Unleashed! You are Free!

During prayer, I clearly heard the word, “Unleashed!” I felt a strong sense of God releasing people from things that hold them captive. It wasn’t an audible voice, but a certain knowing in my spirit. God was extending a personal invitation to respond — an invitation open to others. I believe we are entering a season in which God is throwing open gates and pushing open doors that have been closed for a long time.

The image of cattle being released from wintering pens came to my mind as I thought of the word “unleashed.” What joyous imagery!

During the long cold winters, we confined cattle in small paddocks to feed and bed them. All winter they ate baled hay and slept on heaping beds of straw. When the snow melted in spring, the pens became mucky. But then came the day when we opened the gates. The cattle dashed through the open gate, leaping and jumping, jostling and playing. Age didn’t matter! They were delighted to taste fresh grass and romp in open pastures.

But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.”
Malachi 4:2

Unleashing contains a sense of sudden even violent action that cannot be controlled — even to throw, shoot, or set in motion forcefully.

Once those cattle were unleashed from the pen, they would not easily return. They experienced open spaces and tasted fresh pasture. Limited confines no longer contained them. Dead grass no longer satisfied them.

This represents a frail example of how God unleashes His people.

Remember

As a result, God commands us to remember on a weekly basis His unleashing power. Enslaved by Egypt for over 400 years, Israel knew nothing of rest or freedom. Until God came. Suddenly, with violent force, God set in motion, with irreversible power, a taking of one nation out of another.

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commands you to keep the Sabbath day.”
Deuteronomy 5:15

Lois Tverberg writes,

“All of life’s rhythms were to revolve around celebrating the indescribable joy of the day when the whips ceased cracking, the shackles fell off, and the cell doors swung open toward freedom. Week after week, season after season, year after year God commanded Israel to remember his extravagant, rescuing love . . .”
Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus

God called them to remember, and never forget, His powerful act of grace and redemptive love.

Unleashed

Yet, this was only a foreshadowing of what would one day take place. In the most violent act in history, God sent his Son, Jesus, to die the cruelest of deaths to unleash His greatest act of rescuing love. With one mighty blow, He crushed the enemy’s hand forever. Through Jesus, God redeemed not just a nation, but people from all nations freeing them forever from the slavery of sin and death.

Who but God could do such a thing? No one!

When God spoke the word “unleashed” to me, He wanted me to remember, too. My shackles are off! I now have the ability to walk free — a slave no more. I often find this truth more viable for others, struggling to fully identify with what He has done.

Yes, we contend from what is ours. Yes, standing in freedom takes grit and perseverance. But freedom is ours! We must not forget.

And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” Matthew 11:12 KJV

Live Free

God directs our gaze toward open gates. He leads us through open doors. But it is up to us to walk (or even run), taking our freedom. Perhaps it will take a violent or forceful act on our part to solidify that freedom.

So, I ask, where do I still feel the crack of the whip of other slave masters? Where am I living more bound than free? We all have areas awaiting God’s redemptive grace to move in. What is mine? What is yours?

He speaks His word, “unleashed,” over each of us. May we sense the freshness of what stands open before us. Today, may we drink the fresh water of His Spirit and eat from His open meadow of provision. May we hunger and thirst for His Presence like never before.

Now unleashed, He grants us freedom to either run to Him or away from Him. Only in Him will we taste true freedom, however.

Faithfulness And Kindness

God heard the cries of His people under the yoke of slavery in Egypt. He responded, unleashing them and setting them free. While His strong arm held back their enemies, His gentle compassion guided His people toward safety.

Centuries later, out of His faithfulness and kindness, God sent Jesus to again delivery, unleashing us from sin’s cruel bondage. I’m not sure we could ever comprehend such love and mercy.

“I don’t keep it a secret or hide the truth. I preach of your faithfulness and kindness, proclaiming your extravagant love to the largest crowd I can find!”
Psalm 40:10 TPT

May we tell of God’s great unleashing everywhere we go, to anyone who will listen. May we not hold such good news to ourselves. Like calves released from their pen, may we romp in the goodness of God’s vast pasture, never looking back.

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Good Roots: Rooted and Grounded

Natural principles hold true for Christians as well; the development of solid foundation is essential to be rooted and grounded. Paul Keith Davis says, “Go deep in order to go high.”

Although trees and shrubs of all shapes and sizes fill the lots and parks within the city, I see only the tallest of trees from my fourth floor window. Those who roots have reached deep and wide obtain the resilience to survive the extreme Canadian prairie seasons. Without extensive root systems the gale force prairie winds would topple them.

After planting hundreds of trees over the years, I’ve learned the first five years are critical for healthy root development. In those five years upward and outward growth remains minimum, but beneath the surface a fibrous web of tenacious roots ensure long term health of the tree.

When the focus on root development takes precedence, all other growth and development will lead to greater health and fruitfulness.

God knows far better than I do about planting seeds and transplanting seedings. He created and designed the whole process.

Through trial and error, I also discovered that the right tree planted in the wrong location may survive for a season, but it will never thrive. Usually such a scenario results in death — sometimes slow, other times rapid.

Believe it or not, some trees prefer wet roots, others insist on theirs being dry; some only grow in rich loam, others prefer sandy soil. The adage “bloom where you are planted” only goes so far.

But what does becoming rooted and grounded mean?

In Love

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Ephesians 3:14-19

Paul prays for the Ephesian church to become rooted and grounded (or established) in love.

The original word translated as rooted means “to cause to take root, to fix firmly and establish.” While the word translated as established means “to lay the foundation, or to lay the basis, erect, or consolidate.”

Paul prays that “every family” — not just some or a choice few — would become rooted and grounded in love. He knows we need help! But through the power of the Holy Spirit, as Christ inhabits the core of our being through faith, our roots of love deepen and spread ever wider.

The deeper our roots of love go the more we discover how high and deep God’s love for us reaches, going far beyond our comprehension. In His love, we become like mature trees rooted and grounded, reaching the full potential of all God has for us.

In Faith

“And now there is nothing between you and Father God, for he sees you as holy, flawless, and restored, if indeed you continue to advance in faith, assured of a firm foundation to grow upon. Never be shaken from the hope of the gospel you have believed in . . .”
Colossians 1:22-23 TPT

Paul conveys the same idea to the Colossian believers. He encourages them to lay a foundation of faith that is steadfast, firm, and immovable. Those rooted and grounded in faith grow! Faith advances! Never shaken!

Isn’t that what we all desire? A steadfast foundation ensures that nothing and no one comes between us and God. Our core relationship with Him grows unhindered “if” we continue in faith.

Even the smallest tree will experience a set-back when it is transplanted. Though its root system hasn’t yet spread as deep and wide as a mature tree, it takes time to begin to thrive in new ground. We all resemble transplanted trees.

This passage begins with:

“Even though you were once distant from him, living in the shadows of your evil thoughts and actions, he reconnected you back to himself.”
Colossians 1:21

Evil actions and sin-based thinking plagued us all until God transplanted us and “reconnected” us back to Himself. He transplanted us in the fertile soil of faith and love to spread our roots ever deeper. Once rooted and grounded, we will grow to full stature, casting holy shadows of protection and provision for others.

In Truth

Jesus told a parable illustrating the importance of being rooted and grounded.

“Let me describe the one who truly follows me and does what I say: He is like a man who chooses the right place to build a house and then lays a deep and secure foundation. When the storms and floods rage against that house, it continues to stand strong and unshaken through the tempest, for he built it wisely on the right foundation.”
Luke 6:47-48 TPT

Every builder knows the indispensable value of a “deep and secure foundation.” Storms will come! Floods will rage against us! By hearing and activating the Word of God in our lives, we will stand “strong and unshaken” nonetheless.

A building’s secure foundation in many ways resembles a tree’s roots system. We choose daily where and how to build upon God’s promises. May we build wisely. May each one of our lives become firmly rooted and grounded in His Word of truth.

Remain

In Ezekiel 17, we read an allegory about a great eagle who planted a cedar beside “abundant water.” Its branches turned toward the eagle while its roots settled deep in the rich soil, allowing the tree to flourish and be fruitful. But when another eagle came, the cedar turned its roots toward the new eagle, seeking a new source.

“Will it thrive?” God asks. “Will it not be uprooted and stripped of its fruit so that it withers? All its new growth will wither” (Ezekiel 17).

God in His gentle mercy warns of the consequences of not remaining grounded in Him. He points to the real dangers of turning to other sources. The Holy Spirit does all He can, rooting and grounding us in His love and steadfast faith and nurturing us through the living water of His Word, the Bible.

Rooted and Grounded

Later in another vision, Ezekiel saw an eternal river flowing from the “threshold of the temple” (Ezekiel 47). He describes the resulting overflow of abundance!

“Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fall. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”
Ezekiel 47:12

Everyone rooted and grounded in love, faith, and truth bears fruit that nourishes and heals. Their lives carry the capacity to influence and impact many others. It is my prayer that when the hunger and hurting come close to us they will find food that satisfies the deep longing of their souls and healing for every broken area of their lives.

May our roots of love go deep, the foundation of our faith be solid, and truth of God’s Word guide our decisions. Let’s “go deep in order to go high.”

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5 Key Spiritual Strategies to Investing Wisely

We each possess a limited amount of time, energy, or resources. Today, let’s explore key strategies to investing wisely all God has given to us.

When I move from this life to my heavenly home, I don’t want to “leave anything on the table.” In other words, I want to take full advantage of every opportunity ahead.

In a recent dream, a small group of people sat in my kitchen, waiting to be served. Their bodies spilling limply over the chairs they sat upon. Another small group of people, I was supposed to be leading, were in a side room studying the Bible. The largest group of people patiently waited outside my kitchen window — the neglected, rejected, and dejected.

The kitchen group consumed all my time. They smelled the two turkeys roasting in the oven — ready to pounce on the choicest portions. One person even purposely spilled her drink on the floor as she looked out the window, rudely ridiculing those outside. I bent down, cleaning up after her.

Scooting off to the side room, I checked on the ladies who were studying the Word and sharing their discoveries with each other. The atmosphere was joyous and energized.

Returning to the kitchen, I looked in my cupboard for something to feed the crowd outside until the turkey could be served. The cupboard was bare! “Who ate all these?” I asked those lounging like lazy lions in the kitchen. No one responded.

Those outside my door began to drift away, leaving as hungry as they had come.

It was a God-dream packed with meaning.

Strategies

God speaks in many ways. Through the dream, He called me to evaluate carefully where and how I invest my time, energy, resources, and influence. Like in my dream, it is often the things that return the least that demand the most from us.

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
2 Timothy 2:2

Paul speaks of four generations of investment in this verse. He taught Timothy by word and example. The things he invested in young Timothy and many others, he asks Timothy to now invest in “reliable people.” The word for “entrust” also means “to deliver, deposit, or teach.” Paul is talking investment terms!

He tells Timothy to choose reliable, objective, trustworthy, faithful, believing people to invest in — people prepared and ready to pass the investment on to others.

Paul’s example with Timothy leads us to the first key strategy to investing wisely.

#1 – Set a Goal

Goals establish clarity and purpose. Do we know our God-given purpose? What do we desire to accomplish with the limited and temporary resources we have?

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14

An eternity mindset brings even temporary goals into alignment. Our business portfolio, scholastic achievements, awards, and accolades won’t matter when we give an account to God for what we have done with our lives.

Jesus told a parable of three individuals each given different talents “each according to his ability” (Matthew 25:15). When the master returned, each person gave an account of how they invested what they were given. One unfortunate fellow resembled those in my kitchen — taking what he could but failing to pass anything on.

Whatever talent, ability, or resource we have ultimately came from God. When we possess an eternal mindset, we recognize ourselves as stewards given a trust. As we keep eternal perspective, we gain wisdom to handle, multiply, and use temporary things for eternal purposes.

#2 – Measure the Investment

For investing wisely, we need the second strategy, as well. With goals aimed toward eternity, how much are we willing to invest toward individual significant areas?

My bank account and day planner reveal the real story of where my chosen investments lay. These two areas in particular, time and resources, measure my investment in individuals and communities.

In John 6 we find an revealing progression. Jesus supernaturally fed 5,000 men, plus women and children, using only a boy’s small lunch. The next day, Jesus confronts the same people who continued to follow Him.

“Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”
John 6:26

They weren’t following Jesus because they believed in Him. They followed Him for what they could get from Him.

Jesus began to teach such difficult things that all but a few grumbled about Him and quarrelled with Him. The crowd saw Jesus as their free meal ticket. Jesus would have nothing to do such slothful behavior!

Jesus set the example in how to invest wisely. We should prayerfully consider how much to invest in any specific person or people group, without creating similar codependency.

#3 – Choose Where to Invest

Some people will monopolize our time and drain all our resources. Yet others will legitimately need intense short-term investment to successfully launch into a healthy life pathway.

Newborn babies demand undivided attention and care. We don’t “baby” any natural or spiritual children forever though. They must learn to feed themselves, dress themselves, manage their own resources, and care for others. It would be abnormal for any infant to remain an infant.

Yet we find spiritually under-developed Christians everywhere.

“In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!”
Hebrews 5:12

Once we set our goal for eternal benefits and God has shown how much to invest, now we seek His wisdom for the specific where, who, and even how on His heart. We ask Him to lead us to those who will grow and take personal responsibility for their development.

“For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2 Peter 1:8

Increasing measure speaks of normal spiritual growth and development.

#4 – Begin

Strategies begin to work when we implement them. The implementation will be fluid, developing more fully as we go.

In my dream, I needed to lovingly move those inside to the outside to make room for those outside to find a place of acceptance and care. As long as I allowed a few people to consume all my time and resources, I had nothing left for those who needed it the most.

God calls us to love everyone without showing preference. Jesus longs for those outside His family to enjoy His blessings too. We accomplish this through investing wisely where there will be the greatest eternal returns.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35

Where do we begin? We begin with the one in front of us — the one just outside our window, the one we see every day, the one needing encouragement and support, or even the one needing a tougher kind of love.

#5 – Try, Test, Tweak

As we invest, we listen for God’s continued direction. Hopefully, you don’t need such a vivid dream to wake you up to your need to tweak how you invest your time and resources.

As we invest in others, we measure the results. Is there evidence of fruit or signs of transformation in the lives of those around us? Are godly attributes increasing in those we are investing in?

“This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.”
Ephesians 4:13 (NLT)

Sometimes the results will be less obvious than at other times. Each area of trying, testing, and tweaking takes a special courage that God promises to provide. I am so very thankful for those who invested so much into my life. I’m sure they wanted to quit many times over, but they didn’t!

May our investments prove eternally beneficial, reproducing in multiplied measure.

Blessings my friend, as we invest into our homes, churches, and communities.

Let’s begin investing wisely!

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The Perfection of Love: Unfailing, Unconditional, Infinite Love

A longing for the perfection of love — unfailing, unconditional, infinite love — drives us to seek beyond what anything earthly provides. The quest for love often leads us into places of pain and disappointment. Though we might find temporary and alluring counterfeits, they will ultimately leave us empty and wanting.

True love comes only from God. He fills our love vacuum to capacity, enabling us to reflect His love to others.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
1 John 4:7-8

Even the best human effort proves tainted and inadequate in comparison.

God is Love

Only God loves in a way that continuously seeks the ultimate best for the object of His love.

We will never fully understand how far sin caused humanity to fall — at least not until we witness heaven’s full restoration. We have no comparison with which to measure the Father’s ultimate love. In the perfection of love, He sent Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for all sin and failure.

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:7-8

We all begin life looking for others to love us in a way that meets our need. Personal brokenness renders us ineffective to love fully, however. Our efforts often result in frustration, disillusionment, and disappointment.

Unfailing Love

We are inspired when by a couple celebrating decades of married love together. For most of us, marriage is hard work! So, we applaud love that weathers the challenges and ever-changing seasons of life. But even the best earthly example of love ends.

Only God can make a claim to the perfection of love — enduring, unfailing love.

“Give thanks to the LORD; for he is good; his love endures forever.”
1 Chronicles 16:34

We often look to 1 Corinthians chapter 13 to discover the essence of love. But Romans chapter 8 makes the most triumphant declarations about the unfailing nature of God’s love.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:38-39

Oh, what assurance! What confidence rests in the unfailing love of God — the perfection of love!

Unconditional Love

If we move even slightly from the conviction of being loved by our Abba Father, we begin to attempt to earn His love through service or sacrifice. How foolish! Since God so unconditionally loved us when we were alienated from Him, how much more now that He has adopted us as His sons and daughters? If we could do nothing to merit His love as sinners far from Him, must we now work to merit His love?

No! God loves unconditionally! He loves not because of how wonderful we are, but because of how wonderful He is!

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”
1 John 3:1

Love is too precious to be purchased, too valuable to be earned, too rare to be merited. What price could we ever place on the perfection of love?

“Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned.”
Song of Songs 8:7

We rest as humble recipients. No other posture suffices.

Infinite Love

Song writers and preachers tell of God’s unfailing and unconditional love. But, seldom, if ever, do they speak of God’s limitless infinitude.

“But you, O lord, your mercy-seat love is limitless, reaching higher than the highest heavens. Your great faithfulness is infinite, stretching over the whole earth.”
Psalm 36:5 TPT

God, and everything about Him, is limitless — beyond confines of time or space. Everything that flows from Him also comes in limitless measure. Though boundaries limit our capacity to receive, God knows no limit to His capacity to demonstrate love.

I may become too preoccupied, too tired, or even too uncaring to love well. God never suffers such deficiencies.

He loves each one with limitless capacity. God loves you and me with infinite measure. How wonderful that we don’t need to understand the perfection of love to receive it.

Perfection of Love

The enemy’s greatest attacks attempt to cause us to see God as anything but perfectly loving. If he succeeds in his deception, fear grips our hearts and plagues our minds.

We all fight this battle both to receive and respond to God’s love.

“The Spirit your received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'”
Romans 8:15

The perfection of love flows from our Abba, Father. “Abba” refers to the most intimate name given for a father, similar to Dad. “Father” is more of a formal term. God loves us deeply and intimately.

Because we are the objects of such lavish love, satan hates us even more. He is powerless to stop God’s love, so he tries to convince us that we are still slaves, alienated from God’s love. Nothing could be further from the truth! We never need to fear again. God adopted us into His family. We are loved and secure.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18

May we each take a moment to appreciate and thank God for His unfailing, unconditional, infinite love.

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Focus on the Greatest: Faith, Hope, and Love

Faith, Hope, Love

Can you imagine the impact upon us as individuals and upon our society if everyone would turn their focus toward faith, hope, and love? These are undoubtably the greatest and best assets anyone could possess and share with others, not just now but for eternity.

Many people live frivolously, even selfishly, expecting unending tomorrows in which to “eat, drink and be merry.” But what if we knew our time was short, our opportunities limited? Would the flow and direction of our lives change? Would an eternal perspective help us refocus our priorities and energies?

“And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry.’ ‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you . . . ” ‘ ”
Luke 12:19-20

It is all too easy to become distracted by the trivial and consumed with the mundane. Too often the responsibilities of life dictate our agendas and demand our time. The urgent pushes ahead of the necessary. Re-evaluating our focus helps to center us, pulling us toward far-reaching eternal goals and targets.

Whether I speak, write, teach, mentor or encourage, I’m continually brought back to the motivation behind it all — faith, hope, and love.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13

“These three remain,” existing for eternity!

Faith

Paul commends the church in Corinth for their effective use of spiritual gifts. He asks them to remember and honor each individual, valuing their uniqueness. Like us, the Corinthian church struggled to maintain unity within diversity. Like us, they elevated the minor and diminished the major. They found it easy to focus on the external functioning of gifts and ignore the deeper issues of the heart. They faced these challenges — sometimes well, sometimes not.

Faith, Hope, Love

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
1 Corinthians 13:2

That’s an impressive list, isn’t it? Who wouldn’t want a faith to move mountains or the gift of prophecy? What about an ability to understand the deep secrets and mysteries of God? Many people pursue these gifts and receive them. God, speaking through Paul, clearly states that these things don’t impress or please Him. Unless, of course, they spill from a heart overflowing with love.

Unbelief, scepticism, cynicism, and doubt permeate our culture. But there’s good news. they are all temporary ailments of a society in which God is absent. Every negative will come to an end. Faith leads the list of eternal qualities, replacing all negative undercurrents.

Hope

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
Proverbs 13:12

Never before have people become so connected yet disconnected at the same time. The bombardment of information and influence serves only to amplify our loneliness. People feel incredibly isolated and ignored while their social media “friend” lists explode and expand.

Hopelessness in various forms pervades. Hope defers. Heartsickness abounds.

The Greatest Things

The longing within us refuses to be quenched and screams for more faith, hope, and love. For a while people hope; often, they give up. Like the faint scent of rain swept away by the harsh winds of reality, hearts lie barren and dry — hopeless in a world without significant hope.

Jesus restores hope!

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.”
1 Peter 1:3-4

No matter how hopeless your situation appears, it lasts for a season. Jesus Christ grants each one of us an eternal and living hope. Receive your inheritance of hope, securely kept for you. Hope floods your eternal future! Nothing and no one can stop it!

Love

We have all experienced frail, fickle, and faltering love. Genuine love, never fails or falters. We all crave a love that endures. It is a basic need of all humanity.

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease, where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
1 Corinthians 13:8

Even in Christian circles, we easily major on the minors and overlook the major or greatest qualities within God’s Kingdom. No attribute outweighs the significance of love.

I don’t need to look outside myself to find a discrepancy between belief and action. Oh, how frail, fickle, and faltering my own love often becomes!

Jesus Love

Many people feel rejected, abandoned, and unloved. Maybe, you know the feeling all too well. Listen to the following verse and allow God to speak directly to your heart,

“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”
Isaiah 54:10

It’s possible for mountains to shake and crumble, but impossible for God’s love to be shaken, let alone cease. I find it comforting to know that hatred will end, but God’s love remains eternally secure.

Faith, Hope, and Love

Since God’s Word is true, enduring forever, how should we respond? Since everything else will eventually pass away, how can we nurture faith, hope and love, first in our lives and then in others?

God has given to each of us a measure of these qualities in seed form. When we plant and nurture them (activating them), they will grow and increase. The principle of sowing and reaping runs throughout God’s Word.

  • “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” Psalm 126:5.
  • “A wicked person earns deceptive wages, but the one who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward” Proverbs 11:18.
  • “Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” 2 Corinthians 9:6.
Sharing Faith

Together, let’s aim to live our lives in the best way possible. Let’s pursue the eternal qualities of faith, hope, and love, both in ourselves and in others. May we commit ourselves to inspire faith, instill hope, and ignite love. How we each accomplish the task will look different, but every one of us possesses the ability to make a difference.

May we focus on these greatest and enduring qualities of faith, hope, and love, receiving them fully, and then just as freely, giving them away. Let’s stop for a moment to ask God how we might spread these attributes further.

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Give Thanks to the Lord, For He is Good

Give Thanks to the Lord

The Bible exhorts us to give thanks to the Lord, because God is good. He demonstrates His unwavering goodness throughout all generations. The truth of God’s goodness resonates through the pages of the Bible. Do you know beyond doubt the goodness of God? Is that knowledge a fixed reality of your faith?

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good his love endures forever.”
Psalm 107:1

When we become discouraged by circumstances, doubt because of unanswered prayer, or become disappointed by outcomes, we may question and even deny God’s goodness. The wounds of life become festering sores into which the deceiver plants his lies regarding God’s enduring goodness. “If God really is good, He wouldn’t allow war, famine, plague, divorce, abuse, bankruptcy, hell, and numerous other maladies ” he rants.

Truthfully though, God’s goodness reaches humanity through both His mercy and His grace.

Father and child

Doubt

Satan’s ploy to lure Adam and Eve away from God’s perfect design sprung from establishing doubt in their minds toward God’s goodness.Every aspect of earth’s degeneration resulted. At the very core of our own questions lie the same seeds of the enemy’s power to deceive us into believing God is not good.

God created humanity to live in eternal, unbroken fellowship and communion with Him. He desires limitless time to express His limitless love to each of us. Despite people’s rebellion, He sent His perfect and holy Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem and restore that relationship.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let Israel say:
‘His love endures forever.’
Let the house of Aaron say:
‘His love endures forever.’
Let those who fear the LORD say:
‘His love endures forever.’ “
Psalm 118:1-4

God created Hell for satan’s eternal confinement, and where rebellious angels will join him. But He created Heaven for unending communion with people, made in His likeness and image, who love and honor Him.

Father and daughter

God leaves the choice of our eternal direction to each of us. Though the option and resulting consequences appear staggering to our human reasoning, God, in His goodness, could do nothing less. Perfect love never forces itself on another; perfect love invites willing participation. With God’s love flows His grace.

“The truth of God’s grace humbles a man without degrading him and exalts a man without inflating him.”
– Kris Vallotton

Grace

God’s goodness and grace interweave like golden strands throughout humanity. Grace is love extended towards the undeserving — including us. By grace, God gives us nothing less than Himself!

We find one of the most encouraging Scriptures about grace in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” The Christian life involves process, the process of being daily changed from what we used to be into what we will one day become — perfect re-presentations of Jesus Christ. Every step in that process involves God’s goodness expressed through grace. Spiritual growth occurs as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say, ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
Titus 2:11-12

Father and child walking

“(God) has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”
2 Timothy 1:9

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His grace proves sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).

“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”
2 Corinthians 9:8

Partnered with grace, we find mercy.

Mercy

Mercy involves both the withholding of judgment and the provision of compassion, gentleness, and forbearance. According to the Old Testament mercy meant to “stoop in kindness to an inferior, to have pity upon, and to show compassion.” The Bible interchanges the words mercy and lovingkindness for the same word chesed in Hebrew and charis in Greek. Mercy represents “a sure love that will not let go.”

I read recently that the word mercy in English comes from the Greek word, eleos. Eleos originates from the word for olive oil, often used as a soothing agent for bruises and wounds. One poured the oil onto the wound and massaged it in, soothing and comforting the injured part (Fr. Anthony M Coniaris). Mercy demonstrates God’s goodness and compassion toward those who are suffering.

Father and child

“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 4:16

Too often, we only associate God’s mercy with withheld judgment. Here are but a few Scriptures connecting God’s goodness and mercy:

  • “Answer me, LORD, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me.” Psalm 69:16
  • “The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” Psalm 145:9
  • “For the LORD is good, His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.” Psalm 100:5
  • “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalm 23:6
  • ” . . . The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth . . . “Exodus 34:6

Goodness

The knowledge of God’s unfailing goodness establishes a rock-solid foundation withstanding times of trouble. No one speaks so succinctly as Tozer on how important this understanding is.

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us . . . Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God . . . The most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.”
– A.W. Tozer
Father fishing with daughter

Does our mental image of God align with His Word? Do we see Him as One who is altogether loving, gracious, merciful and good? If not, we will tremble with the times. David, who experienced more than his fair share of difficulties, said,

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.”
Psalm 27:13

Oh, how I know what quivering faith feels and looks like! Nothing short of God’s grace and mercy, entwined in His eternal goodness kept me on track. The sure foundation of the Word holds fast.

“”Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor or your majesty . . . I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works . . . I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.”
Psalm 145:3-7

God’s abundant goodness merits acclaim as much as His mighty acts, glorious splendor, wonderful works, and great deeds.

Give Thanks to the Lord

May we pull aside from our daily struggles and exhausting activities long enough to give thanks to the Lord. May we, even if only for a few moments, ponder God’s goodness, grace, and mercy. As we do, hope will rise, faith will take root, and a calm assurance will wash away doubt. God is eternally good! May we echo the psalmist, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!”

“Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.”
Psalm 107:8-9

We become recipients of whatever we thank God for. As we thank Him for His goodness, He promises to satisfy our longing and fill our hungry souls with His goodness. May you be filled and renewed today, as you think about God’s abundant goodness.

**********

Love and Faith — What Little Boys Taught Me About Fear

Love and Faith

God often teaches us powerful life lessons of love and faith at the most inconvenient times and in the most uncomfortable ways. These lessons remain with us for a lifetime, influencing decisions and stabilizing us in uncertain situations.

Faith and fear are mutually incompatible. In reality, however, faith fails to find a firm foundation until love paves the way.

Our children are long grown, but memories of their frightened cries piercing the dark night run fresh through my mind. Lights turned on, to prove nothing hiding in a closet or under the bed, failed to dispel fear. The reassurance that dad and mom were in the next room impacted the angst little. Even prayer and affirmation that the Presence and protection of Jesus covered them only faintly eased their discomfort. Information alone holds little resistance against fear. Yet, when love draws close, confidence and calm prevail!

Fear flees without a fight when love enters.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18

Whether during a global crisis or the not-so-simple daily pressures of life, love makes all the difference. No matter our age, social status, or race, we all need to know love and support. Do you have someone who loves you unconditionally? Someone constant through success and failure, health and illness, prosperity and lack, the strength of youth and the frailty of old age? Who is your someone — the person you could call anytime, day or night, who will listen, support and encourage?

If you can name anyone, you are in the privileged minority.

How Mental Health Is the New Domain of Ministry to the Next Generation - Barna
How Mental Health Is the New Domain of Ministry to the Next Generation - Barna

Mental Health

I’m not sure I have experienced times as full of angst as in this season. The breakdown of the family, the disintegration of faith communities, and often fluctuating political impetus seriously affect us all. Deceptive addictions, in various forms, clench cruel claws and breathe death into the unsuspecting in pandemic proportions. We suffer generationally from dis-ease both within and around us. No one guarantees immunity or promises cure.

Just as my little children needed love with flesh in their fear-filled darkness, our world needs it too. We, as God’s hands and feet, can rise to the occasion, push aside our own insecurities and fatigue, demonstrating love and faith within this present global famine.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
1 John 3:18

Only One-Third of Young Adults Feels Cared for by Others  - Barna

Barna conducted this study pre-pandemic on 18 to 35-year-olds. Only one in three young adults felt loved by those close to them. What I find shocking is that these young adults said they “feel the broad, global trends more than they feel loved and supported by others close to them.” The reality that two-thirds of young adults do not feel unloved and unsupported should shock us all into high alert.

The effects of the last several months of isolation and uncertainty have only exacerbated the problem, not just among the young, but among us all. God created us to thrive in loving faith-filled community. People of all ages are struggling emotionally and relationally. They may not describe themselves as anxious or depressed, yet confess they struggle to maintain concentration and focus, feel elevated concern for themselves and others, and are uncertain about employment, housing and their ability to secure the basics of life.

As Christians, we have the antidote! God planted faith and love within us.

It’s Up to Us All

If this kind of love sounds messy, you’re right. If you think this kind of love is best left to professional pastors and clergy, you’re mistaken. Your family needs you. Your neighbors need you. Even your church needs you. Your workplace needs you.

Only Jesus held a doctorate in love. Only He got it right all the time. Please, don’t underestimate what simple demonstrations of love and faith might do when committed to Him.

Christians Struggled with Relational Health Prior to the Crisis—So What Has Changed? - Barna

Maybe we should start our efforts with those who stand in the centre of the fray — “professional” clergy. The pressure upon pastors to care for their congregations effectively, through a pandemic, has taken a toll. Five years ago, only two percent of pastors rated their emotional health as below average or poor. Today, over twenty percent say they suffer. May I encourage you to love those who lead. Assist and support them however God directs you.

“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work . . . “
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Let’s begin together by practicing love and faith with those who have dedicated themselves to serve God, us and others.

Know the Signs

If we willingly slow our pace, even a little, and look around, for even a moment, the evidence becomes obvious.

Only One-Third of Young Adults Feels Cared for by Others  - Barna

God’s Word never fails! Perfect love always casts out anxiety, fear, uncertainty and insecurity, rendering them powerless — like a lion without fangs or claws. I propose we engage in love and faith like never before. Though we may feel love for others, they may genuinely question that love. Here lies the great disconnect. Only when we learn to demonstrate love and faith in ways people comprehend will we shift the tide of mental anguish.

Peter says,

“Now, because of your obedience to the truth, you have purified your very souls, and this empowers you to be full of love for your fellow believers. So express this sincere love toward one another passionately and with a pure heart. For through the eternal and living Word of God, you have been born again. And this “seed” that he planted within you can never be destroyed but will live and grow inside of you forever.”
1 Peter 1:22-23

Christ planted the seed of His perfect love in each one of us. His seed of love empowers us to love fully. He not only preserves the seed but guarantees it will live and grow inside of us forever. Wow! What a promise! Love planted in each of us, living and growing into a vibrant reality, impacting those desperate for it. He takes the pressure off, providing us with everything we need to love others, especially those within the body of believers.

Love and faith work together.

There Is Proof

Barna also researched how the Christian community functions in crisis. Better than average, apparently! Bravo, people of God, you are doing it! Your love within the ranks is having an impact.

Christians Struggled with Relational Health Prior to the Crisis—So What Has Changed? - Barna

Sadly, those outside the faith are suffering the most. However, that reality presents great opportunity. Though fear has taken up temporary residence in the cultural love vacuum, God appoints us to serve eviction notice to the squatter of fear. I daily witness people stepping through the invisible barriers of uncertainty, reaching across cubicles, hallways, alleys, denominations, cities and nations. With hearts overflowing, they extend to the emotional hurting love and faith in action.

I hear voices of young and old resolutely declare,

” . . . Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah 6:8

How Love Looks

Only thirty percent of the global population feels supported, secure, and hopeful. Hold off on discouragement, though! As hints of spring crease the snow-clad landscape, I’m reminded of little bees, hidden in cloistered hives. Soon they will stretch sleeping wings, moving out to work silently their God-given task. As they fearlessly take flight, extending beyond their secure habitat, they benefit our world in powerful ways, producing incredible fruitfulness.

May I encourage you to reach beyond your secure cloister, “pollinating,” with love and faith, those you come in contact with by supporting them and letting them know you believe in who they are. Yes, validate the work they do and the gifts they possess, but, more importantly, endorse them as uniquely created by God with divine purpose, having irreplaceable worth.

Love and faith create, enrich, and sustain others, fostering hope for the future. Although most of us have learned to dream silently, we can encourage others to dream beyond human possibility. May we become dream keepers and dream builders, encouraging and fostering potential in others. We can faithfully pray they will achieve their full capability.

By creating an atmosphere of love and faith, and building support and hope, we will make progress in dislodging fear and anxiety. One word of encouragement, one act of kindness, one phone call, one moment of your time, may be the turning point for someone.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
John 13:34

It’s Personal

A young woman sat huddled in the center of her bed, cocooned in a fetal position by darkness within and without. Spiritually and emotionally tormented, no cries for help pierced the broken stillness. Hopelessness gripped her heart and suffocated all hope . . . until . . . love walked in.

Her father slowly ascended the staircase and slipped quietly beside her. He knew. He, too, lived the dark night of depression. Slowly, he reached out his large gentle hand, and with not much more than whisper offered, “Honey, I love you.”

Like a mighty wrecking ball, the walled fortress of desperation and despair crumbled. Love made a way! Love broke through! My father responded to his grown daughter’s unuttered cry, slip into my night, and embraced me with love — a love that changed everything.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Ephesians 4:2

What if our simple acts of love deposit seeds of flourishing love in others in the same way that Christ deposited love in us? What if we each possess powerful seeds of love and faith that will ultimately produce more of the same? Maybe, just maybe, we can become like little bees gently spreading the pollen of love and faith (one act at a time) that will bear more fruit than anyone realizes. Maybe together, we can turn the tide, tip the tables and trample the terror that has gripped people for far too long (one person at a time).

References

You might appreciate these Barna references:

Leadership: A Mother’s Love and a Father’s Care

The similarities between parenting and leadership abound. Paul talked about leading with a mother’s love and a father’s care. Stopping to read and reread his analogy several times, I examined my model of leadership.

Perhaps, I struggle in leadership for the same reasons I struggled with parenting. With five sons born in just over eight years, I tended to “run” our household like a military general. What regrets! By God’s grace they have all become such wonderful men, husbands and fathers. Parenting isn’t for wimps; neither is spiritual leadership. 

More than once someone has commented, “People assume you to be a gentle grandmother, but you’re fierce and tenacious.” Ouch! Is that a compliment or an insult? A commendation or a warning? Should I laugh or cry?

Leadership

Honestly, as I analyze my leadership patterns, gentle, fierce and tenacious form a consistent path, sometimes leading into deep valleys and at other times upward to the highlands. I press myself and those I lead hard, while loving passionately. We only get one crack at life. Time flies quickly past without hope of retrieval.

A Mother’s Love

Paul understood. He established the church in Thessalonica under significant opposition. When persecution forced Paul to flee for his life, he prematurely left a fledgling group of Christ followers. His concern for their survival was valid.

“. . . we cared for you in the same way a nursing mother cares for her own children. With a mother’s love and affectionate attachment to you, we were very happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our lives — because you had become so dear to us.”
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8

Hippopotamus family

Perhaps no other love compares to the way “a nursing mother cares for her children.” Ponder for a moment, the reality of producing milk to the detriment of her own bone structure; continuing the daily responsibilities despite stumbling through diaper changes and sleep deprivation; walking and rocking a sick or frightened infant for hours on end; rising before dawn and staying up well past sunset with spew in her hair, fatigue dragging her steps; constantly tending to the pressing needs of the one so dependent.

Her love only intensifies through the years: singing “Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,” while walking, driving, shopping, or cleaning; freezing her backside on metal bleachers to cheer for her progeny; teaching sons to cook and daughters to change the oil in the car; dropping everything in an instant when her now grown son or daughter calls in distress; interceding in prayer  for God’s grace to impact and direct their lives. How does one define such love?

Do I lead, like Paul, with a mother’s love and a father’s care? If I don’t, I shouldn’t be leading. The source of such “attachment” comes supernaturally from time at the feet of the One who by divine nature is love.

A Father’s Care

Fathers handle children much differently. They toss their littles into the air, bounce them robustly on their knees, play fight on the floor and do many other things that drive mothers a scant bit crazy. Fathers provide a different, but equally intense, care — showing strength, confidence and brevity. Yet, we’ve all watched that two hundred pounds of male hulk melt like butter to the request of “his own children.”

“And you know how affectionately we treated each of you, like a loving father cares for his own children.” We comforted and encouraged you and challenged you to adopt a lifestyle worthy of God, who invites you into his kingdom and glory.”
1 Thessalonians 2:11,12

The leadership shown by a father compliments that of a mother, as he comforts, encourages, challenges and invites. These qualities imply intimacy of relationship and closeness of contact.

Love and care

Paul experienced angst due to separation from his spiritual children — especially knowing they were facing such intense opposition.

A father leads by drawing near, “encouraging, comforting and urging” his children to excel at the most essential thing in life — “to adopt a lifestyle worthy of God.”

The “dad” quality of leadership “cuts to the chase,” “grabs the bull by the horns,” and “calls a spade a spade.” He separates the trite from the significant, without being rude or cruel. Rather, the “dad” leader invites, encourages, and invokes — comforting when needed and urging the young to press on despite setbacks.

Leadership which combines both a mother’s love and father’s care creates a synergetic force, propelling the next generation forward.

Remain Teachable

However, before Paul emphasizes his approach to leadership, he points out a critical piece for all leaders to remember.

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.”
1 Thessalonians 2:6,7

When I was a child, my dad’s edict ruled our home. (We were many too!) Unfortunately, I used that same tone much too often while parenting. Paul gives a better directive.

A mother's love and a father's care

An apostle held the highest authority in the church; his voice carried the unquestionable weight of authority. Yet, he refused to impose or demand from his platform of lofty position. Instead, he insisted his whole team become “like young children” — teachable, gentle, submissive, and responsive servants.

“S-e-r-v-a-n-t” spells leadership most accurately.

I recognize with aging, the less flexible, teachable and submissive I become. To follow Paul’s leadership example, I must remain vigilant at countering natural tendencies to rely on my understanding and depend on seniority or status.

A mother’s love and a father’s care should naturally draw me into a place of low servanthood and tender teachability.

Selfless

Through Paul, I’m reminded of the goal for such an attitude in leadership solely rests on the good of others and the glory of God.

Listen to Paul,

“. . . We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.”
1 Thessalonians 2:4

Selfless

Or again, 

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else. . .”
1 Thessalonians 2:6

And one more,

“Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”
1 Thessalonians 2:9

With a mother’s love and a father’s care leaders give, give and give again. They open their homes to those who eat their food and mess what’s just been cleaned. These leaders sacrifice their “free” time, to encourage the downcast, pray for the sick, and fill in the missing gaps of ministry. They turn off TVs, cell phones and computers to seek God, fasting and praying for the spiritual condition and pressing needs of others.

Leadership costs! It costs financially, demands relationally and drains both physically and emotionally. No wonder Paul so aptly uses the analogy of a mother’s love and a father’s care.

Rare is the leader that rises to such heights by bowing low to the selfless call of God. Yet, I’ve watched those rare gems shine brightly among us.

Protective family

May God continue to challenge me, you and us all to live selflessly for the good of others and His glory. Yes, let’s receive encouragement from the lives of past and present godly leaders, while consistently looking to God — the One who demonstrated ultimate love and care through Jesus Christ.



Benevolence – Serving The Least of These with Compassion

Jesus invites us into action, serving “the least of these.” Ask anyone today about their employment and you’re apt to hear high profile name dropping or executive jargon that will leave your head spinning and your self-worth plummeting. Such chest-puffing exercises dominate human impulses throughout history.

Several years ago at my son’s graduation, a group of a few dozen students proved the benefits of serving the least of these. This class lived out the principle throughout their public education from kindergarten to grade 12. A young boy with terminal illness co-existed with them — always facing limitations, often hospitalized for extended periods. The disease stole his life before he was able to graduate. The impact he had on his classmates and their families continues to be felt.

Unlike other graduation exercises I attended, a golden thread of their prevailing culture firmly translated into serving the least. They loved, cared for, assisted, supported and valued this young man holding him in high esteem.

“. . . ‘Truly I tell you,
whatever you did for one of the least of
these brothers and sisters of mine,
you did for me.'”
Matthew 25:40

Benevolence

The expectation of Jesus goes far beyond the normal standards and expectations of benevolence. In North America those seeking public assistance supply perks to propel the “haves” of society to share with the “have-nots” — tickets, gift baskets, banquets and more.

Jesus observed similar practices in His day — elegant celebrations given exclusively for friends, brothers and sisters, relatives and rich neighbors. All those invited could return the favor, perhaps with a bonus. He calls His followers further,

“When you give a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled,
the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed . . .”
Luke 14:13,14

Caring for the Poor

Perhaps the repayment would not be returned in kind but rather the status of association or public approval as part of the in-crowd. Who am I anxious to serve? Am I serving those who somehow benefit me or am I serving the least?

I’m asking myself these searching questions. Have I learned these lessons after many decades of living that my son effectively learned through his shared years in a classroom with someone who could never possibly repay or return the favor?

It Was Me!

Jesus makes a profound statement,

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
. . . thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
. . . a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me,
. . . was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Matthew 25:35-36

The confused crowd asked, “How? When? What!” Such thinking so contravened their entrenched mindset that they were unable to connect the dots between their actions to others and their relationship with Christ. Jesus wasn’t talking to hooligans and renegades; He spoke such clarity to the righteous!” (vs 37)

Soldier Giving

The parable represented people like me, writing this blog, and you, reading it. Normal, good people living their lives in the best way they knew how. Yet, in their living, they were somehow unable to see Jesus among the throngs of people.

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

The Least of These

I don’t know about you, but I need a constant reminder to look for Jesus in the eyes of every person I encounter, knowing they belong to God and are made in His image.

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.”
Psalm 24:1

Hospital Burundi

Do I see the face of Jesus in the eyes of the oppressed? Or am I looking for hands that will hold me up, voices that increase my value, or credentials that puff my reputation? The subtleties hidden from my own heart lay vibrantly clear and exposed to Christ.

One of the toughest places I choose to work is in the justice system, caring for people at crisis moments, arrested for crimes they’ve committed. Among them are thieves, abusers, addicts. Why? Because I’m especially gracious or caring? Not at all!!! Serving the least continuously stretches me beyond any personal capacity. It’s what Jesus asks of me.

As I write, I weep. Images of humanity, broken and disconnected, flash through my memory; disconnected from God and love. Each person teaches me something about myself that I would rather not see or be reminded of. Serving the least must become so ingrained in me that it flows naturally out of my love for Jesus. I’m not there yet. Honestly, I may never get there.

Sometimes seeing the reflection of Christ in those I would far rather hate, comes with an emotional price tag. I’m constantly reminded that Christ poured Himself out and died for this one — this lost and broken one in front of me. Just as the blood of Jesus covered over all my sins, it covers theirs too. They just don’t know Him yet.

Prison Fence

Serious Business

Jesus ends the parable by speaking to those who refuse to see Him in the face of the needy,

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”
Matthew 25:46

He recognizes those who are His by how they treat the least among them. The righteous cast an eternal focus. Temporary elevations of status from the who’s-who-crowd pale. “What’s in it for me?” never enters their mind.

Like my son’s classmates, loving the least became a daily overflow of living life together. They never viewed it as sacrifice to push a wheelchair through the mud instead of playing on the soccer field. They refused self-centered agendas and self-promoting values. Not one of them measured their actions in eternal rewards. They joyously spent their time serving the one among them.

The Challenge

May I challenge you today as God challenges me? Who is the one? Who is the least of these God desires you to feed, give a glass of water to, invite into your home, clothe, visit or care for?

“For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink
because of your name as followers of Christ,
truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.”
Mark 9:41

 

Brothers serving each other

Many will scamper to provide for a person of high profile; the one who holds power and authority. Jesus confronted the Pharisees for the way they publicized similar actions.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness
in front of others to be seen by them.
If you do, you will have no reward
from your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 6:1

Few people consistently care for the least of these. Be assured, if you do, no one will notice — no one should. No one will commend you for the unseen grace and mercy you offer.

In thirteen years together, I wonder how many unpublicized acts of kindness were demonstrated within my son’s classroom. Countless, I’m sure! They learned well the lessons that I struggle to master, touching the life of the one among them.

“Bravo!” Jesus declares to each of you, now grown and many grey-haired, “Well done! May you always remember the joy of serving the least.”

Transparent Love – Love Must be Honest

Only through transparent love does it grow and mature. To love fully and freely, love must be honest. Most of us struggle to overcome our tendency to hide.  We hide our thoughts, our emotions, our failures, our differences, our unacceptable-ness. In hiding we deceive ourselves, robbing us from the blessings love offers.

Paul said,

“What a wretched man I am!
Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”
Romans 7:24

That’s honesty! Who among us is so bold as to announce to the world for infinity the poverty of our minds and souls? Few. Very few possess such transparent love.

Love is Blind

An old adage says, “Love is blind.” Saul on his way to Damascus to murder and imprison Christians perhaps literally experienced this quote. As he neared Damascus, “a light from heaven flashed around him.” The light was immediately followed by God’s voice questioning his objectives.

“‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.”
Acts 9:5

In asking the question, he declared the answer. The Lord he thought he knew was not this Lord. Here was love, he had never experienced before. When he picked himself off the ground and “opened his eyes he could see nothing.” Saul once driven by religious passion became blinded by love — unconditional, indisputable, undefinable love. Love so pure that darkness had no place.

For three days Saul fasted and prayed. Everything in his life changed from that moment of encounter forward. Everything except one thing.

Honest Love

By the time that we meet Paul in the Book of Romans, he has undergone a name change, a vision change, a mission change, a radical life change. Years have passed and the implications within Paul’s life since encountering Jesus Christ on the Damascus road stretched broad and wide. His conversion undeniable. His transformation unquestionable. Yet, he testifies to the Roman church, not in self-abasement, but in raw honesty.

“Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;
but I see another law at work in me,
waging war against the law of my mind
and making me a prisoner of the law
of sin at work within me.
What a wretched man I am!”
Romans 7:21-24

What freed Paul to be so honest? What released him to such transparent love?

Most of us are confronted with our misdemeanors before such confession — our breaches of conduct exposed, our sin and failure made public. Not this man! Paul was different.

Perfect Love

John, the disciple Jesus loved, penned these words,

“There is no fear in love.
But perfect love drives out fear,
because fear has to do with punishment.
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 5:18

Here lies the heart of our issue, our stumbling block to transparent love. We’ve learned early that honesty brings punishment, reprimand, perhaps rejection and shunning, often unforgiveness and broken relationships. So we live among those we are supposed to love, and who are called to love us, with fear. Fear denies love the freedom to thrive and grow.

Yet, Paul’s encounter with Jesus Christ, his relationship with the God who by His very nature is love, so grounded him to boldly and honestly acknowledge his greatest weaknesses even among His enemies.

He laid out his true condition before those who could do him the most harm, the church. Yikes! If ever there is a critical bunch, they can be found sitting in the pews, praying in the prayer rooms, and sharing communion at the altar. Unfortunate, but sadly true. The places where love should most abound at times is lacking. Lacking in me most of all!

Yet, here more than any other place authentic, transparent honesty finds hope, help and healthy relationship.

No Pedestal

Though some would like to climb on the pedestal marked human perfection, there was only One who could hold that rightful place. His sinless life was enough to redeem us all.

For the rest of us, we are in process like Paul — trying our best, longing with all our heart not to sin and let others down, and repenting often.

If there is one verse I take great comfort in, it is this one,

“But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me was not without effect.”
1 Corinthians 15:10

I haven’t reached the fullness of God’s intention for my life and fall far short of it most days, but I’m not the person I used to be — the broken one, the despised and rejected one, the unloved one. By God’s grace alone, He has called me by name and chosen me as His daughter. He loves me even though I’m undeserving.

As a matter of fact,

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8

Paul wrote both of these passages. He called himself the least of the apostles, unworthy of that designation. In another place, he identifies himself as the worst of sinners. This is the regenerated Paul — the cleaned up, polished-off apostle who is effectively planting churches everywhere he goes.

Yet, he claimed nothing for himself. He desired no pedestal or promotion. In transparent love, he clearly identified with sinners, redeemed only by the pure love of God.

Love Redeeming Hope

So where is our hope and help in the midst of the internal battle we all wage. Paul sums it up in a single sentence.

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me
through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Romans 7:25

“Who delivers me” is a continuous action! Jesus, our Beloved, continuously draws us into the intimate love and fellowship of the Father, freeing us from the claws of fear, releasing us to transparent love. Risky? Yes. Vulnerable? Beyond question. Worth it? Absolutely.

This morning I awoke weeping and singing, “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that He should give His only Son, to make (this) wretch his treasure.” I’ve spent the morning resting in that love. In His perfect love, repentance flows freely. Not just remorse or guilt, but a repentance that sets the captive free.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance
that leads to salvation and leaves no regret,
but worldly sorrow brings death.”
2 Corinthians 7:10

Transparent love honestly draws us into repentance of anything that marks, distorts or hinders love’s fullness. Repentance starts at the cross and flows to everyone around us. The world’s vain replica brings destruction. But the honesty of Christ’s love in us leads to the sorrow of repentance that embraces even the wretchedness of our present struggle.

Transparent love redeems pulling us up to a higher standard, a wider reach, a deeper flow of loves pure intent. So herein is God’s challenge to each of us — to love with transparency and honesty, to refuse to play it safe hiding in fear, to risk vulnerability before God and others. The pursuit of such love lasts a lifetime, but such is redeeming love.

*****

Another Read:

Adonai Jehovah – The Giver – The One Who Pours Out