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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Picture This

So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!   
(James 1:21-24 MSG)

Don't you just love the phrasing here? The word-pictures are stunning to my mind's eye. I can imagine coming to recognize a life lived less than desirably and then coming to grips with it. The action of scooping up the spoiled virtue and cancerous evil and dumping it into the garbage can. 

Lastly, slapping your hands together as though wiping them clean of the past mistakes, turning abruptly and walking in the opposite direction. Once the new life is begun and the fresh start is before you, things are different...eventually. We all must learn how to live out this new life.
This is where other Christians come into the picture. They can build relationships with us, mentor us and teach us how to live a life as Jesus would have us live. We learn how to love and care for each other. We practice real listening - to our mentors and then to each other as we share life.

And we do all this face-to-face. Not on social media, not in an impersonal text or email, but within touching distance. That is the only way to touch each other's lives. It is the one true way to cultivate real empathy.

I close today with verse 25 of The Message version of this text is completed by these vivid words: But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.

James 1:21-25

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Selfless Love

“Permission to speak candidly?” For years, Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” felt like an obligation to me; the gospel was a heavy load I’d rather keep bundled on my back than to unpack and share. For one thing, telling others what I’d found in Jesus would make me stand out when what I really wanted was to fit in. And to be perfectly honest, though I had come to trust that Jesus had paid the price of my sins and granted me salvation in His name, there remained enough debilitating doubt to muzzle my message. How frustrating!

Seemingly “out of the blue one day,” I decided to begin to read Scripture daily and to journal whatever response it was stirring within me. Mulling things over at the pace of my pen slowed me down and delved me deeper into the riches of God’s truth. He showed up without fail, His Spirit speaking through His word to teach me new things and, in the process, to show me His intimate love. My soul flooded with hope, my spirit streamed in joy, and I began to open myself up completely to Him, the content of my heart pouring out in torrents of blue gel ink onto dry beds of yellow-lined paper. The more I realized God’s love for me, the more freely it burst inner dams of doubt, flowing now to others through witnessing words and compassionate care.

Love begins with God. “This is love,” taught the apostle John, “not that we loved him, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”1 When we acknowledge that Jesus is God’s Son, “God lives in [us] and [we] in God,”2 and so, “In this way, love is made complete among us.”3We love because he first loved us.”4

What then does God’s love in us look like? Action, it looks like action. “Freely you have received; freely give,”5 said Jesus to His disciples. “Forgive as the Lord forgives you,” wrote Paul to early believers. And as God’s love pours out in compassion, we too “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”6

God never meant for us to share Him in our own power, for we are neither able nor inclined. Instead, “We know and rely on the love God has for us.”7 For His selfless love is uncontainable; it overflows our hearts in words of life and acts of care.

Father, you are love. Open my heart to your love; may your love for me overflow in my love for others. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Christ in me is love.

1 1 John 4:10
2 1 John 4:15
3 1 John 4:12
4 1 John 4:19
5 Matthew 10:8
6 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
7 1 John 4:16

Read John’s live-breathing lesson on love in 1 John 4:10-19.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

We are to Love and Care for Others

Matthew 22:34-39    

Who is my neighbor?
As a child, my worst sadness was to be separated from my parents. Long stays at my grandparent’s farm made me homesick to the point of fears and tears.
Our country is embroiled in an immigration crisis. No matter our personal politics, we are stunned by measures taken by the government to penalize those illegally crossing our borders through separation of parents and children. The collateral damage of this action cannot be overstated and should not be underestimated. Our history and heritage as a Christian nation is challenged and diminished as we consider God’s Word regarding aliens and foreigners.
“Do not exploit the foreigners who live in your land.” Leviticus 19:33. God gives justice to orphans and widows. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. You too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:18-19
Among the gospel writers, only Luke tells the story of “the good Samaritan.” Jesus gives a text book answer to the lawyer’s question about eternal life. Chagrined and wanting to save face and justify himself, he asks further – “and who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29
The Jews regarded the Samaritans as enemies and untouchables, yet Jesus in this parable has the enemy carrying out the law, as the injured man’s fellow Jews, even their religious leaders have failed to offer help. A real neighbor is one who does the compassionate thing, whenever and wherever the need arises, regardless of the deepest enmity or antagonism. Humanitarian organization “Doctors Without Borders” is a real neighbor - a global neighbor delivering care to those in crisis, whenever and wherever needed.
Of the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan, which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” 
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”   Luke 10:36-37

Monday, July 16, 2018

Friendships, the best investment of time

This week we are practicing how to Cultivate real empathy.

What is empathy? I thought I knew, but felt compelled to take a peak at what Webster had to say about it. empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. In the contexts where the two words do overlap, sympathy implies sharing (or having the capacity to share) the feelings of another, while empathy tends to be used to mean imagining, or having the capacity to imagine, feelings that one does not actually have.

Psalm 144:3 (NIV)
O LORD, what is man that you care for him, the son of man that you think of him? 

I think it boils down to being able to relate to someone and what they are going through, without experiencing it yourself. I sense your pain without having been on the receiving end of the hurtful words that were flung at you. I can cry with you when you lose a spouse or child, because I care about you.

As with many situations, none of my overtures mean anything if there isn't a relationship to back up my actions which gives authenticity to the empathy. Building connections with people, leads to honest relationships, where I can be real and so can you. I have to know you care before I will be able to take comfort in your words and actions. Holding each other at arms length is not how God wants us to live.

It is risky, but necessary for us to invest in the lives of our neighbors, co-workers, and family. This is one step out of a selfish existence and into a selfless, loving and healthy life.