Love Personified

“For it is Christ’s love that fuels our passion and motivates us, because we are absolutely convinced that he has given his life for all of us. This means all died with him, so that those who live should no longer live self-absorbed lives but lives that are poured out for him—the one who died for us and now lives again.” – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.   

There is nothing on this earth that is greater, and more powerful as a motivating factor than love. The thing that will get through to me when nothing else will, is the awareness that God loves me:  He is for me, He stands beside me. He delights in me.

Jesus dying on the cross is the most vivid display of God’s love, and it’s also the screenshot into the heart of God who doesn’t just show love but is love. The cross is the demonstration of God’s love, and it’s the tip of the iceberg. John is getting at this in 1 John 4:16 when he says: “God is love.”  And that doesn’t mean that love defines God, but that God defines love. God is the one who gives love its meaning because that is who He is. God has always been love and will always be love.   

God’s love is unconditional, and it’s not based on feelings or emotions. He doesn’t love us because we’re lovable or because we make Him feel good; He loves us because He is love. He created us to have a loving relationship with Him, and He sacrificed His own Son to restore that relationship.

Psalm 136 beautifully describes the love of God as unfailing. The psalmist recalls how in His sovereignty, God upholds His creation and people in love. And that love is not reserved for the good people. Jesus tells us that God’s love encompasses the world. That’s everyone. That’s chosen people and not-chosen people. That’s devout careful followers of Jesus, and flagrant willful sinners. God’s love is not some pie-in-the-sky ideal. It’s a moving force that continues to change lives all over the world. 

Jesus set for us the example to love and gives us the command to follow in His example (John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:16-20). When Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, He took the role of a servant and placed the needs of others above His own dignity. He instructed His followers to do the same. He tells us to love our neighbors as well as our enemies. It is through our love that the world will know that we belong to Christ.

In the middle of the chaos we are facing with the Coronavirus, we can be still enough to recognize the love that God has for each of us. And in these unpredictable circumstances and all other times, we need to trust in God’s unfailing and unconditional love.  May we live confidently today, knowing that we are His children who are loved and were chosen with a plan and purpose in mind.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some words that describe God’s love?
  2. Have you seen His love in action in your life? In what ways?

Blind Spot

“…But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” – John 9:25. 

If you want to be a defensive driver, you have to know where the blind spots on your own vehicle are, as well as where they might be on other vehicles. A blind spot is any area immediately surrounding your vehicle that cannot directly be observed by you, the driver, within your normal field of vision. We all know blind spots are dangerous when we’re changing lanes at 70 mph on an interstate highway. But just as critical are the blind spots that block us from seeing the truth about ourselves and others. No one is immune to either kind.

As human beings, we all have blind spots in our lives. These blind spots might result from grief, or doubt or a low sense of worth. Maybe your blind spot is you want to be right or you need to be in control. Maybe your blind spot is not recognizing how much your inability to forgive is negatively impacting your life. Or maybe you have a blind spot in a relationship that hurts someone.  Blind spots are, by definition, invisible to us. No matter how often we’re reminded to “check our blind spots,” we can’t—at least on our own. Our only hope is for God and others to come alongside us and help point them out. Once identified, we can start dealing with them.  

The Bible gives us several examples of people with blind spots. Probably one of the best known is the story of the apostle Paul. When he was still called Saul, he was the ringleader of the movement to make Christianity extinct. His blind spot was religious zeal, taken to the extreme. That blind spot was a barrier to the life God wanted him to live. While Saul was walking on the road to Damascus with his cohorts to persecute more followers of Jesus, “a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:3-4) God struck him blind. That blindness lasted three days. Then God sent Ananias to Saul. Ananias prayed over Saul, telling him that God wanted to fill him with the Holy Spirit. “Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18) Once his sight was restored Saul stepped into the calling God had prepared for him. Since God removed his blind spot, everything changed about him. We benefit from that change today. Paul’s letters make up the majority of the New Testament, and they have blessed millions and millions of Christians over the years.  

Spiritual blind spots require you to look in the mirror and see exactly what is going on around you. The good news is that we have the Holy Spirit who lives within us to help us expose those blind spots. Pray that God will show you your blind spots and pray that God will completely remove your blind spots. Ask him to give you the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15-16) as you depend on him to help you overcome your blind spots.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is one spiritual blind spot in your life? 
  2. What can you do this week to overcome that? 

Mary At The Tomb

“Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying.“Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.” – John 20:11-13. 

This passage of scripture from the book of John sets the stage for the scene just moments before Mary Magdalene became the first witness to the greatest miracle to ever take place – the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. But prior to that moment, Mary was having a bad day. In fact, her bad day just got a lot worse as Mary looked inside the tomb that held her now dead Lord. I’m sure she felt hopeless, defeated, and uncertain of what would be next.

Mary was there at the foot of the cross while they crucified Jesus.  She was there when they placed Jesus in the tomb. So she stands in place trying to figure out what happened to the body. Who would steal it?  Why did they leave his grave clothes neatly folded on the slab?  Maybe she is at the wrong tomb? She sees a gardener and wonders if he knows what happened. The gardener calls her by her name. That’s strange; how does he know my name?  That voice sounds familiar, it sounds like Jesus’ voice, but He died and that’s why I’m here. But then it all changed. It all changed when she saw Jesus.

And that is what Easter is all about. It’s about a tomb that was supposed to be full, but was empty. Nobody expected it to be empty, but it was. Defeat was turned into victory. Sadness was turned into joy. Uncertainty turned to hope. The blind spots disappeared. That was a turning point for Mary, and really it was a turning point in human history. And it all took place in an empty tomb. The story of Mary serves as a special reminder that Jesus is alive and He is among us.  

Because of Jesus, we have an authenticated faith. We have a God who honors promises. We celebrate a Savior who overcame our worst and most final fear. Above all, through the resurrection, we have the ultimate victory in life and in death. In rising again, God enables everyone who believes to share in the victory of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because of the resurrection, there is the assurance that our mistakes and sins can be forgiven. There is hope that we can see our blind spots. There is hope that we can have joy, peace, and security in the midst of the despair of this age. There is hope that there will come someday a new heaven and a new earth and that the Kingdom of God will reign and triumph. Our hope is not in our own ability, or in our goodness, or in our physical strength. Our hope is in the resurrection of Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Jesus had predicted His own resurrection many times. His followers knew these predictions well. (Matthew 16:21; Matthew 27:62-64) Yet Mary Magdalene was still approaching the tomb as though Jesus would be in it. Are there any promises God has made to you in which you lack confidence or faith? Are there any areas of your life that reflect unbelief in what God has said He will do? 

Good Friday

“So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” – John 1:14. 

I often wondered about why Good Friday was called Good Friday. It would seem strange and counterintuitive to call a day set aside to commemorate the torturous death of the sinless Son of God “good.”

I’ve had some very good days as I look back on my life. I’ve also had some not-so-good and even some bad days. That is true for most people. However, I don’t think any of us have had a day as Jesus had on Good Friday. There is nothing good about being betrayed and abandoned by those closest to you. There is no good in enduring whippings that by the time Jesus hangs on the cross, His flesh is so ripped and mangled, you could see bone.

Few would have survived the original beatings. Fewer still could have made the walk from the place of original torture to the cross. It’s difficult to visualize Christ, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world, bleeding profusely and being mocked by the crowd as He walked toward Calvary on Good Friday. Once there, nails were driven into His wrists and top of His feet. The pain must have been excruciating.  

As the Son of God, He didn’t have to endure anything; He was a prisoner of the Roman soldiers because He allowed Himself to be. He let Himself be crucified. Even in those last painful hours nailed to the cross, He could have opted out and dished out some epic revenge. But Jesus understood His suffering was not about Him; it was the only way to restore sinners like you and me to our loving heavenly Father.

The Author of Life, the very Son of God — was killed by the world He came to save. And as the world’s sin was placed on Jesus, never before was there (and never again will there be) a day marked by more sadness and suffering. Even so, the name Good Friday is entirely appropriate because the suffering and death of Jesus, as terrible as it was, marked the dramatic culmination of God’s plan to save His people from their sins. Just like John the Baptist said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

 Romans 5:8 (TPT) says: “But Christ proved God’s passionate love for us by dying in our place while we were still lost and ungodly!” Then in 1 Peter 3:18 (TPT), it is reiterated again: “Christ suffered and died for sins once and for all—the innocent for the guilty—to bring you near to God by his body being put to death and by being raised to life by the Spirit.”  The Good Friday message is one of hope and life for those who believe in Him.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the cross of Christ reveal the power of God? How does the cross of Christ reveal the wisdom of God?
  2. What impact has the story of Jesus’ crucifixion had on your life? What impact would you like it to have?  
  3. How might we maintain a cross-centered focus in our lives this week?

Meditate on Scripture

“Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” Joshua 1:8. 

The word meditate is used multiple times in the Bible including the Joshua passage above. Another example is Psalms 1:2 which says, “But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night” Meditation is a biblical exercise that has very practical applications.  

We all meditate. Worry, for example, is meditation. When we worry we fixate on one thing, work our minds around it, ponder it and try to think our way through it. Worry is a form of meditation that we can become pros at over time. Meditating on God’s Word is a much better use of our time. Psalm 77:11-12 (ESV)  says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord;  yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.”

Too often we can find that after reading the Bible or hearing a sermon, the truth that captured our attention can quietly fade amid the clutter and noise of the day. And that can also be the case in our daily quiet time. We should not be content to skim through a chapter merely to check off some box. Rather, we should strive to “hide the Word of God in our hearts.” 

Biblical meditation is the habit of pondering, personalizing, and practicing Scripture. You do not have to memorize a verse or a passage to meditate on it, but it’s very helpful to do so. We all want to be near to God. We also know that God speaks to us primarily through His Word. God uses biblical study and meditation to rewire our brains. The Bible says “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (Romans 12:2) And the Bible says, “letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.” (Romans 8:6) Bible study is intended to change us. We should train our minds to meditate on Scripture all the time and applying them to our life’s situations.

Suppose you were meditating on Philippians 2:3-5 which says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” This is a verse about having a servant’s heart. After meditating on the verse, look at your life to see how often you think of others. Then you realize that Aunt Sarah has so many needs and you have made the decision to worry about the troubles in your life rather than worry about her troubles. Ask God to give you a heart for serving others and more specifically Aunt Sarah. And then look for ways to help her. Then you do the same thing tomorrow and the next day and the next until you see God working a servant’s heart in you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you to meditate on God’s Word? 
  2. What can we do this week to invest some time in meditating on God’s Word? 

Don’t Get Too Comfortable On The Couch

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25 

The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively shut-down in-person church gatherings across the US and around the globe. Fortunately, when God closed the church doors, He opened a browser window and thus enabled us to continue to worship over the internet. There is a nearly endless list of things I can still do sitting on my couch. I can do parts of my job, shop for groceries, talk to friends who live in other states, write a sermon, attend school and even have church.

But while the internet is a beautiful thing and fulfills a real need, we should not think of the church as a podcast; it is so much more than that. It’s a community. It’s worshiping with others, praying for others, hurting with others, serving others, being involved in the lives of others to name a few. Our phones cannot replace the church. There are advantages of going to church that you simply can’t download. The Coronavirus has created a new normal that I hope we will not view as the “default” when the pandemic is over. If the goal is to do life together, to engage in a mission together, to quite literally change the world together, well, that involves actual human relationships and in-person engagement. God tells us in His Word to “not neglect our meeting together.” (Hebrews 10:25) The Bible even goes so far as to call the Church the “Bride of Christ.” If you love Jesus, you will love the things that He loves, and God loves His bride. God wants the complete and unconditional love of His bride. The Church is this important to God, so it should be ever-important to us.

All of us long for community and connection with others. There is something biblically powerful about gathering together with other believers to worship. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) God has given us the ability to gather together in church and in small groups. It fulfills something inside of us to do life with others, encourage each other and be authentically involved in each other’s lives.  Christian TV, podcasts, books, and conferences are wonderful additions to our spiritual lives, but nothing can take the place of a consistent Christian community through the local church. 

The reality is that we grow more together than alone. Gathering regularly with other believers becomes a refining process whereby we help each other, pray for each other and encourage each other to want to follow Christ more wholeheartedly. It is a truly beautiful thing. 

This, then, is the beauty of the church: not that it is perfect or convenient or fits easily into my life but that without it, life would be lacking something. Something you can’t find on the couch.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you see as the benefits of attending church weekly? 
  2. What do you see as the benefits of a small group? 

My Spiritual Life Is Buffering

“One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him. A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat …And he called them to come, too. They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind.  – Matthew 4: 18-22. 

We’ve all run across the “Buffering…..Please Wait” message from time to time. It’s that friendly little communication that tells us our electronic devices are working on processing our commands or our internet service is taking a break.  It is a common occurrence for people watching Netflix or streaming videos or even “video on demand.” It’s great when the streaming goes well, but sooner or later you will experience the “video-on-hold and wait…. wait. buffering, buffering… buffering” experience. 

The dictionary defines buffering as lessening or moderating the effect of something. Do you ever feel like your life is in “buffering” mode?  We all buffer from time to time. You have every intention of following Jesus. But then you discover where Jesus wants you to go, what Jesus wants you to do, and you begin to ponder on whether there may be a more convenient time to follow. So mentally you start buffering by saying, “You go on, Jesus. I’ll catch up. I’m almost done mending these nets, just a few more repairs and I’ll be done. Don’t worry, I’ll catch up, hopefully, tomorrow.”

Or we say, “I just need some more time to really get to know my neighbor and then I will love them.” But that is not how it works. Or we buffer by asking God where He is going with all this. But that’s not the point. The point is God is with us and wherever we go tomorrow He will still be with us. And the more we talk to Jesus, the more we discover that our plans, our expectations, our timetables, and even our patience can be buffering our relationship with Him.  

There comes a time when the only way we are going to learn the way of Jesus, the love of Jesus, the power of Jesus is to stop the buffering.  There comes a time when we say that we are waiting for Jesus, but He’s already come by and already told us to follow, and gone on ahead, and the longer we wait, the more catching up we will have to do. 

If you’re following from a distance, stop the buffering and close the gap. Don’t wait until the trials come, or until things get easier. Don’t wait until you’re not so busy. The time to stop buffering is now. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is Christianity all about doing what Jesus says or following Jesus or both?
  2. What can we do to eliminate some of the buffers between God and ourselves? 

Faith Versus Fear During The Pandemic

“Keep trusting in the Lord and do what is right in his eyes. Fix your heart on the promises of God and you will be secure, feasting on his faithfulness” – Psalm 37:3 (TPT). 

It has been 44 days since the first confirmed Coronavirus case was reported in the United States and in those 44 days, things have gotten progressively worse as the headlines indicate:

“Stock Market Bloodbath.”

“Anxiety grips companies across the world as layoffs explode.”

“Over one million people have contacted the Coronavirus despite worldwide efforts at containment.”

The fear and worry over this virus is legitimate, palpable, and warranted. The anxiety is real. And the future is unknown. But isn’t it always? The question is how do we cope with the worries, fears and the unknowns during and after the pandemic. Hopefully, as we deal with this crisis, we are forgetting God in the process. In this moment of global pandemic, don’t be so dominated by fear and worry that we we forget about the One who Isaiah writes about in chapter 40: “Who else has held the oceans in his hand? Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers? Who else knows the weight of the earth He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand…Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing. O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights? Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.” (Isaiah 40: 12, 15,25-29)

As you look horizontally, things seem entirely out of control. But when you look vertically, this world is under careful supervision. That is not to diminish the real threat of the coronavirus. I can’t claim to understand why we are facing a pandemic at this time. Until we’re on the other side, we may never fully understand why God would allow this trouble to enter our lives. But we know who God is. We know what He can do. We know what He has promised. We know that He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

It is all-too-easy and all-too-human to let worry and fear grow bigger than God. Like the disciples, we follow Jesus during everyday life, but what happens when a storm appears out of nowhere and threatens to swamp us? (Matthew 8:23-27) How do we view Jesus? As a man who doesn’t understand the danger of the situation? Or as God who reigns over all the earth? Our perspective changes everything. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Since worrying is a learned behavior, how do you believe it can be unlearned?
  2. What can we do to eliminate some of the worry and fear surrounding the Coronavirus this week? 

Why Are We So Hyper-Critical?

“The average Christian is the most piercingly critical individual known. Criticism is one of the ordinary activities of people, but in the spiritual realm nothing is accomplished by it.” – Oswald Chambers 

Criticism. We’ve all felt the sting of it. We’ve all had opportunities to use it on others. But surely Christians are less critical…right? I would hope so, but we’re all human.

If you’re like most people, when you have a problem with someone else, you focus on what that person did wrong. You think the problem would get better if the other person would change. The reality is that it is not up to the Christian to criticize, debate and decide who is right. “There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5) In other words, the decision isn’t up to us. And because the decision is not ours, the debate doesn’t belong to us either.

It begs a question when we criticize others and/or retaliate when others criticize us: “Is there any possible way God can get glory from that?” It’s impossible to humbly accept God’s standard of grace for ourselves while holding others to a higher standard. “For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” (Matthew 7:2) James 4:12 (TPT) adds, “There is only one true Lawgiver and Judge, the One who has the power to save and destroy—so who do you think you are to judge your neighbor?”

Imagine for a moment that you were doing some home remodeling and got a splinter in your eye. As you go through the pre-surgery preparations, the surgeon comes into the room and to your shock has a two-by-four through both eyes. That completely preposterous scene is what Jesus was illustrating when He talked about judging others. He said, “…why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend,‘ Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3-4)

It’s unwise to get in the judging business, for none of us has good enough vision to know the whole story. Only God sees with complete vision. Jesus said we must first focus on our own shortcomings, on changes we need to make. This is not to say that those around us don’t have faults, bad habits, and sins. They do. But despite that, we must also think beyond our selfish needs to be “right” or “better” than someone else and focus first on our part and leave the judging to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we focus on the changes we need to make and not on other people’s faults? 
  2. How can prayer help us make the changes we need to make? 

“Holier-Than-Thou”

“Judge Claude Frollo longed to purge the world of vice and sin…and he saw corruption everywhere — except within.”— Clopin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

A regular attendee at our church used to be a chain smoker, but after several failed attempts, he successfully kicked the habit with the Lord’s help. But now this person comments on people in the church who smell of smoke and wonder why they can’t wait until they get home to smoke. I don’t think this individual is holier than thou, but in this instance he is. He is assuming that since he quit smoking, other people should be able to do the same thing. This individual is not alone: we all have wandered into the holier than thou area where we consider ourselves more righteous or moral than other people. It is also called spiritual pride. 

The Corinthians had a problem with spiritual arrogance. Paul warned them that “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love strengthens the church.”Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.” (1 Corinthians 8:1)  

As we grow in the Christian life, we face the increasing danger of spiritual pride. We know the correct doctrines, the right methods, and the proper do’s and don’ts. But with that spiritual knowledge comes the need to remember the poverty of our own spiritual character. We may become like the Laodiceans of whom our Lord said, “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17).

The goal is to become holy without becoming “holier than thou.” We do that by actually becoming holy. Of all the goals we have for our life, the most important is to pursue holiness because it is God’s goal for our life. As Oswald Chambers said, “God has only one intended destiny for mankind—holiness. His only goal is to produce saints. God is not some eternal blessing-machine for people to use, and He did not come to save us out of pity—He came to save us because he created us to be holy.” If we truly love God we will commit to making holiness the primary purpose of our life. If someone is growing in arrogance, pride, and self-righteousness, by definition they are not growing in holiness. It is impossible to become both holy and holier-than-thou. To grow in one is to atrophy in the other.

As believers, we are to be holy not because we want to be loved by God but because we are already loved in Christ. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). And the best way to show that we love God is by seeking to become holy because He is holy. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some ways pride shows up in your life? When it comes to pride, how much is too much?
  2. There is a difference between confidence and pride. Under what circumstances do you tend toward pride? Have there been times where you have experienced humble confidence?