Our Love’s for God’s Most Generous Expression: Our Learning, Growing, Living, Doing, in the Family of Faith. Hebrews 13:1-3

Hebrews 13:1-3 Amplified Bible

The Changeless Christ

13 Let love of your fellow believers continue. Do not neglect to extend hospitality to strangers [especially among the family of believers—being friendly, cordial, and gracious, sharing the comforts of your home and doing your part generously], for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as if you were their fellow prisoner, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body [and subject to physical suffering].

The Word of God for the Children of God.

Adeste Fidelis! Venite Adoremus! Dominum.

Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

Love’s Generous Expression

Hebrews 13:1-3 Common English Bible

Our acts of service and sacrifice

13 Keep loving each other like family. Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it. Remember prisoners as if you were in prison with them, and people who are mistreated as if you were in their place.

Keep Loving each other like family.

Do not neglect to open your homes to guests.

Remember the prisoners as if you were in prison with them.

What an incredibly interesting array of both ancient, contemporary ideas!

Loving each other like family – respecting and honoring one another!

Respecting the home, respecting the life of the family and their belongings.

By showing kindness to strangers, you could be showing kindness to a messenger of God.

Paying it forward, buying an extra burger to share with a homeless person, helping someone change a flat tire on their car, offering a ride to a colleague who needs one—in these ways and countless more, our God often gives us all opportunities to show hospitality and compassion for someone who has a need.

As I encounter people who are not part of a faith community, it saddens me when they describe Christians as less-than-compassionate people.

Words I often hear in these conversations are that Christians are aloof,not friendly or forthcoming; cool and distant. and judgmental and condescending.

Many people see church buildings in their communities as little more than social clubs, entertainment centers or worse, only occupied on any Sunday.

Any other day, the parking lots are 99.99% empty of cars and any activity.

They hear church people speak out mostly about what the members oppose.

Where is that sound of “little children of all ages” glorifying God and Jesus?

The world needs to see the Body of Christians as people of compassion—good-news people who minister and act like Jesus.

That will happen only when we finally nurture a habit of practicing compassion.

It is not by accident that the writer of Hebrews urges readers to love each other and to look out for the needs of strangers.

It’s easy to overlook the unusual or the unfamiliar.

It takes the love of Christ to step out, move out and reach out to the stranger who might just bring a singularly unique blessing that you never saw coming.

Learning, Growing, Living, in the Family of Faith

There’s all the difference in the world between describing what it means to ride a bicycle and actually helping somebody learn to get on the seat and pedal away.

Making a layer cake seems to be fairly straightforward when I look at the recipe books, but I haven’t had much success in making one that actually tastes right!

What I need is hands-on guidance: somebody to actually take the time to teach me to do it in front of me and then patiently allow me to try my hand at it too.

The moral instruction provided for us in Hebrews 13 is to be trained and formed in our lives not by learning to apply abstract principles but as a result of seeing these principles successfully or erroneously worked out in the family of faith.

We can read, for example, about what it means to love one another, but it is far better to observe such love in the lives of loving people.

We can understand that we are supposed to care for strangers, but we can experience it firsthand if we are brought up and raised in a home where such care, consideration and compassion for one another is faithfully practiced.

We can extend ourselves into areas of ministry and mission which are quite challenging – church prison ministry (https://heartprisonministries.org/) or Christian Prison Ministry (Kairos https://www.kairosprisonministry.org/)

We can read the principles and hear sermons, demands for sexual purity, but we will do far better if we are raised in a flourishing home where they are modeled or we are even able to sit in such homes as we visit other families in our church.

Praise God, the list of mission and ministry opportunities goes on and on.

Establishing these ethical norms is demanding.

It takes the first love of God, our time, effort and patience, and involvement.

The miracles wrought through purposeful discipleship, transformation cannot be achieved by searching the internet, watching a video or reading an article.

If information was enough to bring about transformation, then all we would need to do is write it down or say it.

But you can’t learn love, honor, and faithfulness from the content on a screen.

No, if you are to be content, pure, loving, and hospitable, then that is going to have to be proactively discovered and actively worked out in the family of faith.

Look, then, to your brothers and sisters who exemplify Christ-likeness in these ways.

Read Hebrews 13:1-3 again, praise God for those you know who live these verses out, then be sure to learn from them so in these ways you become like them.

Make it your aim to follow their example that you, like Paul, might humbly be able to say to others, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Easter is but a short time away.

Celebrating the ultimate act of agape love and sacrifice and service.

What will your efforts at discipleship and transformation in preparation for this coming Easter look like, sound like, be more Christ like in these coming weeks?

I have heard repeatedly: “it takes an entire community, an entire village.”

According to Wikipedia, the original quote “it takes a village to raise a child” is an African proverb meaning it takes a whole community of people interacting with a child to ensure he or she grows in a healthy and safe environment.

Regardless of which stage of life we are all in: parents raising children, married with no children, single, or late adulthood, even a church, we need community.

In these times of recovery, perhaps we need to go back to the essential basics of the Gospel to learn it all over again – to teach it unto each other all over again?

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

Let us Pray,

Heavenly Father, thank You that while we were yet sinners You loved us and gave Christ to be the propitiation for our sins. Help us in word and deed to increase and abound in brotherly love for one another, just as we also do for You. Give us wisdom as we enter into mission and ministry to our brothers and sisters in Christ and may we speak the truth in love to Your praise and glory. This we ask in Jesus name, AMEN.

Adeste Fidelis! Venite Adoremus! Dominum.

Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen.

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Distant or Delighted? Not Feeling the Love of God? How About Learning to See Jesus With a Smile? 1 John 3:1-3

1 John 3:1-3 Amplified Bible

Children of God Love One Another

See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to] be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are! For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, we are [even here and] now children of God, and it is not yet made clear what we will be [after His coming]. We know that when He comes and is revealed, we will [as His children] be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is [in all His glory]. And everyone who has this hope [confidently placed] in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (holy, undefiled, guiltless).

The Word of God for the Children of God.

Adeste Fidelis. Venite Adoremus. Dominum.

Gloria. In Excelsis Deo. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen.

See How Well We Are Lavished With Love?

1 John 3:1 New International Version

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

The word lavish presents a picture of extravagant abundance.

It is almost too much, too generous and luxurious.

Being lavish borders on being wasteful.

But the Father has lavished his love on us.

God’s love is even more than what a wonderful mother showers on her infant.

Isaiah 66:12-14 New International Version

12 For this is what the Lord says:

“I will extend peace to her like a river,
    and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
    and dandled on her knees.
13 As a mother comforts her child,
    so will I comfort you;
    and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

14 When you see this, your heart will rejoice
    and you will flourish like grass;
the hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants,
    but his fury will be shown to his foes.

God’s love and care are supplied all the time.

God’s love is a constant bombardment of affection and care.

We may be as oblivious as an infant to the presence of his love, but God still continues to pour his love into our lives.

God’s love flows into us deeply, redefines who we are at the very core of our heart, mind and soul.

When we open our hearts to God’s love, we are transformed by it.

We are remade, regenerated into children of God.

It is God who makes us his children, not us.

We cannot earn that status.

It is a gift of God’s great love.

Because we are sinners, we do not understand God’s love for us at first.

We don’t even know we need him until we realize we are stuck in sin and cannot save ourselves.

We become God’s children when we receive Jesus as our Savior (John 1:12).

Not one of us is worthy of God’s love.

We cannot earn it.

God just loves us.

We would not be God’s children if he were not already deeply in love with us.

How amazing is that!

Being said with an exclamation mark, what if we turned that into a question?

“How Amazing Is That?”

I Really Do Not Feel God’s Love.

Psalm 13 Authorized (King James) Version

Psalm 13

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.

How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever?
how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
having sorrow in my heart daily?
how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and hear me, O Lord my God:
lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;
lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him;
and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
But I have trusted in thy mercy;
my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
I will sing unto the Lord,
because he hath dealt bountifully with me.

Have you ever said or thought these words in public or in private?

If so, you’re not alone.

Truth Be Told, Too many times I have really struggled with the disconnect between knowing that God loves me and actually seeing, and feeling His love.

It might be tempting to brush aside the discomfort of this disconnect and get on with the responsibilities of life.

“After all,” some will pat you on the back, say, “love is an action, not a feeling.”

But if you look closely at the love displayed in the Bible, it’s clear that it’s not just automatic rote Christian responsibility—it’s also passionate emotion.

God doesn’t just act lovingly toward us, He feels love for us.

And He doesn’t want us to only understand His love, but to experience it in a deep way, a deeply visual and tactile way – to visualize it and touch it daily.

If, like me, you’ve struggled with a disconnect between knowing about God’s love and actually seeing, feeling it, accept your feelings as being quite real.

Sometimes, like the Psalmist who penned Psalm 13, we will not feel loved.

Sometimes, like the Psalmist who penned Psalm 13, we will not see God’s love.

Psalm 13 is someone’s deepest expression of a heart and soul in angry anguish.

It has remained in the Bible through countless edits because God wants you the reader to know, the maximum extent to which God feels, visualizes our hearts.

Heart Distant or Delighted? Learning to See Jesus With a Smile …

Psalm 13:5-6 Authorized (King James) Version

But I have trusted in thy mercy;
my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
I will sing unto the Lord,
because he hath dealt bountifully with me.

1 John 3:3 Amplified Bible

And everyone who has this hope [confidently placed] in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (holy, undefiled, guiltless).

I recall many years ago sitting in a circle with the other members of my Bible study group when our leader invited us to imagine what Jesus’ face looks like.

Dutifully, I closed my eyes and tried to picture Him.

The image that appeared was of a man with long, greyish silver locks and dull, piercing brown eyes.

His unsmiling lips were hard set in a neutral line.

He didn’t look disapproving, but he didn’t look very happy either.

As I studied His face, I felt sad, fearful, and unsure of how He felt about me.

I was deeply troubled by this experience because, intellectually, I knew God always loved me deeply and felt positively—even passionately—about me.

Throughout the Bible, God describes His love in the most tender terms known to humankind.

He compares His love for us to the love a parent has for their child—a warm, welcoming, compassionate love (Isaiah 66:13; 1 John 3:1).

He also describes His love for us as the love a groom has for his bride—a passionate, ardent, sacrificial love (Revelation 19:7; Ephesians 5:25-27).

Yet, my picture of Jesus that evening revealed that, deep down, I also perceived Him as uppermost serious and restrained, maybe even a little depressed at me.

It also highlighted my fear that I was not a source of joy or pleasure to God, and that, though He loved me, it suddenly felt more being with a distant, aloof love.

I knew this isn’t how God wanted me to view Him.

Ephesians 3:18, the apostle Paul prayed, “May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully” (NLT).

More than anything, I wanted to experience the love of God—I wanted to feel it, not just know about it.

So I started asking God to take my understanding beyond intellect and into a more studious, scriptural, deep heart knowing of my value to Him.

1 John 3:1 Amplified Bible

Children of God Love One Another

See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to] be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are! For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.

Truth be told, sometimes it’s so much easier to notice the love people have for you than the love God has for you.

Why?

Because you can physically see them and the way they express love.

But when it comes to God, it can be challenging to see, understand, the extent to which He loves you.

After all, none of us can physically see Him on this side of Heaven.

That’s why God gave us His Word… to help us to see, feel, and understand who He is and how much He really does love us. 

See, throughout the Bible, God is described as an all-powerful and eternally just God, but also as deeply loving to those He created.

In the entire biblical story, God is presented as a character who strongly cares for us… so much so that He even allowed His Son, Jesus Christ, to enter this world to bring about a redeemed and restored relationship with humanity.

In fact, Jesus is the physical embodiment of God’s eternal love, showing us that His love is a real, tangible being we can cling to and put our hope in rather than just an abstract concept we cannot ever hope to even begin to .01% understand.

Now, before we dive further into how Jesus loves us, first let’s clarify the meaning of biblical love.

BIBLICAL LOVE

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Amplified Bible

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].

There are many different kinds of love.

There is parental love, brotherly love, and romantic love.

When anyone says the word love, we often first associate it with anything from dating to sex.

But, the word is so much more broad than we often think.

According to the above passage, biblical love is simply putting the needs of others before your own. 

All of us fall short of the expectation set by this passage at some point, because selflessness does not come naturally to us (Romans 3:23).

But, the good news of the Gospel is that God perfectly embodies these four verses.

He is the one that created love in the first place!

In turn, this means that God is LOVE itself (1 John 4:8).

And because He is love, He displays this quality not only through His words, but through His actions as well.

GOD’S DEVOTED LOVE

Psalm 103:12-14 Amplified Bible

12 
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 
Just as a father loves his children,
So the Lord loves those who fear and worship Him [with awe-filled respect and deepest reverence].
14 
For He knows our [mortal] frame;
He remembers that we are [merely] dust.

As any good father would, God feels sentiment and shows affection toward His children.

This picture of God as the perfect Father is a deeply intimate one because it illustrates how far [east from west], He would go to keep us safe and secure.

Another illustration of God’s love is seen in Hosea 2:14-23.

Rather than a father this time, this Bible story describes a faithful husband that comforts and treasures his wife – which is also meant to be seen as a metaphor for God’s devoted love to an unfaithful Israel.

Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God expressed His infinite love for His people all the more through love poetry, painting a beautiful image of God’s extreme devotion and affection towards His Bride, the Church.

LOVE AS AN ACTION

Romans 5:8-10 Amplified Bible

But God clearly shows and proves His own love for us, by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, since we have now been justified [declared free of the guilt of sin] by His blood, [how much more certain is it that] we will be saved from the [a]wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, it is much more certain, having been reconciled, that we will be saved [from the consequences of sin] by His life [that is, we will be saved because Christ lives today].

But, love is not merely a feeling.

Love is also an action… that God shows from the very beginning of the Bible.

Out of His love, God established a rescue plan for humanity in the wake of Adam and Eve’s sin (Genesis 3:15).

Out of His great love, God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt – not because they earned it, but because they were His people (Exodus 12-14).

Out of His love, God became fully human, yet fully God through the person of Jesus Christ – living a perfect life and dying a death we deserved so that we could all be restored into unto, a right relationship with Him (John 3:16-17).

In each scenario, all of God’s actions toward His people are motivated by pure love. He doesn’t just say He loves us, but He actually does something about it.

THE LOVE OF JESUS

John 15:13-16Amplified Bible

13 No one has greater love [nor stronger commitment] than to lay down his own life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you keep on doing what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you [My] friends, because I have revealed to you everything that I have heard from My Father. 16 You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and I have appointed and placed and purposefully planted you, so that you would go and bear fruit and keep on bearing, and that your fruit will remain and be lasting, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name [as My representative] He may give to you.

By coming into the world and sacrificing his own life for us, Jesus demonstrated the ultimate love of God.

He died for us because He considered us friends worth dying for (John 15:15).

This is the radical love that Jesus showed during his time on Earth… and still shows us today even if we do not see it in quite the same way we see the love of our friends and family.

So, when asking the question “Does Jesus love me?” the simple answer is “yes.”

Jesus really does love you not because of anything you have done, but because of who He is!

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

Let us Pray,

Almighty 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. Father God, may we have the grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to grasp how immeasurable wide and deep and high and long is your love for us, expressed in all that Savior Jesus has done for us, that we may be your children. In his name, Amen.

Adeste Fidelis. Venite Adoremus. Dominum.

Gloria. In Excelsis Deo. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen.

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Question for Today: What Does it Mean Today to Love Our Neighbors as We All Love Ourselves? Mark 12:30-31 [28-34]

Mark 12:28-34 Amplified Bible

28 Then one of the scribes [an expert in Mosaic Law] came up and listened to them arguing [with one another], and noticing that Jesus answered them well, asked Him, “Which commandment is first and most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first and most important one is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul (life), and with all your mind (thought, understanding), and with all your strength.’ 31 This is the second: ‘You shall [unselfishly] [a]love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 The scribe said to Him, “Admirably answered, Teacher; You truthfully stated that He is One, and there is no other but Him; 33 and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to [unselfishly] love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered thoughtfully and intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that, no one would dare to ask Him any more questions.

The Word of God for the Children of God.

Adeste Fidelis. Venite Adoremus. Dominum.

Gloria. In Excelsis Deo. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen.

Sometimes, the most important things aren’t difficult to grasp. 

If they seem difficult to grasp, it is most likely because we ourselves, in our all too clumsy humanity have made it so because we ourselves have deemed it to be infinitely more important to be complex than simplified – it just feels “better.”

God desires us to be exclusively devoted to Him with all of our being, and to also be loving to others who surround us. 

The covenant demands of God placed square upon our character boil down to the observance of these two fundamental principles that go echelons beyond laws and reveal God’s character [God IS Love] to the very hearts of all people.

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

Mark 12:29-31Authorized (King James) Version

29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

We learn many rules growing up:

Brush your teeth,

Look both ways before crossing the street,

Always tell the truth.

Which of these is most important?

What do you believe is the single most important Truth you have ever heard?

Rabbi Jesus was asked a similar question by an expert in the Mosaic Law: Of the many commands and regulations in the law of God, which one tops the list?

Jesus did not hesitate: “Love God above all”—and he quickly added the second: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And what kind of love does this refer to?

In connection with God’s love for us, this is unconditional, unconventional, love—totally gracious, totally generous, and totally with no strings attached.

Notice especially that Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

This means that if we are to love our neighbors unconditionally and generously, we will be required by God to love ourselves that self same way too!

God does not make junk.

God does not make mistakes.

We are created in God’s image; we are his masterpieces.

It’s not to just okay to love myself: God expects me to celebrate the person he created me to be – every moment celebrate God exactly as God celebrates us!

The Golden Rule Jesus gave us—“Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12)—is another way of saying this command to love God and honor God and love and honor our neighbor as we love and honor ourselves.

Loving others well depends at least partly on our capacity to love ourselves.

What Does it Mean to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself?

Would it, Should it, Could it, surprise you to learn that loving your neighbor as yourself is found eight times in the Bible.

Not once, Not even twice but Eight times.

Go ahead and search for them – Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.

Loving your neighbor as yourself is so important to God that He not only repeats Himself, He makes it a command.

And not just one in a list of many commands.

Rabbi Jesus coupled the command to love your neighbor as yourself with loving God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and with all of our strength. 

James calls it the royal law.

It sounds beautiful, and it is when we obey it.

But loving your neighbor as yourself isn’t always easy.

That’s why God made it a command.

He knew we’d struggle.

Making it a commandment is actually to our benefit.

How is that?

We have to be reverently and deliberately obedient

We have to do it on purpose.

We have to be intentional about it.

Sometimes even out of our need.

But if we love God as God love us … obedience just flows from us naturally.  

This is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself:
1. Loving your neighbor means receiving God’s love.

Too begin to love your neighbor as yourself, you need to know two things:

you need to know what love is and that you are loved. 

The Bible tells us “this is love. Not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent his Son as a propitiation…” (1 John 4:10).

You and I are the object of this love.

God loves you.

God loves me.

Knowing this is imperative.

And not just that we are loved in a general kind of way, but deeply loved and unconditionally and unconventionally loved.

We tap into this when we understand that God loved us first. [John 3:16-17]

He’s the source of our love.

God loved us even before Jesus gave Himself for us.

God the Father is the source of all love.

Before we can give this love we need to receive it for ourselves.

You cannot give to someone what you yourself do not have.

2. Loving your neighbor means loving ourselves as well.

To love your neighbor as yourself as commanded, you need to measure love correctly.

The measurement within this command is—as yourself.

To love your neighbor as yourself you need to love yourself.

This is something that gets badly misunderstood in the body of Christ often.

It gets mixed up with dying to self and denying self as if we need to destroy our self.

This is not true. 

Jesus died for each and every one of us.

If Jesus valued us enough to go through what He went through, we each have a sacred responsibility to Him to value what He values exactly as He valued it .

We need to love what He loves – us.

The Bible tells us the Father loves us as much as He loves Jesus (John 17:20-23).

20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. [Authorized King James Version]

When we dare to simplify it: How dare we not love what the Father loves?

Learning to love ourselves prepares and helps us to love our neighbor.  

3. Loving your neighbor means showing grace.

Knowing God is love and that this love is for you is not enough.

It needs to be developed and matured.

Imagine if you had a field of good soil and a bag of top notch seeds.

Would they produce a crop all by themselves?

No. The seeds must be planted and cared for.

Grace takes the seed of His love and the soils of our hearts and souls and creates fruit for the kingdom of God. 

The Bible says, “it’s God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2.13).

Loving Him and our neighbor pleases Him.

Grace helps us do this.

Grace teaches us proper love, honor and respect for ourselves and for our neighbor – our freely receiving His grace empowers us all to freely give it.  

4. Loving your neighbor means acting with compassion.

From Luke’s Narrative of the Gospel, when Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He responded with a story: the Good Samaritan [10:25-37].

Even those who have no love for God see the value of the story.

What is the bottom line of this story?

Who did Jesus say was being a neighbor?

The one who had compassion. 

Compassion is not simply a warm fuzzy feeling in our hearts.

Compassion does something.

A heart moved by compassion cannot sit idly by while someone suffers a need.

Loving God and Loving your neighbor as you are Loving yourself is being moved by God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to help to the full extent of your ability.

5. Loving your neighbor means looking out for their wellbeing.

The NIV translation of 1 Corinthians 13 says, “love protects.” 

In Philippians 2:4 it says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 

Loving your neighbor as yourself is to look out for other people’s wellbeing. 

To look out for them is to pay attention.

You notice if they need something and then you help.

For example, their clothing tag is sticking out or they have food on their face so you let them know.

Or something more serious like when a neighbor has surgery or becomes sick.

Concerned for their health, well-being, I head over to their home with a meal or a loaded gift card so if they aren’t able to cook, they won’t have to cook, can eat.

6. Loving your neighbor means serving them.

Serving from the heart is kindness in action.

Kindness is one of the attributes of love listed in 1 Corinthians 13.

The surprisingly wonderful thing about kindness, though, is you can do acts of kindness without kindness residing in your heart.

If the kind thing is done out of duty then it isn’t love. 

Jesus said he came to serve (Mark 10:45, Luke 19:10, Matthew 20:28).

God, who is love, came to serve.

Love serves.

For you to love your neighbor as yourself, you’ll have a heart to serve them.

Let them know you’re there for them.

If they need a ride somewhere, you drive them.

If they need their dog or cat checked on while out of town, you do that for them.

Other examples are getting their mail for them or taking them a meal if they’re not well.

Examples in a public setting are to let people in front of you in line at the store or in traffic.

7. Loving your neighbor means speaking kindly.

The childhood rhyme about sticks and stones versus words is not true.

Words build up or tear down.

God created the world using words.

The Bible says Jesus IS the Word (John 1:1). 

To love your neighbor as yourself is to use words to build them up.

Speaking words of encouragement to someone who’s down is the most obvious example but there are hosts upon hosts and myriads and myriads of others.

We can be more intentional with our words by looking for and magnifying the good.

We can always find something good if we’ll take the time to look for it.

Examples of this are giving someone a simple smile, a simple compliment and simply telling someone how much you genuinely appreciate them.  

8. Loving your neighbor means making allowances for other people’s humanity.

We live in a day and age when offense is as common as breathing.

Criticism is running rampant.

Love is not easily offended or critical.

Everyone does dumb things; no one is always right or knows everything.

We’re all a work in progress. 

I remember sitting through a green light.

I wasn’t trying to inconvenience anyone.

I got stuck in grieving daze because a family member might die.

I remember that when I encounter people driving too slow, sitting at lights, or even cutting me off.

Maybe they have a reason.

Maybe they’re just being human.

We’re imperfect beings that do perfectly dumb things often. 

Giving people the benefit of the doubt is loving your neighbor.

For example, I had someone honking their truck horn flailing their arms and cursing because I didn’t speed through an almost red light.

They were behind me and so they got stuck at the red light with me.

I don’t know why they were so angry but they may have had other pressing circumstances surrounding them that day – I prayed for them.

9. Loving your neighbor means sharing in their joys and sorrows.

The Bible says we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). 

Celebrating can be difficult for us at times, especially if our neighbor is getting something we have longed for.

For example, a new job, a raise, or a pregnancy.

Celebrating with them in spite of our own pain is a strong show of love. 

Likewise, mourning with our neighbor can be hard if we don’t know what to say, or have recently lost something or someone ourselves.

Loving God, Loving your neighbor as yourself is showing up and being there with your heart open, allowing them to be what they are, and support them.

10. Loving your neighbor means forgiving.

Forgiveness is a big deal to God.

Bible says He planned it for us from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).

Jesus frequently spoke forgiveness over others that resulted in the healing of their bodies. 

Forgiveness is freely given to us and to love your neighbor as yourself you’ll pass the forgiveness on.

Jesus highlighted this in His story in Matthew 18 when Peter asks how many times is he to forgive.

He tells the story of a king who forgave an enormous debt to one of his servants.

This servant failed to pass the forgiveness on.

He demanded payment of a small debt from his neighbor.

When the king heard of it, he had his servant remanded for his debt, revoking the debt cancellation.

Jesus’ story tells us that love always forgives.

We all need forgiveness, so loving your neighbor is to forgive them as you have been forgiven.

In both the Hebrew [Old] and New Testaments we are commanded by God to love our neighbors as ourselves.

On several occasions Jesus himself says that is a part of fulfilling God’s law.

Again and again God shows us how to love others.

The call to love our neighbor is not complicated, but it can be challenging to follow.

It means more than being hospitable, tolerant, patient, and kind.

It means more than showing respect and honoring others.

It also means more than just being civil with people you disagree with—even though it also means all of that.

Loving our neighbor implies that the well-being of others matters—so we should work for justice, protection, and opportunities for others to thrive.

It means listening to others.

It also shows that the possibilities for showing love and care for our neighbors is endless and could leave us overwhelmed by all the needs for neighborly love!

Yet all of us can love our neighbors in the name of Jesus Christ.

We can honor, love and respect them enough to show how the love of Jesus is forever shaping us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

As you are loved, Jesus says, so love one another (see John 13:34).

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

Let us Pray,

Dear God, thank You for Your unconditional love. Lord, help me to know myself and to love myself. If I don’t feel self-worth, how can I expect someone else to cherish me? Help me to develop a healthy self-identity, remembering that I am a child of the King, created in Your image. Help me know who I really am, what I really want from life, and what I want in the person I will spend my life with. Thank you, Lord, for loving me so completely that I am being completely changed! Help me to be more aware of your Love so I may love my neighbor with the love you have for the world.

Adeste Fidelis. Venite Adoremus. Dominum

Gloria. In Excelsis Deo. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen.

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Love Divine, All Loves Excelling: My Reflections on the Sure Love of God on Valentine’s Day. Ephesians 5:22-32

Ephesians 5:22-32 Amplified Bible

Marriage Like Christ and the Church

22 Wives, be subject [a]to your own husbands, as [a service] to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as Christ is head of the church, Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives should be subject to their husbands in everything [respecting both their position as protector and their responsibility to God as head of the house].

25 Husbands, love your wives [seek the highest good for her and surround her with a caring, unselfish love], just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify the church, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word [of God], 27 so that [in turn] He might present the church to Himself in glorious splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy [set apart for God] and blameless. 28  Even so husbands should and are morally obligated to love their own wives as [being in a sense] their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own body, but [instead] he nourishes and protects and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members (parts) of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall be joined [and be faithfully devoted] to his wife, and the two shall become [b]one flesh. 32 This mystery [of two becoming one] is great; but I am speaking with reference to [the relationship of] Christ and the church.

The Word of God for the Children of God.

Adeste Fidelis Venite Adoremus! Dominum.

Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

My Reflections on Saint Valentine’s Day

You are all probably acutely aware of all the pink and red an whites decorating many of our stores in the month of February.

I have been thinking a lot about what it represents, and what we can learn.

It occurred to me that many of us Christians will preach lovely messages on Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, and even Christmas.

Yet, I find when it come to Valentine’s Day, we usually pass that one over.

I had to ask myself the question, “why?”

I can’t speak for others, but I think the answer for myself is that this seems too worldly to merit preaching a message related to it.

But is God completely silent on the themes this day brings to us?

You can’t avoid it.

The commercials, the decorations in the stores, the parties in school, the gifts at the office, and many other things confront us all whether we like it or not.

We are talking about romantic love.

Why do we Christians avoid that topic so much at church and in religious settings?

Is it completely worldly?

Is it ungodly?

Does the Bible condemn it?

Maybe the Bible ignores it?

I think what we will find it that it is far from worldly.

In fact, it is a reflection of our God.

1. Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart.
[Charles Wesley, 1707-1788]

My Reflections on the Sure Love of God

God is love.

When I say love, I am not talking about the little miniature fat guy Cupid that goes around shooting people with arrows.

That is almost too cute for my taste.

In fact, it can make romantic love seem almost silly or frivolous.

What I am talking about is the special love a man and a woman have for each other.

The love a man and woman have for each other is part of God’s design from the very beginning when he saw that it was not good for man to be alone.

If you never read the Song of Solomon, which is really titled the “Song of Songs” in the first chapter, which means “The Best of Songs,” then you are definitely and decisively missing out on the best love poetry ever written.

Key Words throughout the Book are: “Love” and “Marriage.”

The Song of Solomon beautifully portrays the qualities of a pure “love” and the ingredients for a “successful marriage.”

To develop this kind of a relationship requires total honesty, unselfishness and unconditional an unconventional support.

The whole book is a love poem between a betrothed couple, who later appear to have gotten married.

It is romantic, sensual and is part of the word of God.

The couple refers to each other as the “one whom my soul loves.”

It speaks of being faint with love.

It describes the admiration for and the delight they have in each other.

In poetically describes the precious beauty that they see in each other.

Some people have had a real problem with taking this book literally, as if romantic love poetry is not worthy of scripture.

As a result, they interpret it as an allegory of God’s love for his bride Israel or as an allegory of Christ’s love for the church.

But that doesn’t eliminate the fact that it is still romantic love poetry.

If it were merely figurative of God’s love for us, the conclusion is still the same.

Romantic love is not worldly but comes from God. In fact, if it were figurative, then the case is even stronger that romantic love is godly, good, and beautiful.

It is a reflection of the love that God has for us.

Imagine that!

God describing is love for his people in romantic love poetry!

However, I think we should take it as what it is. It is simply beautiful and romantic love poetry.

Romantic love does not originate from the world.

It comes from the God of love.

In fact, all throughout the Bible, God presents himself as the greatest lover of all.

God fondly recalls the early days of his marriage to his bride, Israel.

Look at this passage of scripture:

“Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord GOD.

Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you, anointed you with oil. I also clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk.

I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you,” declares the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 16:8-14)

God loves his bride passionately.

He showered all of the symbols of his love on her.

Nothing was too good for her.

God is the lover of lovers.

When God loves, He loves very passionately, and with passionate love can come intense anger and fury, jealousy and pain when the one whom your soul loves is unfaithful to you. 

Notice what happens next in this passage:

“But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame, and you poured out your harlotries on every passer-by who might be willing. You took some of your clothes, made for yourself high places of various colors and played the harlot on them, which should never come about nor happen. You also took your beautiful jewels {made} of My gold and of My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images that you might play the harlot with them…” (Ezekiel 16:15-17).

And God continues for many more verses describing how his perfect bride was unfaithful to him using the very jewels, clothes, other things God gave to her.

It was as if his “perfect bride committed adultery in their own bed! After going into more details about how he beloved was unfaithful to him, He concludes:

“Thus I will judge you like women who commit adultery or shed blood are judged; and I will bring on you the blood of wrath and jealousy. I will also give you into the hands of your lovers, and they will tear down your shrines, demolish your high places, strip you of your clothing, take away your jewels, and will leave you naked and bare. They will incite a crowd against you and they will stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. They will burn your houses with fire and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women. Then I will stop you from playing the harlot, and you will also no longer pay your lovers” (Ezekiel 16:38-41).

Do you think God is angry?

Of course!

Wouldn’t you be angry and hurt if the one your soul loves cheated on you?

In fact, many of us would divorce our spouse in a heartbeat.

But God does no such thing.

In his passionate, relentless, undying love, God does not close the book on his beloved bride.

His love never dies.

Notice:

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her (or “woo” her), Bring her into the wilderness And speak kindly to her. Then I will give her her vineyards from there, And the valley of Achor as a door of hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. It will come about in that day,” declares the LORD, “That you will call Me Ishi And will no longer call Me Baali” (Hosea 2:14-16).

Maybe some of the flavor of this is lost in translation.

God woos his bride back to him after a period of anger and wrath.

He puts a song in her heart again.

In that day, she will no longer call him “Ba-ali,” which translated means “my Lord.”

No longer will God be “my Lord,” but “Ishi,” which means “my husband.”

Do you see the kind of love that God has for his bride?

In fact, one of the final pictures we have in scripture of the consummation of God’s plan is that of a marriage feast.

In Revelation 19:7-9, God uses the image of a wedding to describe the time when his heart’s desire will be fulfilled.

We, God’s people, are the bride, and he is eagerly anticipating that wedding day when we will be together forever.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God'” (Revelation 19:7-9).

In the next scene is the arrival of the groom.

But it is unlike anything you have ever seen.

Notice:

“And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-16).

The groom comes riding in on a white horse.

His robe is dipped in blood, his own blood.

Jesus died and was willing to go to Hades and back for his bride.

Even though she has been unfaithful, he will come riding in, swoop her up on his steed and ride off into Heaven with her arms around his waist.

Yes, Jesus loves his bride with an undying love.

You know, love does strange things.

It makes people look past the warts and the rough edges.

Sometimes people will say, “I just don’t understand what he sees in her!”

Maybe she is a “Plain Jane” with several flaws.

Maybe she is overweight.

Maybe her hair is stringy.

Maybe her clothes are out of style.

Maybe she is mismatched.

Maybe her nose is too big.

Maybe she is nothing to look at.

Maybe she is a mess.

But to her man she is the most beautiful thing in the world.

Love causes him to look past those things to see who she really is.

Isn’t that what God does?

He looks past all of our rough edges, all of our filth, all of the ugliness in us.

He sees what we can truly become.

They say that “true love is blind.”

I disagree with this.

Oh, I know that there can be the star struck person who is no longer capable of thinking with good judgment, but that is not what I am talking about.

I am talking about true love.

True love is not unaware of the flaws, the warts, and the dirt.

Instead, true love looks beyond these things. 

Now, please turn in your bibles to our devotional text from Ephesians 5:22-32.

Ephesians 5:22-33The Message

22-24 Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

25-28 Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

29-33 No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.

A Beautiful Bride ….

In many weddings, the moment a bride begins her walk down the aisle is very important.

Everyone stands to join the groom in watching her as she processes to meet him.

That moment is important for the groom too, of course.

He loves his bride and longs to have her with him.

Her walk down the aisle is a picture of the approach that began before they met.

And their meeting at the end of the aisle symbolizes the beginning of their new life together, which they pledge before God to continue throughout their lives.

Jesus loves his bride too.

Our text makes that clear even as it calls earthly husbands to give themselves up in loving service to their wives.

After all, for all to see, Jesus gave himself up for his bride, the church, at the cross at Calvary.

Christians are not frigid prudes that do not know what love is.

Christians are passionate people full of life that comes from the giver of life.

Remember this, the next time your anniversary comes up, or the next time your beloved’s birthday comes, or any time when you are driving on your way home.

We serve a God who is full of passionate love, and nothing is godlier when you display the same passionate love of God toward the one whom your soul loves.

Rejoice! Together we are the one for whom Christ waits at the end of the aisle.

The toughest love

Valentine’s Day, also known as the “day of love”, is one of the most widely celebrated holidays.

It’s the day when we’re supposed to tell those near and dear to us how much we cherish them.

Because everyone needs to feel loved.

Love is powerful.

So powerful, Jesus summarized the greatest Commandments using only love:

Mark 12:28-34Amplified Bible

28 Then one of the scribes [an expert in Mosaic Law] came up and listened to them arguing [with one another], and noticing that Jesus answered them well, asked Him, “Which commandment is first and most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first and most important one is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul (life), and with all your mind (thought, understanding), and with all your strength.’ 31 This is the second: ‘You shall [unselfishly] [a]love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32  The scribe said to Him, “Admirably answered, Teacher; You truthfully stated that He is One, and there is no other but Him; 33 and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to [unselfishly] love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered thoughtfully and intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that, no one would dare to ask Him any more questions.

Now, when it comes to loving those closest to us, we should, of course, tell those people that we love them—and often.

However, in reality, doing so requires very little faith on our part because chances are our love will be returned to us in equal measure. (Luke 6:32–33)

Once we have experienced the true nature of God’s unending, unconditional love, the only reasonable response is to share that love with others who have not yet experienced it.

But this is where Jesus asks us to lean on our faith.

He gave another commandment that often seems quite illogical and at times, impossible.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27).”

We are also called to love the unlovable.

This selfless love He’s describing can only be expressed with the supernatural help of the Holy Spirit.

When we put aside our emotions and trust the healing power of the Holy Spirit to help us and work through us for the benefit of those on the receiving end, we become a sure and certain eye witness of God’s transforming love and power.

Today,

“My beloved is mine and I am his; He pastures his flock among the lilies…..” Song of Solomon 2:16

In addition to telling your special someone how much they mean to you, maybe we should also reach out to those who wouldn’t normally come to mind on Valentine’s Day – Cherish Christ’s church, even when church is not so lovable.

You will be loving what Christ himself loves!

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

Let us Pray,

A Valentine’s Day Prayer for True Love

Dear God, Help me today to understand what love really means.

I need a love that’s big enough to include all of us. Big enough for the dating and engaged couples, of course, with their giddy daydreams of a future together. But also big enough for the married folks, whether their passion for each other is still blazing brightly or barely more than a smoldering wick. Big enough for the singles toasting their independence, and for the singles wishing someone would come along and make that independence disappear. For the lonely and widowed and brokenhearted, I need a love that understands, a love that welcomes in hurt and sorrow instead of excluding them.

The love I need more than anything is Your love. Without Your love, no other love will ever be sufficient. And with it, every other love becomes richer and truer and more life-giving than it could have been otherwise. We have learned all our best loves from You: the love of faithful friends, of spouses and significant others, of parents and siblings and children. Love that commits. Love that sacrifices. Love that lays down its life. You authored each of these loves, taught us how to recognize them and long for them and give them away. Our best efforts at Valentine’s Day are just a fraction of the wholeness of love.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Today, let everything I see remind me of Your great love for all of God’s Children. Let today be a day for love. Real love. Big love. Your love.

Adeste Fidelis! Venite Adoremus! Dominum.

Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

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