anyway. He died for us knowing that we’re wretched sinners. You’re not by any means a disappointment to Him. You’re His beloved child! No matter what you do or don’t do, He will always cherish you!
 
  ~”‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
  The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” – Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV)~
 
  ~”Then He [Jesus] said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the One who sent me. For He who is least among you all – He is the greatest.'” – Luke 9:48 (NIV)~
 
  ~”As He looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ He said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.'” – Luke 21:1-4 (NIV)~
 
  So take heart and keep up the good work! Your reward awaits you in Heaven!

Hope for the Hopeless

  “But Jesus immmediately said to them, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’

  ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’

  ‘Come,’ He said.

  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord save me!’

  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caaught him. ‘You of little faith,’ He said. ‘Why did you doubt?'”

  – Matthew 14:27-31 (NIV)

 

   When life hands us the worst of circumstances, we as human beings tend to lose hope very quickly. We look at the storm surrounding  us, rather than the goal (Christ) before us. We naturally allow our circumstances to become a ball-and-chain about our ankles, rather than allowing them to spur us on to greater things, as they are designed to do.

  Just as Peter was overwhelmed by his cirucmstances when he took his eyes off of the greatness of Christ and fixed them on the greatness of the storm instead, so do we sink when we stop focusing on Christ and instead focus on our circumstances.

  in verse 25, Jesus gave his disciples proof positive that He was who He had claimed to be all along, by walking on the water. In verse 27, He told them who He was. Together these things formed as full a revelation  of the glory of God as can be given to mortal man. Peter, bolstered by the knowledge that the God of the universe was there for Him, stepped out onto the crashing waves and WALKED ON THE WATER DESPITE HIS FEAR. The problems started when he took his eyes off of Christ (who, we note, was his only goal) and focused on the wind.

  But notice that Peter eventually knew to whom to turn! Verse 30 tells us that once he realized he’d made the mistake of looking in the wrong place, he called out to Jesus to save him. The really exciting part is verse 31, which informs us that Jesus “immediately” reached out to him and saved him! Hallelujah! Even the worst doubters among us can be saved.

  Too often, when we do realize that we have allowed ourselves to look at our frightening circumstances, we wallow in shame and guilt. We foolishly try to rescue ourselves! We should learn from Peter’s example: He cried out to Jesus, knowing that he was in a fix from which no one but God could rescue him. And true to form, Jesus IMMEDIATELY was there for Peter, being faithful and forgiving to Peter when Peter was insulting Jesus by doubting Him.

  The same is true for us today! Whatever stormy sea we are stranded on, all we must do is humble ourselves and cry out to Jesus for rescue, and HE WILL RESCUE US! He  is waiting….

 

  “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)

 

  “But He gives us more grace. That is why scripture says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'” – James 4:6 (NIV)

 

  “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

 

  “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ , after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To Him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” – 1Peter 5:10-11 (NIV)

  “But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'” – Matthew 14:27 (NIV)
 
  “The Lord replied, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.'” – Exodus 33:14 (NIV)
 
  “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)
 
  “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” – 2Timothy 1:7 (NIV)
 
  “‘Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 1:8 (NIV)
 
  “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NIV)
 
  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
 
  “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” – Colossians 3:15 (NIV)

Gratitude

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How many of us go through our day focusing on all that we do not have? It is a pretty safe bet to assume that my readers have plenty of nourishing food, reasonably nice clothing/shoes, a home that’s warm in winter and cool in summer, etc.
  Sadly, it’s also a safe bet that all of my readers, despite their many blessings, daily wish for more. More clothes, more money, more friends, more prestige, more more more more more. Where will the greed end? Will we never be satisfied?
  Just yesterday I looked in my ample closet for an outfit, and had the nerve to think to myself, “I have nothing to wear! I need to go shopping.” In that moment, I was not practicing Biblical gratitude. I was being self-centered not Christ-centered.
  I am not so naive as to think that not buying that extra handbag will instantly solve world hunger. I do, however, think that an attitude adjustment is in order if we as Christians are to live up to our name and be “little Christs”.

~”Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and theives break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where theives do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)~

Several key points stand out to me from this passage. First, “do not store up for yourselves….” As slaves of Christ, none of us have ownership rights. We are each called to put all of our resources, talents, passions, time, energy, etc., into God’s hands and allow them to be used for His glory.
Second, “where moth and rust destroy, and theives break in and steal….” The truth is that nice clothes, a new car, money, etc. are all worthless in God’s Kingdom. They’ll pass away one day. When they do, will you be left empty-handed? Or, will you have so fully invested yourself in God’s Kingdom that it won’t faze you?
Next: “Store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven…. where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our “treasure” is whatever we invest in with our time, energy, resources, creative powers, etc. What effect will what you pursue in this life have on your eternity?
God has so amply blessed each of us with unique talents, gifts, opportunities, resources, and passions. Will we stare at our metaphorical closet and cry for more? Or will we make the most of what we already have and glorify God with ALL that we are?

~”Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” – 1John 2:15-17 (NIV)~