The Absolute Surety of God’s Love for Us. What More is there for us to say? What More is there for us to do now? 1 John 4:7-21

This probably comes as no surprise to you, but since covid-19 rearranged so many of our lives and schedules, we have changed how much time we spend looking at a screen, whether it’s a tv, smartphone, laptop, or computer screen.

As a whole, we are spending a significant amount of time on these devices.

With that increased usage comes an increase in our exposure to hateful and divisive behaviors.

Anger, violence, and unrest that is posted to social media platforms only reflects and magnifies the anger, violence, and unrest in our communities.

With all of this unrest in our global communities, some people may reasonably wonder exactly where God is in all of this.

Others are max tempted to question the quality and quantity of God’s goodness.

They might ask,

They might shout,

They might scream at the top of their collective lungs,

They might march in the streets, raising high signs of protest and indignation,

“If God is so good, then how can He allow all of this hate and violence to exist?

But just because there is human hatred and violence in our presence, this in no way negates God’s goodness and love.

You see, the world’s concept of love cannot hope to compare with God’s love.

I am referring to God’s love that was on display when He gave His one and only Son to die on the cross for the sins of the world.

We can’t do anything to deserve God’s love, but He loves us anyway.

God’s love abides forever, and He wants us to be sure of His love for us.

Today we will be using 1 John 4 for our focal passage.

John has already spoken to us twice on the theme of love as we looked at his writings in 1 John chapters 2 and 3.

Now he was dealing with the topic for the third time.

It is critically important here to know this about Scripture: when Scripture addresses a matter even once, it is important, but when God inspires a biblical writer to address a topic repeatedly, we should really sit up and take notice.

So, let us “sit up” and take notice once again to what God tells us about love.

1 John 4:7-10Amplified Bible

God Is Love

Beloved, let us [unselfishly] [a]love and seek the best for one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves [others] is born of God and knows God [through personal experience]. The one who does not love has not become acquainted with God [does not and never did know Him], for God is love. [He is the originator of love, and it is an enduring attribute of His nature.] By this the love of God was displayed in us, in that God has sent His [One and] only begotten Son [the One who is truly unique, the only One of His kind] into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [that is, the atoning sacrifice, and the satisfying offering] for our sins [fulfilling God’s requirement for justice against sin and placating His wrath].

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Love is the very nature of God.

So, John writes,

“Love is from God, and love comes from God because God is love.”

Love is not just another characteristic of God among many.

It’s God’s very nature from which all the other attributes come.

Everything that comes from God can be attributed to His love for us.

So, if God judges, He judges in love.

That does not mean God condones sin, but in love, He is exposed to that sin and sent His son to die for sin’s penalty.

Most all of us are familiar with John 3:16, that says

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

1 John 4 verse 9, John is reminding us that God sent His one and only Son into the world so that we can know that God loves us.

The origin of Love is God.

Love began with God.

So, Jesus is the manifestation of God’s love.

God showed his love toward us by sending His Son to pay our sin debt.

How great is God’s love?

The answer to that is that God’s love is seen in the value of the gift: God gave His one and only Son (John 3:16-17).

And that is an extremely valuable gift.

So, God sent His Son as a demonstration of His love for us.

The Greek word used in 1 John 4 verse 9 for “only son” is the same word that was used to describe Abraham’s offering up of his only son, Isaac.

Let’s go back in Scripture several hundred years and I will explain that.

In Genesis 22, God tested Abraham.

He told Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, whom Abraham loved, to the land of Mariah and offer him as a burnt offering on the mountain to God.

Abraham did not question God but obeyed God immediately.

The story reaches its climax when Abraham, who had bound Isaac and laid him on the altar, raised his knife to the sky.

It was not until then that God’s angel called to Abraham, telling Abraham not to harm the boy.

Abraham proved his reverent fear of God.

God knew Abraham’s heart and knew that Abraham would carry out God’s order to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Then, in a beautiful display of His vast mercy and grace, God provided a ram to sacrifice in young Isaac’s place.

God, out of His love, provided the substitute sacrifice.

Do you and I see the similarities?

God spared Abraham’s son, but the difference is He didn’t spare His own Son on the cross.

God willingly gave His Son to die in our place, and Jesus willingly took the punishment for our sins upon Himself.

God did not do this because we are lovable, rays of sunshine on a stormy day.

By no means.

He loved and sent His Son to rescue us, not because we are lovable, but because God is love.

So, the greatness of God’s love is seen in the costliness of His self-sacrifice for us who are so utterly and completely undeserving.

So now with all of that in mind John writes,

“Let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

1 John 4:11 – “Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.”

We’ve already seen in 1 John 4:7 the command to love one another.

John repeated that twice more here in 1 John 4 verse 11 and then in verse 12.

With this call to love one another as God loved us comes great responsibility.

We are to love others as God has loved us.

That is an enormously tall order.

Are we even capable of such an indescribable magnitude of Love?

God has loved us with a boundless, changeless, ultimate self-sacrificing love.

God still loves us in the same way today, as he seeks to display that magnitude of love through us.

So, we saw in 1 John chapter 4 verses 8-9, that God revealed His love when His Son, Jesus, became the sacrifice for our sins.

He took away our sin, but He didn’t just take away the bad.

He gave to us as well.

What did he give us?

Jesus gave us life that we might live through Him.

Now you are perhaps asking the inevitable question, what does that mean?

That clearly means that we are to live in Him, which means we are to allow others to see His love in and through us.

People should see Jesus’s love shine from us without us saying a word.

To love with God’s love gives evidence that we have a relationship with the One who displays His love through us.

Then, if we didn’t understand the positive side of that, John States it negatively in 1 John chapter 4 verse 8. “The one who does not love, does not know God.”

Now that all sounds pretty and nice doesn’t it?

But here comes the test.

Think about your relationships right now.

It is reasonably safe to say there is someone that you find difficult to love.

It is reasonably safe to say there is someone that you find impossible to love.

It is reasonable safe to say there is that someone you have no trouble hating.

Your instructions here are to ask God to help you love these individuals as He loves them.

Again, that is a pretty tall order.

Kind of like standing or sitting still as someone runs nails down a chalkboard.

But it is not something that, through God’s miracles, we cannot accomplish.

John goes a little deeper and says:

1 John 4:12 – 13 – “No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is made complete in us. 13 This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.”

John reminds us here that no one has ever seen God.

So how do we even know that God is around?

Believers reveal the presence of God through the way they love one another.

The very fact that we love one another serves as evidence that God remains in us, and we remain in Him.

We embrace God’s love, He comes to live in us, and His love pours out of us as we love others.

So, when individual or groups of people see the mutual love given and shared between brothers and sisters in Christ, they see the display of God’s love.

A quick recap.

When we accept Christ as our personal Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us.

In that, we now possess the fruit of that spirit.

One of those fruits is love.

As a Christian, love is the fruit of God’s indwelling Spirit.

God is perfect in His love.

He Lacks nothing.

But God’s love is made complete when that love flows through us.

God has chosen to use His people as channels of His love.

So, we are to present ourselves to Him daily as instruments of His continual love.

When we love others, we cooperate with God’s redemptive plan for the world, so that others can be sure of God’s love for them.

Let me ask you.

If you ever plan on going to another particular church and you see the church members fighting and quarreling among each other, is that a church you would want to attend, give of your time, tithe and other material spiritual resources?

On the other hand, if you go to another church and the people are loving and caring and show a genuine love toward one another, is that a church you would like to attend and be part of, give of your time and tithe and material resources?

I rest my case.

And here’s the thing.

Putting God’s love on display is to be a continuous, ongoing activity.

Now we will all have to admit that there are times when it is hard to love, especially when we feel that we have been wronged or hurt by someone.

It is in those moments, in our humanity, that the last thing we want to do is express forgiveness and extend acts of kindness to that person.

But God has commanded us to love one another as God first loved us, and what God commands, He makes possible through the max example set by His Son.

Will we, do it?

Sadly, probably not!

It is in our sin nature that we simply find it much too easy to magnify hate.

Can we, do it? Can we unconditionally love one another as God first did?

Yes, we can!

If we willingly surrender our whole selves – hurts, hang-ups and hates too – and sacrifice all of those hurts, hang-ups and hates on the altar of His Mercy.

Psalm 103:1-5Amplified Bible

Praise for the Lord’s Mercies.

A Psalm of David.

103 Bless and affectionately praise the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is [deep] within me, bless His holy name.


Bless and affectionately praise the Lord, O my soul,
And do not forget any of His benefits;


Who forgives all your sins,
Who heals all your diseases;


Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you [lavishly] with lovingkindness and tender mercy;


Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the [soaring] eagle.

So, we are to love, not for our enfeebled sake, but for the sake of Jesus Christ.

And the key to transforming boundless hate into loving others is in loving God.

Luke 6:27-36Amplified Bible

27 “But I say to you who hear [Me and pay attention to My words]: [a]Love [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for] your enemies, [make it a practice to] do good to those who hate you, 28 bless and show kindness to those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 Whoever [b]strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other one also [simply ignore insignificant insults or losses and do not bother to retaliate—maintain your dignity]. Whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you. [c]Whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. 32 If you [only] love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend [money] to those from whom you expect to receive [it back], what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to receive back the same amount. 35 But love [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for] your enemies, and do good, and lend, [d]expecting nothing in return; for your reward will be great (rich, abundant), and you will be sons of the Most High; because He Himself is kind and gracious and good to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful (responsive, compassionate, tender) just as your [heavenly] Father is merciful.

The more we love God, the more of God’s love will flow out of us toward others.

Picture it as a garden hose attached to the outdoor faucet of a house.

When the faucet is turned on, the water flows.

The hose doesn’t produce the water.

It is only the conduit for the water to flow freely.

In ourselves, we might find it difficult, impossible to love, especially to love unconditionally, as God loves.

But when we are attached to Him, when we remain in Christ as Jesus said (John 15:1-5), His love flows freely through us.

And I would commend all of you reading this for your demonstrations of your sacrifices of unconditional mercy towards one another, love of one another.

God loves watching us constantly encouraging others. Writing notes, making phone calls, giving of your time, and just spending time with one another.

That lets others know we truly care. And remember what God has always said. If we want to make a lasting impact on our society and community, then just care.

Our lives ought to be characterized by daily acts of kindness.

We should serve in order to share Christ’s sacrifice that gave us salvation.

To love others is to seek their highest good.

God’s presence, God’s mercy, God’s love does not just seek to meet needs, but it aims to max exceed those needs in maximum abundance in the name of Christ.

Let me give you a biblical example.

The gospel of Mark 2:1-12, illustrates for us a crystal-clear example of loving sacrificial service with genuine gospel intent.

You might remember the story.

Four men carried a paralyzed man on a mat to meet Jesus, believing Jesus was able to heal the man.

But when they arrived, the crowd’s size made it impossible for the men to get their friend to Jesus.

But they refused to give up.

They would not be denied.

Their love for their friend compelled them to max out the extra mile.

They had that man’s highest good at heart.

The men climbed to the top of the house, removed the roof, and lowered their friend before Jesus.

And Jesus, who is love, not only healed the man but also forgave his sins.

What a beautiful example of tangible acts of kindness.

What a glorious example of seeking someone’s highest good.

If only you and I had such a story to tell …. imagine the max impact on others!

1 John 4:19-21 – “We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.”

John didn’t leave any gray areas here, did he?

Nor did he sugarcoat his words. “If anyone says I love God and yet hates his brother or sister he is a liar.”

Then to further stress that truth, John said, “For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

The statements strike to the core of the issue.

Of course, some would say it’s easier to love God because He first loved us.

But John argued just the opposite.

Logically, it’s easier to show love to people who are visibly present, rather than God, who is an invisible spirit.

So here is the issue.

A failure to love people whom we can see is a failure to love God whom we cannot see, and a failure to love is hate.

It gets down to this, we live out our love for God when we choose to love other people whom we would find it easier to rationalize and fully realize our hate.

Love overcomes hate.

There is so much visible hate in our world today that it is vitally important that Christians love one another. But our love should not stop with other Christians.

Impossible love needs to go out into the world and seek to win the lost to Christ.

Jesus came in human flesh because He loved us. He gave His life out of love for the lost, and we are to follow His example.

We, too, are to love the sinner.

We are to love the down cast and broken.

We are to love the weak and lonely.

We are to love the sick and needy.

We are to love the least of these as Jesus said. (Matthew 25:34-40)

So, to be sure of God’s maximum love, there is something we must do.

How can we be sure of God’s love for us?

Commit yourself to love like Jesus, who unselfishly gave His life for others.

Try to keep in mind and max love like the four men who did whatever it took to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus.

Practice sacrificial, transforming love like the Good Samaritan who willingly set aside the traditional hatred of others towards him, to meet a stranger’s needs.

This is the kind of love that grabs someone’s attention and changes the world.

By showing our love for one another, even those we declare our worst enemy, it will “heap coals on their heads,” help others to be sure of God’s love for them.

Maybe you have never felt God’s love. If you have not, is it because you have never asked Jesus Christ, God’s son, to come and pour his love into your life.

Why not do that now?

Stuff your pride under the chair and take that first critical step toward Jesus.

Your heart and your soul and your whole life will surely be glad you did.

Pray unto the Father and Author and Weaver of your life and ask Him to come into your heart and instruct and guide and love your life from this day forward.

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Loving Heavenly Father, You have loved me with immeasurable love. You are love. I pray that I will be strengthened in my inner being – in my soul – with the love that is wider than I can understand, deeper than I am able to imagine, and greater than I could ever know. As You encourage and embolden me, may I more fully know the mystery of the Gospel as revealed in my life. In the love of Christ, I pray. Amen.

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Pondering our Christianity? Excuses! Excuses! All My Excuses! Genesis 3:8-13

A friend of mine told me her son just could not take any tests. He excels in his classwork, but when it comes to test-taking, his mind goes blank, and he fails.

That was the reason he failed his classes. That was the reason he would do so poorly in his academic classes. As hard as he tried, he could not take any tests.

Discouraged, he moved from one menial job after another until he latched onto a mechanic friend of his who took him under his tutelage for several long years.

He never became a success as he had always hoped he would be. He always seemed to fall short of where he knew he could be and indeed, should be. It always became for him a long litany of one “same old” excuse after another

His mom told me he never developed the self-confidence or self-esteem. It discouraged her enormously because she knew her son could always be more.

Somewhere along the line, her son decided to believe this lie. Over the years, defeat became etched into his mind like a river carves itself through a mountain base. Deeper and deeper, it flows. Then it became a Bonafide reality gripping itself to his leg like a ball and chain, and eventually, become an excuse to fail.

Excuses in our lives give us permission to settle for less than God’s best and justify our shortcomings. We blame something or someone else for our less-than-stellar lot in life. It is never our fault. Sadly, we brand our insecurities.

We declare this is how it always is and always must be for us, for our families.

We inhale the status quo and exhale the mundane.

Most failures come from a history of old excuses and a lack of perseverance.

Closed doors don’t always mean NO. Most of the time they mean that God has a bigger and better door. No more excuses! Move forward and keep knocking.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7 ESV)

Do we get so fully and completely immersed inside our past we can’t see hope staring at us through the dirty windows of our own self-appointed limitations?

We construct imaginary walls with bricks labeled “excuses,” confine ourselves.

We can get so stuck in the rut of excuses we even make excuses for our excuses.

Genesis 3:8-13Amplified Bible

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool [afternoon breeze] of the day, so the man and his wife hid and kept themselves hidden from the [a]presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to Adam, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You [walking] in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so, I hid myself.” 11 God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten [fruit] from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  12 And the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me—she gave me [fruit] from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent beguiled and deceived me, and I ate [from the forbidden tree].”

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

The Lord God called out to Adam – “Where are You?”

Adam’s response: 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You [walking] in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so, I hid myself.”

When Mom and Dad called out to me and asked; “Where am I? ….”

When my Mom or Dad asked me that question of me, if I said anything at all except; “Here I am, I am right here.” I got into enormous trouble because they expected me to account for myself exactly in that moment – out of my respect.

By Adam’s response, God could easily discern something was seriously amiss.

Verse 10: Bibles very first excuse – Adam’s excuse for not being accountable.

The Lord God pushed the conversation:

verse 11: 11 God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten [fruit] from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Adam’s response – verse 12: 12 And the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me—she gave me [fruit] from the tree, and I ate it.”

The Bibles second excuse: “Blame the Woman whom YOU gave to be with me.”

Can we sense a raising crescendo here on the Lord God’s part?

The Lord God turned His attention to Eve, pushed her for truth in the matter.

Verse 13a: Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?”

Eve responds with the Bibles third excuse –

Verse 13b: And the woman said, “The serpent beguiled and deceived me, and I ate [from the forbidden tree].”

Eve responds not with words of “accountability and responsibility” but with ….

Her Excuse – “the devil made me do it.” ergo, God, “Blame the Other Guy!”

Do we think or believe or maybe actually know the Lord God had heard enough from both of them in that moment?

Do we think or believe or maybe actually know the Lord God had heard enough dishonesty and disrespect for those brief moments the conversation took place?

As we read these passages for ourselves, and try to insert our own rationales for why those very first words from the mouths of Adam and Eve were “excuses?”

Are we now rationalizing with our own 21st century vernacular – saying -?

“Oh, they did not know any better? How could they have known better?”

“Oh, being unaware or unknowledgeable of the truth ….” “Expectations …?”

“Oh, never having been introduced to what honesty and integrity were …?”

“Oh. never having been taught the difference between telling a lie or the truth?

“Oh, being inexperienced in telling the truth ….”

“Oh, they were just young and immature and naive.”

“Oh, just give them a chance … they will learn, they will do better next time?”

And whatever other rationale(s) we can derive from our own “Life’s efforts ….

“It is not, it was not, it never will be my fault because …. someone else failed.

Ergo, blame the devil – “the devil made me do it.”

Ergo – blame God for being the bad parent – not teaching His Children.

Excuses! Excuses! Excuses!

We make excuses because we do not want to take on responsibilities or face consequences. Similarly, afraid of punishment, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve in quick response then blamed the serpent after they disobeyed God’s command.

What are our excuses?

Are they the same or different or more naive or more simple or complex?

What has God NOT heard us say when he “asked” us: “Where are you?”

Do we think or believe or rationalize our relationship with God might change, but then again, it may not or even won’t because we have confessed Christ as our personal Savior and therefore, we will automatically be forgiven 100%?

Our accountability to God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit ends when we make our most sincere, most heartfelt confessions of faith to God? (Romans 10:9-13)

We now have all the rationale we need to “take the grace of God for granted?”

Personal accountability to God therefore becomes immaterial and irrelevant?

Do not our Honesty, Integrity, Personal Accountability come naturally to us?

For Adam, Eve, by excusing, their relationship with God changed completely.

The formerly close relationship of walking with God changed into one of hiding and deceiving then to divine punishment for all (Genesis 3:14-19, Isaiah 59:2).

Whether dealing with God or with people, the best and only way to live is to come clean, not hide behind excuses, no matter how carefully crafted they are.

Excuses don’t fool anyone.

Excuses do not fool God, our Creator!

Excuses do not fool Jesus our Savior!

Excuses do not fool God the Holy Spirit, our Guide, our Guardian, our Teacher.

Will you, or I ask our God for a session or two of personal accountability today?

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

If our “Christianity” is all about true and genuine Accountability to God,

Let us Pray,

My Savior Jesus, Giver of peace, I so easily get distracted when I’m trying to focus and hear your Holy Spirit. Help me quiet my mind in the middle of my busy life. Help me to pause and to make space to listen to the most important voice of all. Empower me to be a good listener to the gentle whispers of your Spirit. Help me follow the example of Jesus, who would slip away in the evening or the early morning to be alone with you. Teach me to abide in you. Amen.

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“Life is Not Fair at all!” Social Justice, Social Conscience, the Body of Christ.

Awhile back there was an article which appeared in a newspaper which read:

“I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I wasn’t poor, I was needy.

Then they told me it was self-defeating to think of myself as needy, that I was culturally deprived.

Then they told me being ‘Culturally Deprived’ was a very bad image, that I was, instead, underprivileged.

Then they told me that ‘underprivileged’ was abused and overused, that I was actually and in ‘reality’ only disadvantaged.

I still don’t have a dime to my name, but now I have a great vocabulary.

Only now, someone needs to either put the money in my tin cup so I can buy one, or they need buy me a good dictionary for me to know who I actually am.

Why must this be true that my life is just so completely unfair to me.”

Ecclesiastes 4:1-6Amplified Bible

The Evils of Oppression

Then I looked again and considered all the acts of oppression that were being practiced under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated and thought more fortunate are those who are already dead than the living who are still living. But better off than either of them is the one who has not yet been born, who has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

I have seen that every [effort in] labor and every skill in work comes from man’s rivalry with his neighbor. This too is vanity (futility, false pride) and chasing after the wind. The fool folds his hands [together] and consumes his own flesh [destroying himself by idleness and apathy]. One hand full of rest and patience is better than two fists full of labor and chasing after the wind.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Solomon is troubled by the unfairness of life.

But he was the ‘wisest’ king – why didn’t he just legislate away injustice and punish all the wrong-doers, give away some his vast wealth to feed the poor?

Why wouldn’t that work?

In Ecclesiastes 4, the ‘Wisest of the Wisest’ King Solomon deals with an ancient issue which has been continually frustrating so very many people in our world.

It’s the issue of “unfairness”.

That things just aren’t always right and fair in this life.

Solomon was reflecting on this truth when he wrote:

“Again, I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed— and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors— and they have no comforter.” Ecclesiastes 4:1

Inside each one of us is an inner voice that tells us that all things should be fair.

That’s why we have referees in sports games and judges in courtrooms:

we have an innate sense of right and wrong.

And we serve the God of the universe who continually, continuously tells us there is most definitely a right and there is most definitely a wrong.

But then we see oppression, tragedy and sorrow.

And inside of us there’s this inner voice that says:

“That just not right”

“This shouldn’t be happening!”

“How could we possibly fix this great injustice of life?”

The problem is that there are always and forever these two most annoying, and conflicting truths about life’s unfairness which never fails to drive us all nuts.

The first truth is that – no matter how hard we try – we’re never going to fix the problem.

Life is always going to be unfair.

For example, Jesus said: “You will always have the poor among you…” John 12:8

Have you ever heard that?

Of course, you have… and He DID say that.

Now, there are those who look at what Jesus said there, and they just feel like throwing up their hands and just walking away.

After all, if the poor are always going to be with us… why should we bother to try to help them to begin with? It’s not going to do any good anyway.

That may have been one of the motivating factors in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus that Jesus told. He said:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.

At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.

In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So, he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”

Luke 16:19-25

Now, why was the rich man not sharing anything with Lazarus?

Well, the Bible doesn’t say, but I personally think he was thinking:

Why doesn’t that guy go out and get a job or something?

He’s always out there every day asking for food. It’s really annoying!

If I gave HIM food, it was just encouraging all the other beggars to come annoy me.

And besides, we’re always going to have the poor with us, so my little bit of food won’t make a dent.

The point of Jesus’ story was – DON’T GO THERE.

Don’t you go making excuses for why you don’t help the poor.

The rich man ignored Lazarus’ hunger… and we all know where HE went.

And that brings us to our 2nd truth:

Yes, life is always going to be unfair.

But God says it doesn’t matter. He calls His people to work at “fixing it.”

ILLUS: The story’s told of a man who’d seen an injustice in his city, and in frustration he prayed to God “Why aren’t you doing something about this?”

And God’s voice came to him and said:

“I did do something. I sent you.”

You know I learned something new when preparing this devotional message.

Did you realize that when Jesus said “you’ll always have the poor among you”, he was quoting the Old Testament?

Yeah – it’s true.

In Deuteronomy 15:11 God declared:

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”

That’s the verse Jesus was quoting.

You’re always going to have the poor among you, THEREFORE help them.

That’s the command of God to His people.

In fact, this is a constant theme throughout Scripture.

In Proverbs God says:

“… blessed is he who is kind to the needy.” Proverbs 14:21

And “a generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” Proverbs 22:9

In fact, this is such an important matter for God that He promises:

“He who is kind to the poor LENDS to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.” Proverbs 19:17

ILLUS:

A man just took truck over to his Mechanic to have the power steering fixed.

He looked it over and said it was going to cost $400… but it wasn’t worth it.

The truck had nearly 240,000 miles on it, it needed too many more repairs that would cost more than the truck and it’s time (he said) to get another vehicle.

So, the man went down to the Credit Union where he had an account, and they said they would loan him the necessary amount of money for another vehicle.

That “Credit Union” said they were willing to loan him some amount of money!

Wasn’t that nice of them?

So, next week he’ll be going to his local dealership to look around and maybe to buy another car with the money they’re willing to give him.

But once he borrowed that money, what are they going to expect him to do?

PAY IT BACK.

And more than that, they expect their money back with interest.

So, what God promised us in Proverbs 19:17 was that when you help the poor, you are LENDING to Him.

Do you and I know what God’s saying there?

He’s saying that you and I can expect Him to pay us back… with interest.

That’s how important helping the poor is to God.

BUT on the other hand, though… God is also very clear:

“If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” Proverbs 21:13

If you turn your back on the poor… God will turn His back on you.

Now, in my mind’s eye…

I can visualize Solomon sitting there in his vast treasury thinking about this.

He sees people in poverty and being oppressed and misused.

And he’s seeming to be very frustrated about this.

But now… wait a minute!

What is Solomon’s job description?

What does he do for a living?

Well, he’s the king, isn’t he?

If he’s the king, he should be able pass some laws to fix all this. He should be able to punish wrongdoers and oppressors of the poor. Why isn’t he doing that?

And, on top of that, Solomon is wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice.

Why doesn’t he just give away money to the poor?

Well, I think maybe Solomon did do all that.

I think Solomon had worked hard at removing all the oppression he could.

And I’m thinking he did give money to help the poor.

But it’s like he’s barely scratching the surface or making a dent.

Even if he gave EVERYTHING away, people would still be poor.

And it bothers him enormously.

So, part of his discussion here in Ecclesiastes 4 is telling us

WHY even the ‘ wisest of the wisest king ever’ says he can’t fix it all.

In verse 4 he says

“I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 4:4

Do You or I actually know what enviousness is all about?

Envious people look at what their neighbor has, then looks at what they have, they shake their heads, and it makes them DISSATISFIED with what they have.

So, their labor and achievement are always about their getting more and more still of what the other guy has.

And because that is their driving passion, envious folks generally end up hurting themselves or others in their covetous blind pursuit of “more.”

They were being driven with ever greater momentum by envy, and envy can make you poor because you end up doing major stupid stuff like coveting. And King Solomon realized that was part of the reason for poverty and oppression.

But Solomon realized there was a 2nd reason that led to poverty:

Some people were just plain lazy:

Solomon wrote: “The fool folds his hands and ruins himself.” Ecclesiastes 4:5

In Proverbs, Solomon put it this way:

A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” Proverbs 6:10-11

So, Solomon is looking around and he notices that many poor people are poor because they’re too lazy to get off the couch.

They’d much prefer a hand-out to a workout.

Now, that that should NOT be seen as an excuse not to help folks who are struggling.

That’s not Solomon’s point!

Solomon is simply pointing out that you can’t fix everything in life.

You can’t remove all the poverty in the world.

There’s way too much greed and envy out there

– and there’s just way too much laziness – to fix it all

Unfairness, poverty and oppression are just part of life.

And we’re never going to change that completely.

Some of the hardships of life will be our own fault.

But some of those hardships will be the fault of others.

As Solomon said in the first verse of this chapter:

“I saw the tears of the oppressed— and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors— and they have no comforter.”

Solomon was disturbed by this reality.

And he’s not the only one

Over the years, there have been a number of church goers who have dedicated themselves to dealing with injustice and oppressors by engaging in something called “Social Justice”.

Social Justice is the idea that churches should focus primarily on poverty, slums, ghettos, poor nutrition and education, alcoholism, crime, and war.

Now, those are not bad things in and of themselves.

Christians SHOULD BE concerned with poverty/ slums/ and the all the rest.

We should seek to find ways to confront those who hurt others in this world.

But the problem with the Social Justice crowd is they generally get everything out of whack. They are over-zealous and way off-balance in their approach.

The problem with social justice is that its adherents tend to believe that they need to change the culture of a people before you can talk to them about Jesus.

Where does the Bible say that?

Where did the man, Master Rabbi Jesus say that?

Jesus dealt directly and decisively with ‘healing’ the people ….

Churches should always attempt to deal with poverty and hunger.

Rabbi Jesus understood very clearly -it’s hard to preach to someone dying of hunger – but if you give them enough bread, enough manna, enough fish ….

But if churches get in the habit of feeding people without talking to them about Jesus, they can eventually get into the habit of talking about Jesus altogether.

I remember a bit of church history.

Several years ago, when I was trying to better understand “social justice,” I read about this church at the turn of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

For the better part of the 1900’s there was a powerful church in Manhattan. It was called Broadway Presbyterian Church and they were committed to reaching out to people for Christ. One of the tools they used was to have food kitchens.

They would bring the poor in off the streets, have a prayer for the food, talk about sin and the need to change lifestyles. And it worked. Folks changed their lives and even began coming to church and digging their way out of poverty.

But later on, from the 60’s to the 1990’s a subtle change began to take place.

In the soup kitchens, prayers were not offered over meals because they were afraid that they’d offend the poor. AND they no longer emphasized trying to convince the homeless to turn unto God and to repent of their past sins. That such an act might just drive away the very people they were trying to feed.

But over time they found that the same people were coming through the lines year after year, and there was no change taking place in their lives.

The “socially conscious” congregation of the once mighty church gradually slipped from membership from 1000 people down to 120 and a once mighty congregation sat with a nearly empty building in need of unaffordable repairs.

You see, that’s one of the major drawbacks of the Social Justice Folks.

For God’s sake, they do not want to offend people that they want to help.

They don’t want to talk about SIN.

They don’t want to go on record as being against abortion or homosexuality or living together because that might offend the people they are trying to help.

Trying to somehow cancel the presence, sovereignty of God from His Kingdom.

You know I just noticed something while I was pondering this devotional which I had never seen nor noticed before.

You remember I quoted Jesus saying, “you’ll always have the poor with you”?

Well, embarrassingly, I had never really looked up that verse.

I just knew it was there and took it for granted that was all Jesus said in that verse.

But I was wrong.

That’s not ALL He said.

THIS IS WHAT HE SAID:

“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” Matthew 26:11

You know, when people quote Jesus about the poor from that verse, they never seem to mention the 2nd part of His comment.

And as I read that verse, I wondered and pondered: why did Jesus say that?

Well, the scene was in a man’s house just a few days before Jesus will be arrested, beaten, crucified and buried in the tomb. A woman hears that Jesus is there, and without invitation, comes and pours expensive perfume on His head.

When they saw this, Jesus’ disciples (especially Judas) were upset.

They each complained that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.

And so, Jesus said:

“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” Matthew 26:11

You know what was Jesus saying?

He was saying there are PRIORITIES in our mission.

Helping the poor was admirable, but service to Jesus was even more important.

When the resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples on a mountain, just before going into heaven He gave them their marching orders.

He told them what their priorities were to be.

He said:

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Do you see or read anything there about helping the poor?

Do you see anything there about working for social justice?

It’s not there is it?

Not that those things aren’t important.

I mean, in the first part of this devotional effort we pointed out that one of God’s highest priorities IS to help the poor and the oppressed.

But that priority is secondary to the command Jesus gave His disciples that day.

Jesus said that our primary mission as Christians is to

1. Make disciples

2. Baptize them into the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

3. Teach them to obey everything Jesus had commanded.

That’s it. That’s the prime directive.

And, you know, when the disciples went out to do that – when they preached about Jesus and made disciples and so on… they often offended people

Peter stood before Sanhedrin one time.

These were the rulers of the nation, and they were furious.

They said:

“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name… Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Acts 5:28

Do you think maybe Peter had offended them?

Yeah, pretty sure he had.

Peter had preached about sin… and the need to repent of that sin.

He spoke truth to power.

And it made folks angry.

Then there’s Paul. In one of his letters to the Corinthians he talks about having been thrown in prison, flogged, whipped, beaten, stoned, and run out of town.

Do you think maybe he’d upset some folks?

Sure, he had. That was part of his job description.

That is a part of our own job description – even in 2022!

You know, the ancient world of that time was NOT a fair and just place to be.

There was poverty and injustice and oppression that was as bad or worse than anything we might see in our day.

And, you know, Jesus lived in a time like that.

And the disciples preached in a day like that.

And Jesus’ command to those disciples was still this:

1. Make disciples

2. Baptize them into the Father/ Son/ Holy Spirit

3. Teaching them to obey everything Jesus had commanded.

And you know why the early Christians followed those orders?

They did it because that was the only way they could change the hearts of men.

When Christ changes the hearts of men – cultures change – into Christ’s Image!

When you change the hearts of men… you give them true freedom.

A freedom from sin and guilt and shame.

A freedom from a mindset of “everything is always unfair 100% of the time?”

Questions for Personal Reflection

For the Joy of the Lord which is now and forever my Strength ….

For the Joy which was ever before Savior Jesus when He endured the Cross ….

  1. What can we do to be more biblically engaged in social justice?
  2. What can we do to understand the perspectives of our neighbors?
  3. What can we do to be more of a service to our neighbors? Acts 6:1-6
  4. What can we do to be kinder and inspire and encourage kindness in others?

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

God of yesterday, today and tomorrow,
we call to mind your presence within us and around us.

Open our ears that we may hear your Word.
Open our hearts that we may understand your Word.
Open our mouths that we may speak your World.

Inspire us with the Gospel message,
that we may celebrate all that is life-giving,
restore hope where it has been lost,
and work to bring about change where it is needed.

May we live the Gospel with courage,
constancy and love.
May we be open to the challenge
of your call to true freedom.
May we be faithful to you in our daily choices and decisions.
May we make your love known
through our words and actions.

May the triune God reign in our hearts, now and forever. Amen

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Social Justice, Civil Disobedience, Unity. The Bible and the Body of Christ: “I am the Church. You are the Church. We are the Church together.” Isaiah 1:10-17.

There is no shortage of issues dividing our country and our church today.

Here is a list.

Feel free to add to it: gun control, abortion – pro-life and pro-choice, vaccines – my body – my choice, climate change, drug legalization, gay marriage, equality, immigration, transgender rights, universal healthcare, policing, death penalty, racial inequality, income inequality, required masks, tax cuts, poverty, justice of every sort and every description, mass incarceration, women’s ordination.

Should we, as Christians get involved in these issues?

And to what extent should we get involved?

What does the Bible teach?

Let’s see.

Isaiah 1:10-17Amplified Bible

God Has Had Enough

10 
Hear the word of the Lord [rulers of Jerusalem],
You rulers of [another] Sodom,
Listen to the law and instruction of our God,
You people of [another] Gomorrah.
11 
“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me [without your repentance]?”
Says the Lord.
“I have had enough of [your] burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of well-fed cattle [without your obedience];
And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls or lambs or goats [offered without repentance].
12 
“When you come to appear before Me,
Who requires this of you, this trampling of My [temple] courts [by your sinful feet]?
13 
“Do not bring worthless offerings again,
[Your] incense is repulsive to Me;
[Your] New Moon and Sabbath [observances], the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure wickedness [your sin, your injustice, your wrongdoing] and [the squalor of] the festive assembly.
14 
“I hate [the hypocrisy of] your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts.
They have become a burden to Me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 
“So when you spread out your hands [in prayer, pleading for My help],
I will hide My eyes from you;
Yes, even though you offer many prayers,
I will not be listening.
Your hands are full of blood!

16 
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Get your evil deeds out of My sight.
Stop doing evil,
17 
Learn to do good.
Seek justice,
Rebuke the ruthless,
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the [rights of the] widow [in court].

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

In Jesus’ long list of rebukes and woes against the Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matthew 23:13-36), he rebukes them for neglecting “the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness” (v.23).

There it is first in a list of the top 3.

Jesus was essentially quoting Micah 6:8 in which the prophet says what the Lord requires of us is to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

In the Hebrew (Old) Testament alone, “justice” is mentioned hundreds of times in reference to the systemic oppression of vulnerable populations (widows and orphans and the poor and impoverished) at the hands of the rich and powerful.

Here is a very small sampling:

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

“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…” (Isaiah 58:6)

“This is what the Lord says: Do what is right and just. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.” (Jeremiah 22:13)

“There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts…But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:12, 24)

From these verses it seems clear to me that the Christian should protect the vulnerable and oppressed.

But to what extent?

Are these commands given for me to carry out as an individual? Are they given for the church to carry out corporately? Are they given to the government to carry out? If so, should Christians work politically to compel the government.

There is strong Biblical evidence that each of us is to individually care for the vulnerable and oppressed.

Jesus story in Matthew 25:31-46 about the sheep and the goats and caring for “the least of these” it is pretty clear.

There is strong Biblical evidence that our church should care for the vulnerable and oppressed.

In Acts 4 the early church members donated, the church cared for those in need.

In Acts 6 the early church was caring for so many widows the apostles did not have time to preach. Our church should care for the vulnerable and oppressed.

Do these commands apply to governments?

On that question the evidence is less clear.

In Biblical times the idea that governments would help the vulnerable and oppressed was non-existent.

There is no Bible text that says,

“And Peter and John formed a political action committee to raise money to run ads in the Jerusalem Times and to lobby the Sanhedrin to care for the poor.”

So, we need to look at the principle behind these texts and see if we can apply it to our time.

Is it enough for me to help orphans and widows I personally, see?

My wife is a widow – so perhaps there is something biblical to consider here.

What we should see in these passages is not just a clear concern for vulnerable populations, but also that they are identifying large scale, systemic issues that are not solved by way of mission trips, church service projects, or benevolence.

These verses and many others mention relevant things like wages, taxes, greed among the rich, corruption of all levels and measures and degrees and bribery.

Many Christians say individuals and churches are supposed to help the poor and needy, but never make an effort to do so through political processes (separation of church and state) of nor impose, coerce, demand, that the government do so.

This ignores the critical context of these Bible passages and the problems they mention. Injustices caused (and propagated and maintained and sustained) by political forces cannot be easily, quickly remedied by individuals and churches.

Following the logic of these verses, it rather seems clear to me that the Bible commands Christians to personally protect the vulnerable in their sphere of influence and allows the Christian to convince others and the government to protect the vulnerable and oppressed…

So, take another look back at your list of divisive issues.

Circle all the ones that deal with protecting the vulnerable and oppressed.

Those are the issues the Bible commands Christians to be personally involved in and allows Christians to “work” to convince others, including the government.

What if the Christian works to convince and not enough people listen?

Should the Christian go even farther and engage in “acts” of protests or civil disobedience for this or any just cause?

How clear is the Word of God for the Children of God on this critical question?

Romans 13:1-7Amplified Bible

Be Subject to Government

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God [granted by His permission and sanction], and those which exist have been put in place by God. Therefore whoever [a]resists [governmental] authority resists the ordinance of God. And those who have resisted it will bring judgment (civil penalty) on themselves. For [civil] authorities are not a source of fear for [people of] good behavior, but for [those who do] evil. Do you want to be unafraid of authority? Do what is good and you will receive approval and commendation. For he is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, [you should] be afraid; for he does not carry the [executioner’s] sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an avenger who brings punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject [to civil authorities], not only to escape the punishment [that comes with wrongdoing], but also as a matter of principle [knowing what is right before God]. For this same reason you pay taxes, for civil authorities are God’s servants, devoting themselves to governance. Pay to all what is due: tax to whom tax is due, customs to whom customs, respect to whom respect, honor to whom honor.

To give proper historical context, when Paul wrote this the emperor of Rome was Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, also known simply as Nero.

The emperor was not known for being a moral and ethical person, to say the very least.

In AD 64 the great Roman fire occurred, with Nero himself suspected of arson.

In his writings, the Roman senator and historian Tacitus recorded,

“To get rid of the report [that he had started the fire], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace” (Annals, XV).

“To prevent Rome and the Emperor from breaking down your door – keep a civil tongue in your head – live in peace by giving to Nero what is Nero’s.”

Even under the reign of a ruthless and godless emperor, Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells his Roman readers to be in subjection to the government. Moreover, he additionally states no authority exists other than that established by God, and that rulers are serving God in their political office.

Mark well this exchange between Pilate and Jesus and “Government Authority.”

John 19:9-11Amplified Bible

He went into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus did not answer him. 10 So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me at all if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason, the sin and guilt of the [a]one who handed Me over to you is greater [than your own].”

Peter writes nearly the same thing in one of his two New Testament letters:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:13–17).

Both Paul’s and Peter’s teachings have led to quite a few questions from Christians where civil disobedience is concerned.

Do Paul and Peter mean that Christians are always to submit to whatever the government commands, no matter what is asked of them?

Yes, IF that was all the Bible said on the matter.

But the Bible says more.

What do these people in the Bible have in common:

Hebrew midwives defying Pharoah, Rahab, Saul’s soldiers, Obediah, Jehosheba, Vashti, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abendigo, Peter, James and John and all of the original Apostles have in common?

They broke the law of the land.

Let’s look at some examples of civil disobedience in the Bible and see if we might both discover the principle of when civil disobedience is appropriate.

In Exodus 1, the Egyptian Pharaoh gave the clear command to two Hebrew midwives that they were to kill all male Jewish babies.

An extreme patriot would have carried out the government’s order, yet the Bible says the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh and “feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live” (Exodus 1:17).

The Bible goes on to say

the midwives lied to Pharaoh about why they were letting the children live; yet even though they lied and disobeyed their government, “God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them” (Exodus 1:20–21).

Its Biblically OK to nonviolently break laws that require you to kill someone.

In Joshua 2, Rahab disobeyed a command from the king of Jericho to produce the Israelite spies who had entered the city to gain intelligence for battle.

Instead, she let them down via a rope so they could escape.

Even though Rahab had received a clear order from the top government official, she resisted the command and was redeemed from the city’s destruction when Joshua and the Israeli army destroyed it.

Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws to bring down evil governments

1 Samuel records a command given by King Saul during a military campaign that no one could eat until Saul had won his battle with the Philistines.

However, Saul’s son Jonathan, who had not heard the order, ate honey to refresh himself from the hard battle the army had waged.

When Saul found out about it, he ordered his son to die.

However, the people resisted Saul and his command and saved Jonathan from being put to death (1 Samuel 14:45).

Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws capricious laws that kill people

Another example of civil disobedience in keeping with biblical submission is found in 1 Kings 18.

That chapter briefly introduces a man named Obadiah who “feared the Lord greatly.” When the queen Jezebel was killing God’s prophets, Obadiah took a hundred of them and hid them from her so they could live.

Such an act was in clear defiance of the ruling authority’s wishes. Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws to prevent the innocent from being killed.

In 2 Kings 12. Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, began to destroy the royal offspring of the house of Judah.

However, Joash, son of Ahaziah was taken by the king’s daughter, Jehosheba, and hidden from Athaliah so that the Davidic bloodline would be preserved.

Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws to prevent the innocent from being killed.

Esther 1:10-12, “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on. But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains: therefore, was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.”

Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws to protect your modesty.

Daniel records a number of civil disobedience examples.

In chapter 3 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden idol in disobedience to King Nebuchadnezzar’s command.

Chapter 6 where Daniel defies King Darius’ decree to not pray to anyone other than the king.

In both cases, God rescued His people from the death penalty that was imposed, signaling His approval of their actions.

Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws that force you to worship false gods.

In the New Testament, the book of Acts records the civil disobedience of Peter and John towards the authorities that were in power at the time.

After Peter healed a man born lame, Peter and John were arrested for preaching about Jesus and put in jail.

The religious authorities were determined to stop them from teaching about Jesus; however, Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20).

Later, the rulers confronted the apostles again and reminded them of their command to not teach about Jesus, but Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws that prevent you from spreading the gospel

One last example of civil disobedience is found in the book of Revelation where the Antichrist speaks, commands all those who are alive during the end times to worship an image of himself.

But the apostle John, who wrote Revelation, states that those who become Christians at the time will disobey the Antichrist and his government and refuse to worship the image (Revelation 13:15) just as Daniel’s companions violated Nebuchadnezzar’s decree to worship his idol.

Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws that require you to worship false gods.

What conclusions can be drawn from the above biblical examples?

The guidelines for a Christian’s civil disobedience can be summed as follows:

1, Christians should resist a government that commands or compels evil and should work nonviolently within the laws of the land to change a government that permits evil.

2, Civil disobedience is permitted when the government’s laws or commands are in direct violation of God’s laws and commands.

3, If a Christian disobeys an evil government, unless he can flee from the government, he should accept that government’s punishment for his actions.

4. Christians are certainly permitted to non-violently work to install new government leaders within the election laws which have been established.

Back to my original question.

Should Christians engage in civil disobedience to convince the government to care for the vulnerable and oppressed?

I personally struggle with this one because there are so many significant issues of injustice, mankind’s inhumanity to man, which I am quite passionate about.

Government laws and policies may not protect the vulnerable and oppressed, but the laws and policies do not require the Christian to break God’s laws and mankind’s laws and commands, so the Christian should “subtly” obey them.

(S)He should keep ministering to the people whom God has placed before them in their neighborhoods, to work to change laws, yet to obey them, nonetheless.

Should the Christian engage in political protests?

The Bible does not prohibit it, peaceful protests are not against the law of the land or God’s law.

Christians should not, however, ever engage in violent or destructive behavior.

Such protests damaging property are in violation of the eighth commandment.

Protests that injure police officers or other individuals violate God’s commands to, “Love the Lord your God as you Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

While working for justice for the vulnerable and oppressed is important to the Christian, I believe there are factors that lessen the Christian’s involvement.

One limiting factor may be priorities.

In Matthew Jesus says the second command is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

What is the first command? It is to, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.”

Loving God is more important than loving your neighbor.

We must take care of our relationship with Jesus first. If our involvement in justice for the vulnerable interferes with our own relationship with Jesus, we reconsider our #1 priorities relevant to the fight for justice in God’s Kingdom.

First things first, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…”

Matthew 6:33Amplified Bible

33 But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also.

Another limiting factor may be gospel effectiveness.

In I Corinthians 8 Paul talks about not being a stumbling block to the weak.

Even though there is nothing wrong with eating meat, Paul says, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.”

And in the next chapter, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

It is our right to work for any just cause.

But if exercising those rights cause some to be physically or economically or socially harmed (lose their businesses, their jobs, cancelled out by culture) and we ourselves do not heed to the Gospel Truth, then we have made a mistake.

John 13:34-35Amplified Bible

34 I am giving you a new commandment, that you [a]love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love and unselfish concern for one another.”

We must ask ourselves, “Will my involvement in this cause harm to so many people that I cannot, with the mind of Savior Christ, witness for the Gospel?”

Justice now is not the primary goal, saving people eternally is.

Definitely, absolutely, there were many enormous injustices in Jesus’ time: slavery, income inequality, racial inequality, torture, corrupt government.

Jesus did not spend a lot of time fixing those ills.

John 3:16-17Amplified Bible

16 “For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] [a]only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge and condemn the world [that is, to initiate the final judgment of the world], but that the world might be saved through Him.

He did, though, spend 100% of his maximum effort drawing people to Himself.

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Father, you have given all peoples one common origin.
It is your sovereign will that they be gathered together
as one Body of Christ, one family shaped into your image.
Fill the hearts of mankind with the Holy fires of your love
and with the desire to work and labor, ensure justice for all.
By sharing the abundance of good things, you give us,
may we work and labor to peacefully secure an equality for all
our brothers and sisters in our neighborhoods, throughout the world.
May there be an end to socio-economic political division, strife and war.
May there be a genuine Christ Minded dawning of a truly human society
built only upon thy grace and mercy, love and forgiveness and thy peace.
We ask this in the name of Immanuel, Jesus, our Risen Lord and Savior.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

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Why Should I Walk with God and with His Blessings? Deuteronomy 5:32-33.

“Cause and effect” are a relationship between events or things, where one is the result of the other or others. This is a combination of an action and a reaction.

Something happens (a cause) that leads to an effect. 

For Example ……

Cause: As we were waiting for a bus, we received 7 inches of rain in 4 hours. 

Effect: My Umbrella did not keep me dry. The roadways were flooded.

Cause: I flipped the light switch. 

Effect: The light came on and I saw the mess I made last night all over again.

Cause: The boss was busy. 

Effect: Their secretary rolled their eyes skyward, took a telephone message.

THE REALITIES OF CAUSE AND EFFECT

From the time you are a child until you die, you understand cause and effect.

“Cause” is the action that produces a result or consequence.

And “effect” is the product, result, or consequence of that action.

As a baby you learn that if you cry, mom or dad will change you, feed you, or hold you. 

As you grow into a toddler you learn that if you drop something from your highchair, somebody will pick it up.

As a kid working your way through school, you learn that if you study hard, you will earn good grades and increase the likelihood you will receive scholarships.

As a college student you learn that if you study hard, you increase the likelihood of receiving great grades and Latin Honors and the likelihood of that great job.

As a young adult you learn that hard work pays great dividends and increases the likelihood you will gain an excellent reputation and promotions on the job.

As an adult, you also learn that if you are not a particularly hard worker and are making excuses, chronically late to work, you get into trouble and lose your job.

Proverbs 24:30-34 The Message

One day I walked by the field of an old lazybones,
    and then passed the vineyard of a slob;
They were overgrown with weeds,
    thick with thistles, all the fences broken down.
I took a long look and pondered what I saw;
    the fields preached me a sermon and I listened:
“A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there,
    sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next?
Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life,
    with poverty as your permanent houseguest!”

This thought comes to King Solomon after he considers the fields of a lazy man:

The field is overgrown and in general disrepair.

He sees the danger in staying in bed too long, although most of us might enjoy more of this practice. Poverty and lack attack if this behavior is not conquered.

There is always a cause and effect.

This same principal is found in the kingdom of Heaven:

The Cause: God loves you with an everlasting love. God gave His Son as a sacrifice so that you could be reconciled to Him. Love has victory over death.

The Effect: You experience the love of our Father, which fulfills you in a way that nothing else can. You share in His victory over death. You desire to share God’s love with others, so they, too, will experience His 100% love for them.

There can be no effect without a cause. God’s love for you should always be the cause for your walking with, for Him. If it’s not, then your work will be in vain.

Without faith in God, it is impossible to please God.

Without hope in God, it is impossible to please God.

Without love for God, it is impossible to please God.

Without faith, hope and love in and for God, it is impossible to walk with Him.

Walking with God does not lead to God’s favor, but God’s favor leads to walking in favor with God. If I walk with the world, can I genuinely say I walk with God?

Deuteronomy 5:32-33Amplified Bible

32 Therefore you shall pay attention and be careful to do just as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left [deviating from My commandments]. 33 You shall walk [that is, live each and every day] in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long in the land which you will possess.

Deuteronomy 5:32-33 The Message

32-33 So be very careful to act exactly as God commands you. Don’t veer off to the right or the left. Walk straight down the road God commands so that you’ll have a good life and live a long time in the land that you’re about to possess.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

After Moses instructed God’s people in the Ten Commandments, he added the Cause: they must walk “obediently in God’s way.” Then added the Effect, he said, God would bless them richly and make them prosper in the promised land.

To interpret this promise wisely, we need to know that prosperity in the Bible has more to do with spiritual blessings than material or physical things.

All over the world there are people who interpret God’s blessing mainly as a promise to make them healthy and wealthy and wise. But that is a mistake.

While some people do experience blessings of “never having spent a day in the hospital” or “never worrying about how to pay the bills.”

There are also those who have experienced the blessing of “having spent time in an ICU Bed, an Oncology ward or other long term care facility, their health in a critical state of flux: of life versus death.” Likewise, there are those who have experienced day to day struggles with how to pay the bills and feed their kids.

Trying to survive on our own strength and our own wit and wisdom is costly.

Frankly, genuinely walking with God can be even more significantly costly.

So many have lost their jobs and their health and their marriages. Have found themselves struggling through circumstances in life for which only the biblical Patriarch Job could Identify with, give the best counsel for surviving day to day.

Yet, amazingly, these same Christians will declare that in the midst of deep sacrifice they were blessed. Even Job declared his blessings. (Job 1:20-22)

When we walk with God, we live in community with our Lord. We feel God’s delight in all things good, and we sense his pain in the face of sin and evil. Such a close walk with God is itself a blessing. The joys and peace that flows from our relationship with God far outweigh the cost of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Living our lives with God in it, makes things easier and gives us hope.

We may not be the most cognizant.

We may take God for granted, not realize it, not consider it for one moment, not pray over it, but walking with God is so much better than walking without him.

and here is why.

1. Walking With God Makes Things Possible

The Lord never said that our lives here on earth would be easy.

We are all absolutely going to go through hard times, and we are absolutely going to have our struggles. But our time here on earth will be worth it.

We are here to spread the Truth of God’s Gospel, the Truth of God’s love and light to others and spread the absolute greatest news ever that he is our Savior.

When we walk with God, it may not make things any easier, but it certainly and surely makes them infinitely more possible.

Walking with him gives us blessed assurance of his presence and power in our lives. Our God is powerful! With him all things are possible. We can endure trials and heartache. Because of Christ’s resurrection power in us, we can overcome.

“I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people” – Leviticus 26:12

2. He Is Our Comfort

The Lord is always walking beside you.

The Lord is always walking beside me.

He is going through every situation with you.

He is going through every situation with me.

He loves and cares for you and will always stand by your side.

He loves and cares for me and will always stand by myside.

Walking with Him will give you and me the absolute comfort of knowing that He is always there for you and me. He is always with you and me when we need someone to lean on and a shoulder to cry on; He is always there with open arms.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23: 4

3. He Will Help You

No matter what you and I are going through, God will help you and God will help me. We can always cry out to him for help. When we are frustrated and angry, cry out to him. When we are upset, feel like we cannot go on any longer, cry out to him. He will always be there to pick us up and move us ever forward.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:15-16

4. Walking Without Him Is an Unnecessary Struggle

When we are not walking with God, we are going to struggle even more because we are completely on our own. We feel we have no other choice but to just figure things out for ourselves, we are the only ones with all the right questions, all the correct, viable answers, and it will be much more difficult than it should be.

God is the only genuine light illuminating our path.

He will show us the way, but without him, we have to find our way through the darkness. Why do we permit the struggle, when we can have God to guide us?

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

Hebrews 11:1-6Amplified Bible

The Triumphs of Faith

11 Now faith is the assurance (title deed, confirmation) of things hoped for (divinely guaranteed), and the evidence of things not seen [the conviction of their reality—faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses]. For by this [kind of] faith the [a]men of old gained [divine] approval.

By faith [that is, with an inherent trust and enduring confidence in the power, wisdom and goodness of God] we understand that the worlds (universe, ages) were framed and created [formed, put in order, and equipped for their intended purpose] by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which it was testified of him that he was righteous (upright, in right standing with God), and God testified by accepting his gifts. And though he died, yet through [this act of] faith he still speaks. By faith [that pleased God] Enoch was caught up and taken to heaven so that he would not have a glimpse of death; and he was not found because God had taken him; for even before he was taken [to heaven], he received the testimony [still on record] that he had walked with God and pleased Him. But without faith it is impossible to [walk with God and] please Him, for whoever comes [near] to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He rewards those who [earnestly and diligently] seek.

We know very little about Enoch.

His father was Jared, and his son was Methuselah, who lived longer than anyone else.

The most surprising thing about Enoch is that he did not die.

“By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: ‘He could not be found, because God had taken him away.’ For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.”

Enoch was one of two people in the Bible who never experienced death.

The other was Elijah. (See 2 Kings 2:1-14.)

Enoch’s walk with God made him stand out from the crowd.

Only a few generations later, God would send a flood to wipe away a humanity that no longer understood what it meant to live close with God.

Only Enoch’s great-grandson Noah and his family would be spared so that human beings could make a new beginning.

God’s special gift to Enoch reminds us walking with God is the way to true life.

Of course, unless the Lord returns in our lifetime, we will all face death.

But Jesus, who identifies himself as the way to God (John 14:6), also said,

“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).

Then Jesus turns that belief around and against us – “Do we Believe this?”

With Faith pleasing to God ….

With Hope pleasing to God ….

With Love pleasing to God ….

Do we believe the cause: walking with God in faith has this effect: puts us on a level road that moves us forward and takes us beyond death to life eternal?

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

God, my Guide and my Guardian,

Take me to task today,

Search me, and know me …..

Hold me accountable to thy Gospel Truth,

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen

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Why should I be a Servant anyways? Because our Loving our God Means Submitting to God. Matthew 20:20-28

In a sermon I once asked an older congregation,

“What is the best way to teach children?”

And the congregation answered enthusiastically, “By example!”

In that sermon, I had quoted Albert Schweitzer, saying, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

Rabbi Jesus taught by example what he expects from us. Facing the cross, he illustrated submission and leadership at the last supper with his disciples when he washed their feet and said they should now serve one another (John 13:3-17).

The concept of submission is often misunderstood.

It isn’t a matter of allowing others to walk all over us.

As Paul applies it to marriage in Ephesians 5, submitting means that both the husband and wife seek their partner’s well-being. It’s 100% not a hierarchy!

It’s not about authority but about being subject to one another, serving one another—doing so “out of reverence for Christ,” who gave his very life for us.

When Salome the mother of James and John asked for places of authority for her sons in Jesus’ kingdom, Jesus explained that lording it over others is not the way of the kingdom. He urged them to follow his example: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Whom can you serve and build up, for Jesus’ sake, today?

Matthew 20:20-28 Amplified Bible

Preferred Treatment Asked

20 Then [Salome] the [a]mother of Zebedee’s children [James and John] came up to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down [in respect], asked a favor of Him. 21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit [in positions of honor and authority] one on Your right and one on Your left.” 22 But Jesus replied, “You do not realize what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup [of suffering] that I am about to drink?” They answered, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink My cup [of suffering]; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”

24 And when the [other] ten heard this, they were resentful and angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles have absolute power and lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them [tyrannizing them]. 26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your [willing and humble] slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many [paying the price to set them free from the penalty of sin].”

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Let’s just go ahead and ask the question no one asks: Why Be a Servant at all?

I wonder how many of us are just as interested in Service.

My guess is that few are genuinely enthusiastic to learn more about Service, and a typical response would be,

“Why should I be a servant?

“What is so good about serving?”

“I don’t have time for it, and it’s not really my cup of tea.”

“Let those who enjoy serving and who have the time for it get involved in it.”

Well, do these responses come from someone more devoted to following Christ their Savior or do they come from one more devoted to following the world?

Perhaps it is not a “fair question” to ask in these divided times and seasons when churches are struggling as much as they are just to stay open and viable.

“Why be the church, anyway?” is a question I have seen asked so many times and in so many different ways – each way expressing more and more angrily.

I ask because we also live in a secular world where more people strive diligently for high positions of power and leadership, and for more fame and recognition.

We live in a world where few people want to be servants – after all where is the glory and the honor and the nice paycheck for the server in serving someone.

And if there are people who do serve, they serve only because of the prospect of personal gain – in terms of money, honor, power, prestige or recognition.

That is the way things are done in the world.

It is considered demeaning to serve others, and it is considered foolish to serve for nothing. But in our Gospel narrative, Christ requires us to take a very radical and vastly different view of service, and this can be seen in Matthew 20:20-28.

The passage begins with a personal request made by the mother of James and John, who were two of the twelve disciples of Jesus.

She came to ask Jesus to let her sons have the best positions in His kingdom – second only to Jesus Himself: One son to be His ‘right hand man,’ and the other son to be His ‘left hand man.’

I think we can all understand why she had made such a bold request from Jesus:

Does not every loving mother want only the absolute best for her precious sons?

However, the parallel passage in Mark 10:35-37 reveals that it was her sons who had engineered this request!

James and John were the ones vying to get the top positions for themselves. 

Perhaps what Jesus said to the disciples a little earlier had stirred up their ambitions – “Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28)

Their minds were so captivated with this coming glory that they hardly paid any attention to what Jesus said in the two verses just before our passage: 

“Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him ….” 

All this talk about humiliation somehow did not register at all in their minds, as they were so preoccupied with the glory they wished for.

So, perhaps what James and John did was to get their mother to help them so that it might look more like her request than theirs.

She gladly followed their script closely, bowing down to Jesus and saying,

“Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.” (v.21)

I want you to note the important phrase, ‘in Thy kingdom’ at the end of this verse. Whose kingdom is this? Christ’s kingdom.

These disciples mistakenly thought that the mark of greatness in Christ’s kingdom was to be in the highest positions of honor.

If that were true, then Christ’s kingdom would be no different from the world’s kingdoms where authority and prestige and power matter most. 

This provides the background for what Christ said in vv.25-27,  

“Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister. And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” 

Jesus shows the disciples how radically different it is to be great in His kingdom.

It is to be a servant.

This gives us the first reason why we ought to be servants: 

1. Being a Servant Is the Distinguishing Mark of Greatness in Christ’s Kingdom (vv.25-27) 

Since we who are saved are now in Christ’s kingdom, our thinking about greatness has to change radically.

We are not to be conformed to the world in our thinking anymore but be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2).

What the world esteems most like riches, fame and power are of no value to us.

They do not make us great at all.

What would make us great in Christ’s kingdom are the things that the world despises most, like humility, weakness, giving, submission and selfless service:

These are the things that matter most of all in Christ’s kingdom.

The world rewards those who put themselves at the top.

But the kingdom of Christ rewards those who put themselves at the bottom. 

In the ancient world, kings and princes were at the top-most rung of society while slaves were at the very bottom-most rung of society.

Christ tells us where we should be in v.27, “…whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” 

The word ‘servant’ that Christ used here is translated from the Greek word “doulos” which literally means ‘slave.’ 

https://www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/mat/20/27/t_conc_949027

https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g1401/kjv/tr/0-1/

Now, I don’t think anyone here would like to be called a slave, because of its negative connotations of forced servitude and loss of personal rights.

But that is how Christ wants us to see ourselves – we are no better than others, because we are nothing more than lowly slaves!

We have to get used to thinking of ourselves this way and make it a point to begin each day reminding ourselves that we are not kings but slaves! 

Having this mind-set will change the way we relate to others.

It will make us more approachable and accommodating.

We will be more willing to see things from their point of view and not insist that everything must be done our way.

We will want to serve rather than to be served.

We will even go the extra mile to serve others.

When we see ourselves as nothing more than servants or slaves it becomes a lot easier for us to submit to others willingly. 

Whenever we write formal letters, we use certain conventional endings before signing off, e.g. ‘yours sincerely,’ and ‘yours truly.’

But do you know that these endings actually originated from much longer ones?

In letters that were written way back in the 1800s, the standard ending that was used was: “I beg to remain your most humble and truly obedient servant.” 

Over time this has become shortened to: “yours truly.” 

And so, the next time you write ‘yours truly,’ please remember how Christ wants you to regard yourself. 

One reason why nobody wants to be a slave is that slaves do not own anything.

They and everything they have belong to their master.

In the same way, the servant mind-set requires us to regard ourselves and everything we have as God’s property, which are to be used in His service.

In Luke 12:48 God’s Word says, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” 

God has every right to expect much from us, because He has invested ever so much into our lives.

What has God invested in us?

He has invested Time, Talents, Treasures, and Opportunities in our lives.

God has entrusted these to us to be used for His glory. 

In the parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 the Lord spoke about three servants who were entrusted with their master’s assets.

The first two servants doubled their talents by working hard, and so they were commended when the master returned.

But the third servant received a stern condemnation because he merely buried his talent and returned it intact to the master. 

This parable teaches us to be good stewards of all Christ has entrusted to us.

One day we will have to give an account to Him of how we used them.

Will you be like the servant who buried his talent in the ground?

Do you spend a lot of your time and money in your own leisure and activities, and things that are unnecessary?

How should you spend your time, talents and treasures now, if you know that you will have to give an account for them?

How would you spend your time, talents and treasures now, if you know that you will have to give an accounting of them?

How could you spend your time, talents, and treasures now, if you know that you will have to give an account of them?

Will you put them to good use so that Jesus will say to you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord”? 

One passage that reveals what will happen at the Judgment Seat of Christ is 

1 Corinthians 3:12-14 – “Now if any man builds upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abides which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” 

Brothers and Sisters, do you genuinely, sincerely, absolutely look forward to receiving a blessed reward from our Savior Lord Jesus Christ?

You must. 

All your efforts in serving Him now will be amply compensated when you receive your reward from Christ.

With this reward in view, let us be faithful in serving Him well.

We have just seen that being a servant is the distinguishing mark of greatness in Christ’s kingdom.

Let us return now to our passage to see another reason why we ought to be servants.

This is found in verses 27,28 which says, 

“And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister…” 

Please take note of the words ‘even as.’

They tell us why we must be servants.

And it is plainly this – Our Lord Jesus Himself was a servant.

Thus, the second reason why we ought to be servants is: 

2. It Is the Disciples’ Means to Follow Christ’s Example (v.27-28a) 

Christ became a servant in His ministry on earth. 

Philippians 2:6-7 tells us that Jesus, 

“…being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” 

One passage that displays Christ as a servant is John 13:1-13.

This happened when the disciples had the Last Supper with Christ the day before His crucifixion.

In those days it was customary for the host to assign his lowest slave to wash the feet of his guests when they came into his house for a meal.

After walking in sandals on the streets their feet would be caked with mud and manure and would need a good washing.

But no one had done this.

The basin, water and towel were all there, but none of the disciples was willing to get up and use them. 

Then something quite unexpected happened. Jesus rose up, laid aside His garments; took a towel, girded Himself, then proceeded to wash their feet. 

This must have taken them all by surprise.

Perhaps they thought that Jesus would appoint one of them to do the work.

But now they were stunned as they saw Him doing it!

How can their Master be washing their filthy feet?

They should be the ones washing His feet!

But now with His outer garments laid aside, His body stooping down and His hands washing and wiping their feet, Jesus practically became their servant. 

Then He said to them in vv.14,15

– “Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well: for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” 

Since Christ has given us such an example, how can we follow Him without being a servant?

Brothers and Sisters, being a servant is our means to follow Christ’s example.

It makes us more like Him. 

Here is a story about two wash basins.

One was a plain copper basin that Jesus used to wash His disciples’ feet, while the other was a beautiful gold basin Pontius Pilate used to wash his own hands.

Christ used one basin to carry out a responsibility that not His.

Pilate used the other basin to deny a responsibility that was his.

One basin shows us that Christ sought to serve, while the other basin revealed that Pilate ought to serve but refused.

Whose washbasin will you choose?

Christs or Pilate’s? 

If you want to follow Christ, then choose His wash basin and be a servant.

This is a very compelling reason why we ought to be servants.

But there is an even more compelling reason.

It is found at the end of v.28 – “…and to give His life a ransom for many.” 

This teaches us that being a servant… 

3. It Is the Divine Mode for Edifying Christ’s People (v.28b) 

Christ gave His life on the cross as a ransom for many, and the many here refers to us, the people He has saved from sin and eternal death.

But His ministry to us did not stop there.

Christ is still giving Himself for us through His unceasing intercession in Heaven, and through the work of the Holy Spirit on earth.

And the Holy Spirit bestows spiritual gifts on us so that we can build up the body of Christ by using them well.

Our service to God’s people is the mode by which He accomplishes this work.

Brothers and Sisters, every one of us has a role to play in this work of building the Body of Christ. But exactly how well have we all been fulfilling our role? 

During the time of the prophets Zechariah and Haggai the Israelites were spending too much time and effort building their own houses while the house of God was laid waste.

Some problems had come up during the Temple building project and the work was stopped for 15 years.

But people conveniently used this as an excuse to leave God’s work undone.

So, God sent His prophets to rebuke them, and also withheld many blessings from them. 

In our present time, the situation is still the same.

Many Christians spend much time and effort pursuing their own ambitions, while God’s work is left undone, or is left in the hands and hearts of a few who are struggling to do it all alone.

I have heard it said that 20% of the people do 90% of the work. 

Why is it that the rest of us are not serving in Life Church?

Maybe it’s because we always think that somebody else will do it.

Here is a clever poem that I found about this: 

“There’s a clever young fellow named Somebody Else. There is nothing this fellow can’t do. He’s busy from morning till very late, just substituting for you. You’re asked to do this or asked to do that. And what is your ready reply? “Get Somebody Else. He’ll do it much better than I.” So much to do in this weary old world; so much and the workers are few. And Somebody Else is weary and worn just substituting for you. Next time you’re asked to do something worthwhile, just give this ready reply; If Somebody Else can give time and support, well then, so can I.” 

Perhaps too many of us have been content to let Somebody Else do the work.

The problem with this is that there aren’t that many Somebody Elses out there.

And those there are, have grown weary and tired, and may even suffer from burnout soon.

Putting more money into the offering bags will not help.

The way to resolve this is that for every Lifer who wants what James and John wanted from Jesus, to remember their roles in Christ’s Kingdom, assume his or her role of service, however small it is, and be used by Christ to edify His people.

Is there in your church’s newspaper a subject heading “Where Can You Serve?”

Read it and I bet you will see there are many great and wonderful needs that can only be met if we are willing to give priority to serving the Lord and His people.

I predict that the article provides a list of ministries in the life of the Church, their needs and the person to contact to find out more about them.

Please ask the Lord to lead you to an area of service. 

If you feel any reluctance, please remember the 3 reasons why you should be a servant according to our passage of Scripture:

Being a Servant

(1) Is the distinguishing mark of greatness in Christ’s kingdom;

(2) It is the disciples’ means to follow Christ’s example, and

(3) It is the divine mode for edifying Christ’s people. 

And after you decide to start serving, there are some guidelines you need on how to serve: 

Firstly, check your motives for serving.

Our passage shows how easy it is to have the wrong motives.

James and John were interested in glory, position and rank.

They wanted to be higher than anyone else.

And though their mother came to Jesus in worship, her real motive was to seek out the best places for her two sons. 

Our Love for Christ should always be our sole motivation for everything we do for Him.

Some serve the Lord to win the praises of men.

They like to be at the forefront where others can see how busy they are for the Lord.

When asked to pray, they will pray the longest and most impressive prayers.

Like Jehu in the Old Testament, they would say, 

“Come with me and see my zeal for God.” (2 Kings 10:16)

And they love to talk about what they have done for the Lord.

But once they no longer feel appreciated, they may just as likely go elsewhere to have their deflated egos uplifted again.

Brothers and Sisters, let us be careful not to be like that.

Every time we serve the Lord, we should ask ourselves, “Who am I doing this for? For the praises of the Lord or for the praises of me, myself and I?” 

There are many in churches who work quietly behind-the-scenes.

They are unsung heroes – serving the Lord faithfully and diligently in their own areas of service.

Those who prepare the elements for Lord’s Supper.

Those church secretaries who keep the pastor informed and the clerical work and the church organizational work in order and incoming and outgoing.

There are the Boards of Trustees responsible for the upkeep of the church.

I think of our church pianists and organists and choir directors, the sound folks who avail themselves not only for their church’s worship services but even for prayer meeting, baptism’s, consecrations, weddings, vigil and funeral services. 

You know, for the amount of time, effort, expertise and service that they put in, they would probably be paid quite well if they were doing it in the secular world.

But here they do it for nothing, or next to nothing. In fact, oftentimes, they would put in their own funds for any expenses incurred in their service and would not make any extra claims from the church.

I thank God for all the sacrifices they have made, and trust that they will be encouraged to continue to serve the Lord well. So let us serve because we want to please no one else but God. Let us serve because we love Him. 

The second guideline you need to observe about serving is to put others before self. Serving the Lord is always done together with others. 

The biblical pattern for service is teamwork.

In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul describes believers as being parts of a body, and each of us has a different role to play.

God has graciously bestowed specific gifts on each of us.

But none of us can function without the rest, and we need one another’s gifts to serve the Lord together. 

But there are potential problems in working closely together with others, especially when self gets in the way.

Some feel offended when their ideas are not used or when things are not done in their preferred way.

In our passage we notice that when the other ten disciples of Jesus saw what James and John were trying to do, they reacted, as v.24 says, “…they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.” 

The spiritual attitude of these ten disciples was not any better than that of James and John.

In order to preserve good working relationships, we must always be humble, considerate, forbearing and forgiving towards our co-labourers with Christ.

We will find much greater joy in our service to God if we learn a little bit more about spiritual growth and maturity, to put others before self in our service. 

Another guideline that you need to observe is to be ready to serve whenever and wherever you can.

If it is something that you have never done before, be willing to learn how to do it. If you are approached to serve in some areas do not be so quick to say, ‘No thanks, but I can’t commit myself to it.’ 

If you count it a great honor to serve Christ, rearrange your other commitments to make way for it.

Servants must be both accountable, available whenever the master calls for them. 

Please make sure that you are available. Remember this: Availability is the greatest ability! 

A good servant is also alert to the needs of others.

In Psalm 123:2, the psalmist said, 

“Behold as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so, our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that He have mercy upon us.” 

When the master moves his finger in command, the servant simply obeys.

A good servant is one who has learned to subdue the defiant autonomy of self, to subject his ego and his will to the wishes of another. Whatever God says goes.

When God says, “Jump,” we and our wills should say, “How high, Lord?” 

However, there is a vast difference between doing what God wants you to do and doing all that you or others want you to do.

Don’t try to do everything, or else you will end up being too busy, doing things that God never intended you to do.

Sometimes you have to say ‘No,’ and encourage others who are doing nothing to help share the load. 

And now we come to the last guideline for service: 

Be willing to do whatever it takes to do whatever is needed.

Serving the Lord will not always be easy.

There will be times when you may have to endure hardship and suffering.

Some of the tasks that need to be done are tasks that nobody wants to do at all because they are unpleasant, tedious or boring.

You may have to beautify the church grounds outside under the hot sun, or clean and sweep and mop the floors and the toilets after VBS or camp or spend hours organizing and putting together bulletins and music slides for worship. 

Our Lord Jesus has set the example.

He had to give His own life to be a ransom for many.

Are you and I ready, willing, able, to submit our lives fully unto the Lord?

Perhaps our Lord would ask you the exact same question that He asked both James and John in v.22 – “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 

Well, both of them did suffer for their service as Christ’s apostles.

Recall, James became the first apostle to be martyred, and John had to endure the longest recorded time of persecution because he lived until deep into the first century time of the cruel Emperor Domitian.

Only God knows what you and I will have to endure in your service to Him.

When we ask ourselves for the same things James, John and their Mom did,

When we try to bargain with our God and our Savior Jesus for all the best,

Ask, “Why should I want to be a servant in these divided times and seasons?”

Please, Pray! let us always make it a point therefore to seek out God’s grace to endure any difficulties, so we may be able to glorify Him through your service. 

May the Lord speak to all of us and help us to be ever faithful servants.

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

The Wesley Covenant Prayer

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

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Imitating Jesus. Modeling Jesus. Learning to See Our Neighbors and Ourselves (Part 2). Ephesians 5:1-2

The Apostle Paul calls his fellow Christians to imitate God in order to live up to the reputation of God’s family.

He challenges generations of believers: “walk in the way of love,” as Christ did.

This is about our loving the way Jesus loved.

This is about our modeling love the way Jesus modeled love.

And Jesus always acted in line with the Father’s will.

The love of Jesus embraced outcasts, pardoned sinners, healed the hopeless, challenged the complacent, and willingly sacrificed everything so that we sinners could be reconciled with God.

Modeling Sacrificial love is our most visible and defining family trait.

The only reason we are in the family of God in the first place is because of God’s extravagant love.

As Paul calls us to imitate God’s love, he reminds us that we are defined by it—we are “dearly loved children.”

Our own love emerges from the depths of that eternal love.

Our love is an overflow of the love God has personally shown to each of us. Love is the DNA test that determines paternity with our Father God (1 John 4:7-8).

God loves you because you are his child, you are his child because he loves you.

Children of God are called: “be caught up into the infinite circle of God’s love.”

We are most like our Father in Heaven, most godly, when we allow that love to flow into us from above and flow like a river from us into the lives of others.

Ephesians 5:1-2 The Message

Wake Up from Your Sleep

1-2 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Theologian Brennan Manning spoke a challenging truth, when he wrote,

“How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the antiabortion sticker on the bumper of my car.”

Treating our neighbors and ourselves as eminently valuable is not easy.

And this leads us to the next thing we learn from Jesus ….

How could Jesus communicate the reality of what he saw?

Well… I think Jesus also teaches us to…

3. Ho to exercise the power of initiating.

Referring back to the Narrative Luke 19:1-10,

Jesus does not sit back to see if Zacchaeus will come out and express his hope.

He is high up in a Sycamore tree…. It’s sort of obvious that he is only hoping to “see” Jesus from an “untouchable” distance. So, Jesus takes the initiative.

Jesus calls out to Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:5 Amplified)

When Jesus reached the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”

Can you sense how significant that is? So many people can seek attention by becoming shy or fearful or by becoming dramatic and demanding …. but our demanding attention is entirely different than simply being given attention.

There is nothing more powerful than our initiative

…because it expresses what is really within us

…not merely responding to what we HAVE to respond to

…but what we WANT to respond to.

Love never just does what is required.

Love doesn’t just see people as an obligation

Love does not just see people … as a duty to fulfill when it is “required.”

Love initiatives: (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Amplified)

Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking; it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong endured. It does not rejoice at injustice but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening]. Love never fails [it never fades nor ends].

Our initiative speaks…… Are we risking it all trying to climb the Sycamore Tree?

Jesus makes a significant point of this when there is conflict in a relationship.

We won’t venture outside of our “comfort zones” into all that he teaches…

but the one striking element is that when… either … we should decide to stay on the ground, battle the crowds or should go… immediately, directly, to the tree.

And while we are deciding on whether we will “climb the Sycamore Tree” or if we will do what is always customary, stay on the ground battling the crowds,

If Christ is on our minds, if we reflect on our own…we realize he is teaching us how we treat another amidst life’s conflict… reflects how we will honor them… whether we can be trusted to care for their good and not just our protection.

It communicates whether they really matter to us.

The key word is “go” … we are to go pursue setting things right.

Do we realize we have the power of initiative with some people who are afraid?

And finally…we see from Jesus… the power to…

4. Embody the reality of grace with our presence.

If we step back and look at this scene… it was loaded for Zacchaeus.

The scene was full of hatred…. animosity … and judgment…

and Jesus took the initiative and stepped decisively, directly, into that space.

Imagine the awesome significance of Jesus looking beyond the crowds and calling out Zacchaeus…. then announcing he would be coming over for lunch.

Imagine what it communicated to everybody.

In essence… Jesus took the initiative, stepped into the line of fire… directly into harm’s way, he brought the power of his presence into the space of judgment.

And isn’t this the example Jesus was setting for us by doing it so frequently?

He was accused of being a friend of sinners…. because he didn’t join in practice and purpose of one group riling itself up, condemning, canceling one another.

It was the space he was unhesitatingly chose to be seen by everyone standing in.

When a woman was brought before him who had been caught in adultery.

When those who were disabled or diseased were shinned… or children told to be quiet… or a Samaritan woman deemed ethnically unclean.

It could lead some to think Jesus was either ignoring their sin… or ignorant of it.

The presence of Jesus was never one of ignorance…but of divine insight… he didn’t see less… he intentionally, innately saw more of our neighbors than us.

He didn’t worry about condoning their behavior…because he wasn’t.

Never with the slightest compromise of his own righteousness

In fact, what spoke volumes was he never saw these moments as a podium to speak about tax collecting… prostitution… or politics or government because the point was not that he didn’t see the outworking of sin…but that he saw more than the working of sin – but saw sinners for whom salvation was good news.

Some may recall that when he spoke to the Samaritan woman who had come out in the middle of the day to get water at the nearby well…

She said… “how is it that you a Jew speak to me a Samaritan… and a woman?”

She’s saying, “Don’t you see me like everyone else?”

She is saying, “Aren’t you as biased and prejudiced as everyone else?”

She is saying, “Are you here to try and cancel my life like everyone else is?”

Are you just that blind and ignorant …unaware of who I am, what I have done?

Jesus would answer that by asking her to go get her husband. And that opened up her heart to know he saw so much more… yet he did not simply reject her.

It was always clear if one looked… that Jesus was not PARTICIPATING in the behaviors of others…nor was he giving PERMISSION or CREDENCE to the behaviors of others…. He was simply being among, present, with such people.

What we can learn from Jesus …

is that our willingness to move away from what is “customary prejudices and biases” is simply to be among and present with those who presume judgment… can speak of our “above and beyond” efforts of imitating Jesus seeing “more.”

Jesus always risked his own reputation. In a world in which people rarely defy the obvious power of social reputation… Jesus showed the power to be trusted to truly, selflessly, serve the interest of others more than his own social interests.

If we want to love God, our neighbors and ourselves like Jesus… we will have to mature in being trustworthy… of being those who won’t just serve our social status… who will come be with someone who our friends may look down upon.

Are we or are we not someone who someone else can share their fears and failures with…and know that we won’t use it to serve our own personal gain?

This is essential to becoming safe people.

So, we would do well and better to imitate and model Jesus: embrace the Love of the Father and power of our presence. We may need to enter the space of grace.

Luke 19:1-10Amplified Bible

Zaccheus Converted

19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector [a superintendent to whom others reported], and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, but he could not see [a]because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran on ahead [of the crowd] and climbed up in a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus reached the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So Zaccheus hurried and came down and welcomed Jesus with joy. When the people saw it, they all began muttering [in discontent], “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a [notorious] sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “See, Lord, I am [now] giving half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone out of anything, I will give back four times as much.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this household, because he, too, is a [[b]spiritual] son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

That day… so many people could not fully see all that was going on around them. When someone (Jesus) saw more… someone came down from a tree….

I believe that each of us have a desire to help people both climb up to see Jesus, come down from hiding in the trees… where they hope nobody will see them.

The visual exchange between Zacchaeus and Jesus is unique in some respects…

People aren’t looking at us as the Messiah… if they did, they may not be so quick to look for us or to receive us… or to change with us…. but it DOES capture what our world needs. It captures how we can climb, mature grow in loving like Jesus.

It speaks to how we receive God.

It speaks to how we receive our neighbors.

It speaks to how we receive ourselves.

It speaks to how we experience God’s love through resurrected Jesus Christ.

It speaks to how we experience the love of God and model it for our neighbors.

It speaks to how I experience the Love of God and become inspired to share it.

it speaks to how others approach God,

It speaks to how willing our neighbors are to approach God and approach us.

It speaks to how our neighbors are to approach the Christ in us

It speaks to how willing our neighbors are to experience the Christ in us.

It speaks to how approachable we are… how safe we are.

It speaks to how approachable God is.

It speaks to how approachable Jesus is.

It speaks to exactly how worthy Jesus is to be the model of our maturing lives.

Ephesians 5:1-2Amplified Bible

Be Imitators of God

Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]; and walk continually in love [that is, value one another—practice empathy and compassion, unselfishly seeking the best for others], just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God [slain for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance.

Christ as Our Only Example …

When we read a passage like the one in our Scripture for today, we recognize that God is totally different from us.

Christian teachers sometimes talk of God as being “wholly other.” That teaching reflects the words of God himself through Isaiah the prophet:

“To whom will you compare me?

Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One…

“I am the LORD,

and there is no other.” (Isaiah 40:25; 45:18)

Although the Spirit works in us to make us more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), believers do not become divine. We cannot become God, but in God’s strength alone we can become godly. Sadly, in this life we still remain sinful, but through God’s charity, forgiveness and redemption we are reconciled to our Maker.

Except for the example of Jesus, who is divine as well as human, there is no human achievement that provides an adequate example for us.

So, we must rely on what God himself has done in Christ by his Spirit.

He showed us what love is.

God the Father has provided for our salvation, and Jesus, the Son of God, has given himself as the penultimate sacrifice in our place to be our Savior.

The Holy Spirit helps us to receive and live out that love.

So, all three persons of the Trinity work together for our salvation, for our good.

I imagine that there is someone in each of our lives…. who we can help climb up and come down from a tree… out of the place of not feeling safe in how we live.

Is there someone in your life that may need to know that you see more than others see….

More than they can, see?

Are there people in your life that need to experience that you are safe?

And how about ourselves?

Do we know that we can both climb up, come down from the Sycamore Tree?

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

I want to offer all of us a short prayer that has been serving me to take hold and stay ahold of life in God.

God, I see the Sycamore Tree Zacchaeus Climbed.

What should I do now? Climb into its heights or chop it down for my firewood?

If I choose to Climb, … what then?

Do I hide in it, remain anonymous or make myself known to Jesus from it?

I know Jesus is coming down the road …

I see the dust rising up from where he is approaching the crowds and me.

Do I fight against the crowds to see him, to touch the fringes of his garment?

I see the Sycamore Tree again ….

I see its branches inviting me to come forward ….

Do I stay on the ground or do I risk everything to climb into its heights?

God, I belong to you.

May your will become my will.

May your love become my love.

May your neighbor become my neighbor.

Today, may I be a better imitator and model of the life your Son has given to me.

Lord, grant us the love to serve others with such selfless devotion that our kindness will help transform their lives and draw them to Jesus, the source of all love. In his name we pray. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

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Selflessly Modeling Jesus’ Example: Learning how to see others, up to and including, Ourselves! Ephesians 5:1-2

I begin today’s devotional by asking each of us to reflect for a moment.

Are you a safe person?

I don’t mean are you likely to become violent… I mean… do you believe you are safe for other people to approach….and relate to? Do you relate to other people as a potential threat you need to defend against…. or as God’s gift to be opened?

What kind of space do you create for others?

Our Christian focus is on “being like Jesus,” on “imitating Jesus,” building better relationships… so this may be one of those most important questions.

This devotional is about building better relationships in every point of relating.

We are engaging the qualities that can help us develop better relationships with those “neighbors” we are just beginning to engage…as well as building better relationships with the family and friends who we have known for many years.

No matter what the state of our relational life is… we can all move further from self-isolation to His intimacy. We can all develop more meaningful connection.

It is incredibly, almost embarrassingly easy to say but it’s not ever so easy to do.

I hear the prophetic words of Isaiah’s Commission ringing through my soul.

Isaiah 6:8-10 Amplified.

Isaiah’s Commission

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” And He said, “Go, and tell this people:

‘Keep on listening, but do not understand;
Keep on looking, but do not comprehend.’
10 
“Make the heart of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise, they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.”

We do not love ourselves as naturally as we would all profess, we do

We don’t love our neighbors as naturally as we would all profess, we do

We do not love God as naturally as we would all like to profess, we do.

We do not imitate or model our Savior Jesus Christ as we all profess, we do.

So, now we are looking at the one who embodied the very nature of God…that is Christ Jesus, our Savior…and how he loved in this world…how the love of God was reflected within the patterns of his life…which we can embrace as our own.

Ephesians 5:1-2 Amplified Bible

Be Imitators of God

Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]; and walk continually in love [that is, value one another—practice empathy and compassion, unselfishly seeking the best for others], just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God [slain for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance.

Ephesians 5:1-2The Message

Wake Up from Your Sleep

1-2 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Watch what God does, and then you do it …… like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.

Observe how Christ loved us. … then model Love like that. (1 John 4:7-12)

And today… the pattern we are about to be engaging is how to see others up to and including ourselves. Learning to see others EXACTLY as Jesus saw them.

Because (shamefully?) the way we see people determines how we treat people.

Most of us may fall into a dangerous snare: presume that we see people with respect and treat them well…like Christ treated us but what about if they aren’t being kind to us? What if they are being just plain annoying… or offensive?

Or, what if I am the one who is being just plain annoying?

Or, what if I am the one who is consciously or unconsciously giving offense?

Or worse… if I don’t see what they can do or me…maybe I don’t see them at all.

So how does God see people?

What did Jesus see?

As the Biblical account of Matthew describes…

Matthew 9:36? When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew is telling us how Jesus saw the crowds.

How Jesus observed his neighbors – The crowds.

Not the select. Not the special. But the crowds which represent the common nature of people like you and I…and everyone else in this world.

We can assume such lives included the same annoying offensive attitudes and behaviors that are, even in our days and seasons, common among human life.

There is no sense that they held much that Jesus could get from them… as he seemed to have already understood how the hearts of humanity would turn on him when any sense of transactional desires for power were deemed done with.

He sees these common lives with compassion.

Compassion is not simply having pity for someone at a distance.

It’s a word that speaks of actual connection. The word used here… translated as compassion… speaks of exactly how another life is allowed to be taken in… and to affect us deep inside our hearts. It’s about bringing them in toward yourself.

It’s helpful to understand that it is not simply the opposite of seeing someone critically. It is not a matter of being blind to the problems in another person.

Seeing with compassion is about seeing more that simply seeing with critical eyes and souls. Seeing critically and seeing compassionately are not simply opposites but rather a matter of one being more fundamental than the other.

A parent may be deeply critical of their child’s behavior…but they are more defined as a parent than a judge… more given to restore than to condemn.

And this is what we see in Jesus.

Jesus said…

“I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” – John 12:47

Jesus doesn’t summarily dismiss the behavior of others… but he sees more than simply our behavior. He saw they were lost… they had wandered …gone astray… like sheep without a shepherd… leaving themselves harassed and helpless.

He didn’t come to simply pronounce the judgment we face…but to provide the grace, charity, forgiveness, to come home…. and be who they were meant to be.

We have a great example of how Jesus saw someone…and related differently… which we can read an account of in the Gospel narrative of Luke… 19:1-10 Msg.

Zacchaeus

19 1-4 Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho. There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. So, he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.

5-7 When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.” Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”

Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.”

9-10 Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”

This encounter has long been a joy for me to imagine….and it captures how Jesus loved people in an “in your face” provocative and powerful way.

Jesus is once again nearing a city.

It’s the city of Jericho… which was no small town.

It was a town with plenty of merchant activity…and a choice spot for tax collectors.

Rome knew the best way to collect taxes was to employ some local Jews to do the work… which meant finding someone, or several someone’s willing to turn their hearts, souls and their backs on their own people and serve the oppressor.

And even worse…such tax collectors were known to use the opportunity to demand even more than Rome required…and to take for themselves…which made then hated by both their fellow Jews…and the Romans.

You can imagine the depth of hate the people felt towards one of their own both betraying his own people in service to the oppressor…and likewise, audaciously, cheating his own people out of sheer unadulterated greed.

A tax collector was the very definition of a moral outcast… the lost cause.

In fact, Jews of this time often use the phrase sinners and tax collectors… suggesting that the hated tax collectors were seen as a class of their own.

Jesus sees him… calls to him… invites himself over… and it becomes a complete reset for Zacchaeus.

In the end… a man came down from the tree in which he was hiding in shame.

How can we learn to “see’ people like Jesus?

How can we learn to “see’ people like Jesus… with compassion?

…. that allows us to model Jesus’ example and be “safe” and approachable?

The first thing we can learn from Jesus …is to….

1. Slow down… and maintain a margin for grace.

There’s a lot of people in this scene… and Jesus is just reaching his destination… so we can imagine for ourselves observing a biblical scene in which it’s time to first prioritize getting through the crowds and get a meal and some rest.

It’s the type of moment we only just want to get to what we immediately need.

But Jesus lived in what some call the pace of grace.

He never moved faster than the speed of love… and love requires slowing down.

We see how Jesus slowed down.

How slow?

Long enough to really see people.

How many of us know all too well that our professed busyness competes with how well we stop and care for others. We need to maintain a margin for grace.

As Carey Nieuwhof recently expressed, 

“You are …the most kind when you have the most margin.”

Many of us have probably felt the challenge of being so rushed we are not really present amidst various exchanges we may go through.

We have a sense of the challenge to maintain a margin for grace.

Despite those pushing him through, Jesus was able to stop and look up …and see him…and though on his way… he used the rhythm of a meal… a break for lunch.

Amidst sharing such a meal with “Zacchaeus”… there is the ability to listen to your heart and soul…not just your head. The Holy Spirit is able to help us see.

Our head might raise walls of busyness and fear and judgment…but if we slow down… the Holy Spirit will intercede and allow compassion…. space for another.

What we first see… is the outward… and we make a thousand calculations to help manage life … it’s easier for our minds to simply create categories …… and then associate them unconsciously… with clothing… context… behavior… social status… moral nature…all in about a grand total of less than one second.

That is what labels serve… like “tax collector.”

Everyone knew how to see a tax collector.

And the shameful truth is that most of us have similar ways of seeing those who we “categorize” as homeless…old… young…healthy or disabled or handicapped.

If we hope to connect with our neighbors as Jesus connected with his neighbors … then it means we will have to 1000% slow down to actually see the individual.

Jesus didn’t lose sense about his destination… but he also didn’t stop seeing people through the eyes of God alone, as being His children, along the way.

Slowing down to become available… means becoming both physically and emotionally available.

We all know that it’s possible to be physically and spiritually close to, with, someone and yet not really giving much thought to paying attention to them.

Try to talk to someone who’s engaged with their smartphone or TV… you really don’t have their full attention.

How did Jesus know Zacchaeus’ name anyway? We can only imagine.

But at the center… a man is seen.

But at the center … a Child of God is seen!

We live amidst how many 100’s of millions of people… of our neighbors, and there are so many millions more who will just wish someone could see them.

And I would venture to say

… there is a part of every one of us…that may not feel seen.

Here’s a question that can be hard for us to ask of ourselves … but so healthy.

Would the people who know you best say you’re largely available or distracted?

See others beneath the outward behavior… to the soul that bears God’s image.

Without anything else within our sights…we (shamefully?) tend to see people’s outward appearance and behavior…in relationship to how that does or doesn’t serve our own shamefully, embarrassingly fragile, sense of our self-esteem.

How easily we tend to see people outwardly.

We can tend to see people as merely annoying …as those with needs which should be avoided.

We tend to see people as potential sources of “micro-aggression” “triggering.”

We tend to see people as an “offensive” threat to our own fragile sense of value.

We can tend to see people as reflecting some radical element which we can rush in headlong and headstrong to judge … as a means to feel a sense of superiority.

Fortunately for us, our Living Savior Jesus saw infinitely more than “just a tax collector.” He saw through the eyes of His Father, a sheep without a shepherd.

He did not go to the home of a tax collector…. he was not just relating to a tax collector…but to one who was created by God, to be and live as a God’s child.

This is where Jesus confronts our religious nature.

By that I mean our (shamefully?) human ways of trying to be “religious.”

“Religion” sees people as the enemy…and rushes to condemn them as sinners. Jesus sees sin as the enemy…and wants to reclaim all God’s Children by grace.

How easily Jesus could have joined the common way of seeing Zacchaeus… as a betrayer… a traitor… labels that speak of what he does… as if it is who he is.

But Jesus intentionally looked and saw beneath the behavior that had come to define people’s lives…he saw then with great compassion and understanding.

What great compassion and even greater understanding? He never excused what they did by speaking of them as simply victims of someone’s else will…but he also understood they had given themselves to a system of destruction…and that they could choose to turn back…and through him… be reclaimed, restored.

That is what Zacchaeus appears to have found in Jesus.

Jesus saw what was beneath the grime of their sin and our own.

Jesus said … “Stop judging by mere appearances…” – John 7:21, 24

How can we learn to see people, like Jesus did, with only the grace of God… to see beyond and through what may elicit judgment… and develop compassion?

Many might presume that Jesus was failing the way of righteousness.

Many only chose to see that Zacchaeus was “only” a tax collector… living in a life of sin…and he needed to feel the shame of the community to help provide a clear message. In their minds, “What didn’t Jesus understand about that?”

As best as I can understand in this moment… Jesus wouldn’t have dismissed the obvious association of him being a sinner….and even of Zacchaeus being faced with the consequences of that decision …. but Jesus bore the power to see more.

Zacchaeus as “only just a sinner” was not his first nature… his original existence… not what he most fundamentally was created to be… nor what should be accepted as the most basic truth, fundamental claim over his life.

What Jesus saw were lives created to live in the love and will of the Father.

Psalm 139:13-16The Message

13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.

Sin was no one’s original nature… it was by nature a sheep gone astray… and making the decision to repent was to turn around back to the arms of God.

Savior Jesus doesn’t see people simply as sinners in the sense that sin is simply a behavior… seeking behavior modification. Sin is about identity… about what we ourselves are choosing to self-identify with and then choose to react upon.

We can (shamefully) (embarrassingly) tend to simply judge people only as good or only as bad… then rush in, condemn them to a state of value or lack of value.

Compassion sees the tragedy of sheep that have gone stray… needing to be found and led back. Jesus didn’t focus on the symptoms but rather of the cure.

The Love and Charity and forgiveness of Jesus represents the Father’s love for each and every single one of His children that have not come home. (John 10:16)

God is set on reclaiming lives, not rushing in headlong and headstrong to, like man is shamefully, embarrassingly apt to do – to condemn them. (John 8:1-11)

What the crowds could not see…and Praise God, what Jesus did…is that God was not even close to finished with Zacchaeus. And He is not finished with any of us.

If we are to build better relationships…we need to learn to see people like God does…and to treat them with compassion. This means we need to see what lies beneath and beyond how we may appear…and sees the sacred value of every life.

PART 2 – TOMORROW ….

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Father God, you created our life, you gave the sacrifice, Jesus set the example, and you’ve given me your Word to light my path. Help me to imitate you with everything I do. Help my heart to be as forgiving, my words to be as loving, and my thoughts to be just as pure. Go with me as I follow your commands with the faith of a child – Your child. In your Son’s name I pray, Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

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One Reality of the Gospel Life: How to Be Selfless: An In-Depth Guide for us Selfish People. Galatians 3:6-8 Msg.

“You reap what you sow!”

May­be, you have heard this saying before. Parents, teachers, and others use it a lot. It comes from this passage written by the apostle Paul: “A man reaps what he sows”—and Paul himself drew it from other ancient wisdom (see Proverbs 22:8Hosea 10:12-13). Life’s circumstances too often prove the warning true.

Sow vast fields of Selfishness – Reap even greater harvests of Selfishness.

Matthew 9:35-38 Message:

35-38 Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!”

Jesus sowed seeds of selflessness in his enormously compassionate response to the complex multitudinous needs of the people he had encountered throughout his circuit in the marketplaces and meeting places in these towns and villages.

He automatically gave to the people everything he had – he held nothing back from them in teaching them, reporting kingdom news to them, healing them of “their diseased bodies, healing them of their broken, bruised and hurt lives. So utterly confused and aimless they were, like sheep without their Shepherd.”

Next, Jesus sets up His disciples to gauge their responses to what they have just witnessed as Jesus, without even thinking twice about it, gave them everything.

“What a huge harvest!” He said to His disciples (and anyone else within hearing distance of Jesus’ words) “How few workers!” “On your knees! Pray for more harvest hands!” Can you just guess right here that Jesus was testing the reality of the quality of each disciple’s (and ours today) hearts and souls for service?

Can you see the Word of God sowing the seeds of a conflict here within these men? The of conflict within their hearts, souls and spirits of choosing between choosing between living almost exclusively for themselves with occasional circuits, and forays into the towns, villages, neighborhoods where help was desperately needed? Sowing the seeds of the Gospel wherever the ground was.

Jesus gave quite literally everything he had. The Disciples could only give of their limited selves, reluctantly of their meager and limited resources of what they believed they possessed – limited time, and time limited commitments.

Our great hope, Paul writes in Colossians, is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Remember, Jesus was called Immanuel (“God with us”—see Isaiah 7:14; and Matthew 1:23). And eventually the Holy Spirit came to live in the hearts of all believers (Acts 2). This means God is ­sewing, recreating his image within us.

This calls for our cooperation. As the farmer must sow seeds, pull weeds, and fertilize and water his plantings to reap a harvest, so we must cooperate with the Spirit to grow the good fruit of Christlike living. Sowing to please the Spirit means our work is done out of love for God and our neighbors (Mark 12:30-31), love for one another (John 13:34-35), and even love for our enemies (Luke 6:35).

The Holy Spirit’s guarding, guiding, inspiring, sowing, sewing and weaving and working within us bears fruit that ­pleases God. We just need to learn how to sow and tend his crops. Spiritual self discipline practiced every day will grow a great harvest of good in us that will please our Lord. Are you ready to sow with God?

Galatians 6:7-8The Message

7-8 Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God! —harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians: Our Selfishness destroys relationships!

It is the number one cause of conflict, arguments, divorce, and even war.

James 4:1 -3 Message says,

Get Serious

1-2 Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.

2-3 You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.

Every trouble starts because …..

“we are spoiled children of our self-centeredness.”

“We want what we want, when we want it, we want it all exactly right now!”

How very easy is it for our selfishness to subtly creep into our relationships?

How easy is it for our selfishness to suddenly thrust itself into relationships?

When you start a relationship, you work really hard at being unselfish.

But as time goes on, selfishness begins to creep in. We put more energy into building relationships than maintaining them.

If selfishness destroys relationships, then it is selflessness that makes them grow. What does selflessness mean? It means less of “me” and more of “you.”

It means thinking of others before you think of yourself and putting the other person’s needs before your own (Philippians 2:4).

Philippians 2:1-4 The Message

He Took on the Status of a Slave

1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Selfishness brings out the worst in us.

Selflessness brings out the best in others.

It edifies, it builds faith and hope, trust and love in relationships.

In fact, if you start acting selfless in a relationship, it forces the other person to change, because you are no longer the same person anymore, and they have to learn how to adapt themselves to it and learn to relate to you in different way.

I worked many years serving the multitudinous needs of homeless veterans.

I’ve actually witnessed it many times — some of the most unlovable of people nobody in their “right and selfish minds” wants to be around, are transformed when someone exhibits both subtle and sudden and genuine kind and selfless behaviors toward them and gives them what they need, not what they deserve.

How to Be Selfless: An In-Depth Guide for Selfish People

When I think of selflessness, I can’t help but think of my parents’ example.

My father worked hard to support my family financially and never missed a day of work. My mom was a Registered Nurse for well over 40 years, she was always there for the hospitalized patients under her care. She was available to talk and support my sisters and I through our most insecure and awkward years of life.

Together, she and my dad strived to love us and be there in every high and low.

As you read this, I hope and fervently pray you too can likewise remember those in your life who have shown you this kind of selfless love, whether it be a family member, a friend, a mentor, or some stranger who simply decided to take a few moments to care for you. These moments, and these relationships, are ones that get etched in our memories; they are powerful and impactful in our lives. 

While we know this to be true, and may desire to be selfless ourselves, it can be easy likewise to draw a line in the sand that we are unwilling or afraid to cross. 

Luckily God knows this about us and has given us great examples in the Bible to teach us how to be selfless.

We will look briefly, specifically at the example of Jesus as he provides a guide for us on how to be less selfish. In this, Jesus will provide for us a total of 9 tips for how we can selflessly follow, model the example of Jesus in our own lives.

Be inviting

Being inviting means acknowledging the sacred worth of all, welcoming, validating, and including others in our life, heart, and friendship.

It is not always convenient, but it is a powerful display of selflessness that can have a profound impact on those around us.

Jesus shows us this through his example below.

“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”

Mark 10:46-52 NIV

Jesus was not afraid to stop what he was doing (potentially inconveniencing himself) to selflessly invite others into a connection and relationship with him.

Nor was he afraid at all to be different from the crowd.

Jesus had an unconditionally compassionate and loving heart to be inviting.

While others around Bartimaeus just wanted him to go back to his customary roadside stand and stand down and be quiet, Jesus had reacted very differently.

He did not tell Bartimaeus to be quiet.

He did not tell him to return to where he came from and stop shouting.

He did not communicate that Bartimaeus was not good enough or that he was behaving wrong.

Jesus was inviting. He was interested. He was giving. He saw past Bartimaeus’s behavior into his heart. He asked Bartimaeus: “What can I do for you?”

Be admitting

‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5 NIV

In this narrative passage, Jesus teaches us that we should focus on, own, and weigh the wrongs in our heart before pointing out the “specks” in others.

This is a critical and an essential element of selflessness: to care more about how we are impacting another person than how they are impacting us.

Admitting our own mistakes, sins, and weaknesses is actually a very important part of loving other people.

When we confess ourselves to God, admit the truth about ourselves, we not only protect ourselves from being self-righteous and critical of other people, but we also can more adequately heal those around us of the “specks” in their heart.

Instead of, rather than be motivated by self-protection, self-righteousness, or self-interest, or survival of the strongest and the fittest and the richest, we can serve, help others because of the care we have for those God has put in our lives.

Be forgiving

Once we confess ourselves unto God and admit to those places where we need His mercy, we are way far better able to forgive others for their shortcomings.

Being forgiving is a form of giving charity to others; it is a way of our selflessly clearing a debt in a relationship. Forgiveness is not something that can be faked but must be arrived at genuinely and honestly. (Isaiah 1:16-20 The Message)

There are times in marriage and relationships where I am convinced others have wronged me. I feel that I won’t be satisfied until the injustice is pointed out and thoroughly and rigorously and vigorously and selfishly dealt with.

This mindset only drags things out, heightens the emotions between me and my friends, and certainly doesn’t help us to resolve our arguments or feel close.

God teaches me, and I fervently pray He teaches you, that when we can admit our own faults, we will be more able to forgive, show mercy, and feel blessed.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Matthew 5:7 NIV

Matthew 5:7 Amplified: “Blessed [content, sheltered by God’s promises] are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

God values and appreciates when we show mercy to those around us.

Mercy is something near and dear to God.

He decided to display his love to us through showing us mercy (Romans 5:8)

Since this is the way God loves us, we can model this love. We can love others in the same way, through showing them mercy and forgiveness the way Jesus did. 

Be available

A critically important part of modelling selflessness like Jesus, is our decision to acknowledge, value another enough to be available and to be interested in them.

Modelling Christ-like availability communicates that we value another greater than ourselves. It is our act of self-sacrifice and selflessness that places oneself aside to like Christ, to listen to, consider, feel for, and understand someone else.

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.

One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’

John 5:2-3,5-6 NIV

Jesus often displayed his availability to others around him in a way that was shocking and ground-breaking. He unhesitatingly noticed people that others went out their way and ignored. He would touch people who were cast out.

In this passage, he interacted with and listened to the needs of a man who was paralyzed (and had no other friends – John 5:7). Jesus didn’t just speak to him but also took an interest in and helped him. Jesus was selfless in his availability to without hesitation, acknowledge to feel, talk, work with those around him. 

Be serving

Being serving is a great way to give selflessly in humility.

It is a critically essential way to prioritize those around us, acknowledging, dedicating our thoughts and emotions to the needs and desires of others.

And as Jesus shows us, if we have any power or authority in a relationship, we should use this position to serve.

Jesus told them, ‘In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called “friends of the people.” But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.’

Luke 22:25-27 NLT

Here, Jesus teaches us to not concern ourselves with our position, status, or performance. What matters is deciding to concern ourselves with serving the needs and desires of others. This is what it truly means to be a real friend. 

Selfless friendship is the best kind of friendship because it is not predicated on getting our needs met but acting independently of how the other person treats us. When we love and give to others, our fulfillment comes from modelling and experiencing, knowing that serving is pleasing in God’s eyes. (Proverbs 27:17)

Here are some ideas of ways and means we can choose to be serving today:

  • Ask someone around you if there is anything you can do for them.
  • Prioritize the needs of others as if you feel the need for it yourself.
  • Do chores around the house without someone asking you (my wife likes this one for me – especially when I do the dishes without her telling me twice).
  • Pick up groceries for a friend or neighbor.
  • Drop off a friend’s favorite meal.
  • Volunteer in your community.

Be admiring

Admiring, praising, and encouraging those around us is a way to be selfless.

When we do this, we are able to subtly shift the focus from ourselves (our envy, our malignant competitiveness, or insecurities) and instead focus on admiring and encouraging and inspiring someone else.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names

Philippians 2:3-9 NLT

In this scripture, Jesus’ example teaches me that my value and fulfillment do not come from my status, my success, or how I am seen by others.

Without moans, groans and complaints, Jesus gave up divine privileges, did not try to cling to status of any kind. Instead, he humbled himself, served others. 

When we follow and model Jesus’ example, we won’t focus on the admiration and praise we can earn for ourselves or receive for our own behalf, but we will subtly start looking for ways to share encouragement with others around us.

Jesus lowered himself, so that he could elevate others.

He set an example for us to follow.

In the end God made sure that Jesus knew his value and was himself fulfilled.

To model and practice being “admiring,” think of people you otherwise envy, compete with, or have difficulty loving.

  • Choose to think of ways you admire them (example: what are their strengths or how can you learn from them?)
  • Text them words of encouragement.
  • Think of ways you can make them greater.
  • What do you learn about Jesus’ humility towards God and how did that translate to how he lived while on Earth?
  • Like Jesus did, how can you empty yourself and live to serve and love others?
  • Who is your mentor? That someone you know who is innately selflessly humble that you can admire and learn and model Christ from?

Be empathetic

Empathy is our ability to sense, understand, and imagine what another person is thinking or feeling. It is the ability to put ourselves in the spot of another to prayerfully perceive and understand what they may think, feel, need, or desire.

God and Jesus demonstrate this in the scripture below from Hebrews chapter 4.

When we see and are grateful for the empathy Jesus displays for us, we are able to do the same for others.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

– Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV

God and Jesus see our thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires. They are able to understand and act in empathy and unconditional love toward us. This empathy produces in us confidence and Shalom as we rely on the graciousness of God. 

In the same way, we can foster peace and confidence in others around us by practicing empathy ourselves.

When we model Christ in this way, we respond with gratitude for the empathy God always has for us, we are free, secure, confident to empathize with others.

This is the ripple effect of empathy. 

  • Pray about God’s love for you and how God and Jesus have empathized with you
  • Pray about a few other people in your life and what they are going through. Ask God to help them with some of the things you think they might need. Praying for others not only helps us empathize with them, it’s also a way to spiritually serve by asking God to enter into their neighborhood and to meet their needs. 

Be initiating

Jesus was a model leader, not just in his words or ability to move a crowd.

What really made Jesus a leader, and even attracted the crowds to him in the first place?

He would be the first to initiate giving to others who could not give back to him. 

He repeatedly asked the beneficiaries of his love to say nothing to anyone else.

Other times he would leave before the person could even find out who he was.

In this way Jesus initiated by giving without expecting any return.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NIV

Jesus died for us, knowing that many of us would not care and would rather choose to still live self-absorbed lives. But he did it anyway so that we could have the very real choice and very real chance to be free and live a new life.

When we see and believe this personally, it changes us. We become not only willing to live selflessly ourselves, but we desire to. We initiate giving unto others, not in any selfish expectation of any return, but really to thank God.

Try surprising your family, friends or a stranger with a gift, for no reason.

Be persevering

One way to examine the purity of our selflessness is to see whether or not we persevere in love even when it is difficult.

Oftentimes in my marriage, I am amazed and stunned by how it is that my wife continues to extend mercy to me and patiently encourages me along in change, even when I am being ridiculously stubborn, self-consumed, and unchanging.

I know her persevering love is rooted in her appreciation for God’s own persevering love, mercy, and patience in her life.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:8 NIV

No matter how often we feel it is not true, the Bible calls us to live as though we are always in debt to those around us in our love.

God loves us enough to pay the price for our sins, if we choose to accept it. We can never adequately repay this debt, but we can continually remember to love one another because of how much we have been loved. (John 3:16-17)

God urges us to not treat his love with contempt, but to respond in gratitude (Romans 2:4), modelling, living our lives as if we still have a debt remaining in our relationships with those family, friends and neighbors who are around us.

This is what it means to persevere in selflessness, even when impossibly hard.

  • Pray about someone you get tired of loving.
  • In the moments that it is difficult to love and reflect on how God loved you.
  • Decide to love those around you out of a love for God, not just based on your feelings toward the person.

We Reap what we Sow ….

We sow selfishness – we reap selfishness

We sow selflessness – we reap God in Christ Jesus in our neighborhoods.

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

Almighty and Charitable God,

we praise and thank you for making us children of God,

not through our own power and piety

but through our baptism into crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.

We turn daily to you,

and in that turning we find peace, courage and purpose.

Make your whole church a witness

to the great good news of Christ’s resurrection.

God, our Savior, hear our prayer.

Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

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Servanthood in God’s Neighborhood: I Serve for the JOY of Accomplishing the Goal which God has Placed before me.

It’s been said that “there’s no faster track for your soul to find satisfaction than on the path of servanthood.”

In truth, Jesus himself said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).

Followers of Jesus should have a servant spirit that always looks “not to the best interest of themselves but to the greatest interests of others.”

Sometimes servanthood is poorly understood.

While everyone is equal in Christ, not everyone’s roles are equal. A servant-minded mother still has authority over her child. A servant-minded CEO never abandons the responsibility to lead. Ultimately, the attitude and actions of the Christian are characterized by servanthood, not the position that person holds.

A believer in Christ desires to imitate the servant spirit of Christ.

Since Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28), God’s Goal for us: reach out to people who need rest, comfort, and help.

Their Goal? They serve as a channel of his grace to people who are lost in the cycle of poverty, or alcohol, drug addiction, violence, victims of violence, or devalued because of their skin color. If the quest for hope is universal, doesn’t it make great sense to share the joy and satisfaction we have received from Jesus?

Jesus served for the joy set before him. Christians too delight that other people will be privileged to taste heaven’s enduring grace through their service to God in God’s own backyard! Service to all of God’s Children in God’s neighborhood.

Hebrews 12:1-2 Amplified Bible

Jesus, the Example

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of [a]witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness], stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, [b]disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

When a person initiates a new, huge endeavor, his passion to succeed in that endeavor strengthens him to keep his eye on the goal in front of him.

For example, as an athlete starts a race, their desire and their goal to win that race helps them keep both of their eyes and feet fixed on the finish line.

While constructing a building, workers who keep their eyes on the architect’s finalized rendering are encouraged to sustain the momentum of the building process.

While we are reading and studying this book called the Bible, which we hold in our hands and our hearts, I have a daily goal of encouraging myself by keeping my sight fixed on God, my Creator and Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith!

With every new daily devotional entry I complete, I move closer and closer to that goal, and it gives me courage to keep writing every morning. As a result of my writing, staying on track, you are prayerfully reading this devotional today.

But what do you think Jesus focused on when He was hanging on the Cross and enduring the agony and shame?

You can imagine that He must have had moments when He thought, I don’t have to do this! I could call on legions of angels to deliver me! I could come down from this Cross! What do you think motivated Him to remain there until the job was done?

Hebrews 12:2 is clear what was motivating Jesus – Joy!

The Joy of Accomplishing the Goal set before Him by His Father.

The Goal: Revealing the Deity of His Father, His Authority, the Completion of the Work which God sent His Son into the World (John 3:16-17) to achieve.

[looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, [b]disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].

This verse says Jesus focused on “the joy” that was set before Him as He endured the Cross.

Just like a runner focuses on the finish line, like a builder forges ahead to view the completed building project, and an author anticipates the last written page of a book, Jesus was looking forward to “the joy” of finishing God’s work

I’m sure that somewhere in all of that indescribable agony, as Jesus hung on the Cross, He looked out across eons of time and saw the faces of people who would be saved because of what He was doing. He saw you! He saw me — but what else did He see that motivated Him to stay faithful to the end?

The word “joy” in Greek has a definite article, which means this wasn’t just joy in general, but it was a specific joy.

https://www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/heb/12/2/t_conc_1145002

https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g5479/kjv/tr/0-1/

What was it?

The verse goes on to describe that joyous “finish line” that Jesus set His face like flint toward: “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Jesus had His eyes of faith fixed on the empty throne at the right hand of the Father that was reserved for Him once His victory was complete.

Upon that throne, all enemies would be His footstool, and He would commence the next part of His high priestly ministry to intercede for everyone who would ever come to Him in time of need (see Hebrews 4:16).

Jesus had His eyes, His heart, His mind — His whole being — fixed on that highly exalted place.

That was the joy set before Him.

When sin and hell were defeated and Jesus was resurrected, that was the seat of authority He ascended into Heaven to occupy.

Ever since that time, from that highly exalted position, Jesus has been serving as Lord of the Church and as the High Priest and Intercessor for every believer.

What is the goal in front of you that keeps you motivated to move ahead even when things are difficult?

If you have no goal, it’s likely you’ll give up.

That’s why it is so important to know exactly where you are headed, what will happen when you get there, and what kind of victory you’ll experience when you attain that long-awaited position.

Just as Jesus had a joyous outcome set before Him, I guarantee that you and I have a joyous outcome placed before us too.

STRENGTH TO RUN THE RACE, FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE WHICH PERSEVERE

The Joy of the Lord is our Strength and our Stronghold: Nehemiah 8:9-10

Psalm 18:1-2: “I love You [fervently and devotedly], O Lord, my strength.”

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and the One who rescues me;
My God, my rock and strength in whom I trust and take refuge;
My shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower—my stronghold.

BY OUR LOVE AND THROUGH OUR OBEDIENCE: THE ABUNDANT LIFE

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 Amplified 19 I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore, you shall choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants20 by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding closely to Him; for He is your life [your good life, your abundant life, your fulfillment] and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord promised (swore) to give to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

How does all of this speak to our 2022 hearts. our souls and our servanthood?

Hebrews 12:2 Amplified Bible

[looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, [a]disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].

Looking away from all that will distract us and focusing our eyes on Jesus who is the Author and Perfector of faith ….

What are those distractions from which we need to avert our 2022 eyes?

What are those divisions we need to set aside, from which we need to Unite?

How do we come together in the Gospel, to grapple with, to debate, to discuss, challenge comprehend, understand, teach, preach – God’s Joy in our Koinonia?

God’s Goal which is Koinonia – “for the Joy of the Lord which is before us …”?

We are the Body of Christ – We are the Church in the World,

For the “JOY OF THE LORD” which is ever BEFORE US ….

  • What are you and I building with our lives?
  • What keeps you and I motivated to stay on “God’s track?”
  • What will it look like when you and I finish it?
  • What are you and I “writing” with our faith, our hope and our “love”?
  • What will the final chapter of our lives look like because you and I have come together, eyes focused on Jesus alone, done what Jesus has asked us to do?
  • What is the specific joy that is set before you and me?
  • Is there any genuine strength in our Koinonia goal of “Joy of the Lord?”

Sometimes when you are working hard to do what God has asked you to do, it can seem overwhelming, but progress is gained one step at a time.

The increments of forward movement might seem tiny, but no matter how big or small the steps, you can know that you are inevitably progressing toward the goal that God has set for our lives.

When I was a young man of 41, God showed me the purpose of my life, and that purpose has been in front of me ever since.

In times of hardship, I’ve kept my eyes focused on that goal which God set before me, because fulfilling that divine purpose is what my life is all about.

Sometimes it seemed like all I could do was take baby steps — yet each step has been a step in the right direction. That’s the way I have lived these last twenty years focused, moving in the direction of the purpose God has revealed to me.

If you get your eyes off the goal, start focusing on how small your steps are along the way, it is probable you’ll get discouraged, give up before you arrive.

So today I want to encourage you to lift your eyes and look beyond to the joy, the victory, and the utter fulfillment of what God has planned for your life.

Even Jesus possessed a goal to help Him stay focused as He underwent intense suffering and hung on that Cross.

So today I exhort everyone who koinonias, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, to make a fresh consecration before the Lord to submit to His will for your lives.

Then exercise your authority in Jesus’ name and resist the devil (see James 4:7)!

And as you and I move forward in obedience to the Lord’s voice, keep our eyes of faith, hope and love fixed on the prize Jesus has set before both you and me.

That is what will sustain our determination to stay in God’s place and stay on God’s track until we can finally shout, we have reached our God-ordained goal!

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

At the starting line of this day,
we call on your name, God of grace.
As we run the race you have set before us,
help us to keep our eyes on your goals, not our own.
When we falter, give us fresh strength and courage.
When we are fleet-footed, let us give you the glory.
Keep us from wanting to win at other’s expense
or to count ourselves better than those at our side.
All runners are your children.
In the race You imagine,
each one is a winner. Alleluia! Amen.

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