Tag Archives: Loving Like Jesus

Love is a Choice

Living in the Spirit
July 7, 2017

Scripture Reading: Romans 7:15-25a

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. –Romans 7:21-25a

Choices, God gives us choices. Made in God’s image, we must assume that God has choices also and God chooses to love all the time, every time. God’s goal for each of us and as importantly all of us together to come to that same conclusion choosing to love, all the time, every time. If it is not our choice, we are not loving. There is something about the nature of love that requires righteous or just engagement one with another.

Humans like to define love with adjectives—tough love, eternal love, erotic love, brotherly love, Agape love. Love in any sense is wanting the very best for another or all others. In the final analysis, we do not get to define what that best is. Blessed with a role model in the life of Jesus, we can start our journey in love by loving as Jesus did. That requires us to take the time to study his ways of being with others. He seemed to have all the patience in the world for some and routinely expected far better out of others, like the religious leaders of the day. He welcomed the stranger, extended open arms to children, mixed with the untouchables, enjoyed a good party, mourned with those in grief, shared his love of God with everyone and as Saint Francis suggests sometimes used words.

The devil never makes us do evil; we always choose to do evil. That does not mean evil is non-existent and not tempting us at every turn. It just means we need to grasp the better way with a tighter grip.

Prayer: Teach us to love each other as you would have us, love. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

A Cup of Cold Water

Living in the Spirit
July 2, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 10:40-42
‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

I jut received an alert on my telephone that Oklahoma City is under an excessive heat warning, one of the first of what might be a long hot summer. Such alerts come when the combined temperature and humidity is expected to reach a level that could prove life threatening if one is in it too long without adequate water. These conditions are especially dangerous for the elderly, who do not feel the heat as much as younger people, and for the homeless who must seek both shelter and water to survive. I suspect the people of Galilee and Judea were well acquainted with the problem in the first century sans air-conditioning and electric fans. Many were dependent on others willing to share life-essential water.

Love, too, is life-essential. Jesus encourages us to share our love in very ordinary ways without question and without judgment. Children absorb everything happening around them. Our attitudes and actions toward them plant seeds of hope or fear or love or lost self-esteem. It does take a village to raise a child.

Prayer: Lord, help us to love each other as you love us and particularly help us be good role models for the children we encounter along the way. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Loving like Jesus

Living in the Spirit
July 1, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 10:40-42

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

My paternal grandfather died when my father was ten years old. I obviously never knew him. So you can imagine my surprise several years ago when I met with a state senator from my home county. Upon hearing my last name, he asks who my father was. I told him, and he said “I knew your grandfather. He was one of the finest men I have ever know. Have a seat what can I do for you?” I not only had my foot in the door for the business I needed to conduct but I also felt the responsibility of living up to my grandfather’s reputation. I was welcomed not because of who I was but because of whose I was.

Our lives as followers of Christ speak volumes about God and Christ. We are responsible for conveying the love of God in every aspect of our lives. In sharing our love, we transmit to others that God loves them too.

Sometimes we feel obligated to place restrictions on our love requiring a certain behavior, mode of dress, language, religion, even skin color or sexual orientation, which, I fear, puts us out of step with God’s righteousness. Loving without judging takes a whole lot less effort and does a whole lot more good. We would do well to remember that we learned about love because God first loved us.

I was sinking deep in sin,
Far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within,
Sinking to rise no more.
But the Master of the sea
Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me.
Now safe am I.

Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me.
Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me*.

Prayer: Teach us to love as Jesus loved. Amen.

First verse and chorus of Loved Lifted Me, lyrics by James Rowe see at https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/1070

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Come to the Table

Eastertide
April 30, 2017

Scripture Reading: Luke 24:13-35

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
–Luke 24:27-35

Is it possible to recapture that first century sense of urgency? Is it necessary? Do we need to define a 21st century vision which encompasses the same drive of living and loving like Jesus? Did the first disciples experience frustration with dealing with the messiness of working with people who each have an agenda and are sure their way is the only way? How can we best support and nurture wholeness in each follower of Christ that builds the ability to trust each other’s called contribution?

Spreading the love of God through Christ requires a diverse set of skills. Paul outlined them well in I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Learning to live into the synergy necessary to make diversity work can only happen when we accompany that by living into God’s love and working together on those things of common worth, while seeking discernment regarding the things about which there is little or no agreement. At times, we also need to practice the art of agreeing to disagree.

The Body of Christ also has a unique calling in this 21st century, leading the way in integrating the lives of five, even six, generations of people with differing histories. Those generations are an amalgam of races, creeds, and sexual identities all among those we are called to love. The power of God’s love is the only enabler of our succeeding in loving across lines that divide us.

Followers of Christ are people of the table. Jesus’ invited all to a seat at his table. It is incumbent on each of us to assure that all of us feel welcomed and needed for that is the Jesus way.

Prayer: Lord help us Do [our] best to present [ourselves] to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15) Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

A New Thing

Eastertide
April 22, 2017

Scripture Reading: John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ –John:19-23

For fear of the Jews, the disciples huddled behind closed doors not knowing what else to do absent their leader. I must say it is hard for me to image being afraid of the people with whom I have worshiped all my life. I think of Muslims dealing with groups such as ISIS. I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer walking toward the gallows. I think how divided Christians are today and wonder could we be headed down this same path.

Even amid very real fear, Jesus calls and empowers us to continue his ministry. Sent is a key word here. We are not called to an enclosed locked-down hiding place. We are called to go forth into the world loving God and loving the way Jesus loved as our primary mission. Yes, it is important and necessary that we share our ministry in a loving community of faith that nurtures and trains us for ministry. Such a place is not an end unto itself but the means to the end of initiating and building the Kingdom of God in our world today.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is key to the success of our mission. We may have differing tasks. There are many ways to show love. Some provide food, some feed the hungry. Some who have recovered from alcohol or drug addiction mentor those trying to free themselves from addiction’s slavery. Others provide a caring, safe environment for the receipt of treatment. Some advocate for restorative justice. Others provide preschools to break the pipeline to prison.

I cannot image the Holy Spirit giving divisive guidance to those who have chosen to follow Christ. We need to find the things on which we agreed and divvy up the work according to our skills and resources. When we are out of sync with each other, we are most likely out of sync with the Spirit. In such situations, rather than trying to win battles against each other, we must turn to God, ask for forgiveness, and seek the Spirit’s guidance in doing a new thing.

“I will do a new thing in you;
I will do a new thing in you;
Whatever you ask for, whatever you pray for,
nothing shall be denied.”
saith the Lord; saith the Lord!* (See Isaiah 43:19)

Prayer: Lord forgive us when we get so caught up in being right that we become wrong in our love. Do a new thing in us. Amen.

*I will do a New Thing in You by Audrey Byrd see at http://www.hymnary.org/person/Byrd_Audrey

All scriptures are quoted from the new Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Bringing Salvation to All

cropped-stereotypes12Advent
December 22, 2016

Scripture Reading: Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Impiety = properly, a lack of respect, showing itself in bold irreverence – i.e. refusing to give honor where honor is due. *

Jesus came to bring salvation for all, not just a chosen few. He asked, commanded, us to make that our mission for life. Each time we show a lack of respect for anyone, we show a lack of respect for Jesus. Jesus did not send us forth to force anyone to do anything. We are called to tell his story and to let our lives be a living testimony to his love as we live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.

It is easy to say; I love everyone; it is much harder to live it. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, hate the sin, love the sinner. We are called to respect each person as he or she presents themselves to us. The genuine nature of our response to someone is the primary introduction to positive communication. The Bible illustrates this in its reporting of all of Jesus’ interchanges with the vast array of people he encountered along the way.

As we examine ourselves this Advent season, let us be aware of our internal response to others we encounter. If our first reaction is negative, pray about it. Seek understanding regarding what in our lives caused such a response. Let us give the negativity to God and ask God to clear our being of preconceived notions that hamper communion with others.

Prayer: Lord, grant me a better understanding of my prejudices and free me from their stranglehold. Amen.

*http://biblehub.com/greek/763.htm

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Soul Memory

hopeLiving in the Spirit
November 13, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 21:5-19

‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. —Luke 21:12-19

Athletes talk about muscle memory or learning to see the whole field or court at once. As followers of Christ we need to develop what I call Soul Memory. We must attain a degree of wholeness that every action or reaction is filled with the spirit of God. In times like these we need soul memory.

Our tasks of being the Body of Christ in the world is vital now. We tend to think that our chaos is the worst chaos, but consider what Luke and the disciples experience at the beginning of our journey. We can bury our heads in the sand or we can recognize our current situation as an opportunity to testify to the love of God through Jesus Christ. Remember Christ will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.

There is a place of quiet rest,
near to the heart of God,
a place where sin cannot molest,
near to the heart of God.

Refrain:
O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
sent from the heart of God,
hold us, who wait before thee,
near to the heart of God.

Prayer: Lord, help us grow our soul memory so we can hear your words guiding us to tell your story. Amen

First verse and refrain of the hymn Near to the Heart of God by Cleland Boyd McAfee see at http://www.hymnary.org/text/there_is_a_place_of_quiet_rest

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wrapped in Love

Abraham-Welcomes-Strangers-in-14th-Century-illuminated-manuscriptLiving in the Spirit
August 25, 2016

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence,
‘The Lord is my helper;
   I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?’ –Hebrews 13:1-6

This sage advice excludes any instruction for us to judge anyone else. The writer of Hebrews takes the time particularly to state that God judges fornicators and adulterers we do not have that assignment. This scripture advises us on how we need to conduct ourselves and examine ourselves.

This scripture, wrapped in love, encourages us to show hospitality to strangers. I worked in a big chain restaurant in high school and college. One day while working the counter an older gentleman scooted onto one of the stools in my station. I handed him a menu. He pushed it away and said, “I just want a cup of black coffee.” As I got the coffee for him, I asked if he would like a piece of pie to go with his drink. He said, “What do you have?” and I gave him the laundry list of pies available that day. He ordered pecan and yes, he did want wiped cream. After serving the pie, I refilled his cup and made some small talk with him while handing him the ticket. Moving on to another customer, I did not notice when he left. He had not touched the pie, and he left me a standard tip. Shortly after that, the manager approached me and said, “Do you know who you just served?” I said, “No I did not recognize him.” The manager said that I had just served the owner of the chain who had taken the time to congratulate the manager on the quality of the service. It seems the owner traveled the country incognito and tested the staff to see if we were fulfilling his goal of providing hospitality. I was just doing what I had been trained to do both by my parents and by that manager.

We are called to welcome the stranger as if he or she were a messenger from God. I believe all strangers are messengers from God sent to enrich our lives or for us to enrich theirs.

Prayer: Lord, show us the Christ in each person we encounter in our walk with you. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

Strangers No More

BradRachfordLiving in the Spirit
May 16, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 14:1, 7-14

He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ –Luke 14:12-14

There is no question that my family, friends, and various church families have had an enormous impact on me making me stronger and wiser. There is also no question that the strangers I have encountered throughout my life journey have too. Even the most limited contact can make a life-changing difference.

My dad and my Uncle Harvey were both veterans of World War II, so I have a special place in my heart for vets. While serving the hungry homeless as a volunteer, I was tasked with handing out fried pies with pictures of green ninja turtles on the front. Well over six-foot-tall, a bronze-skinned broad-shouldered Native American proudly wearing his dog tags advanced in the slow moving line to my station. I guessed he was a Korean War vet. He picked up one of the fried pie packets and asked, “What kind of pie is green?” He could not read. I told him it was filled with vanilla pudding that the pictures were characters from a movie. He smiled and took one. I guess he liked vanilla pudding. My empathy for homeless vets grew mightily that day. While we do need to welcome the stranger for their benefit, we get at least as much in return in opening our hearts and minds to a fuller understanding of the world in which we live making us better conduits of God’s love.

Prayer: God of Mercy and Justice, open our hearts to see what we need to see, hear what we need to hear to serve you more nearly. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.

God’s Game Plan

beggar-signLiving in the Spirit
August 6, 2016

Scripture Reading: Luke 14:1, 7-14

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ –Luke 14:7-11

There is a country and western song by Mac Davis popular several years ago with this first line: Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble When you’re perfect in every way. It comes to my mind each time I read this scripture. The scripture seems to game the art of humility, and that bothers me. It does not bother me more than those who assume they are the center of attention, and the best seat is surely intended for them. It points out the truth of the song; it is hard to be humble and be self-confident and be fearless in facing the challenges of the world. It is impossible unless we have incorporated into our very being the source of all humility: the overwhelming love of God that enables who we are at every point in life.

Jesus set the example for all. He seemed to have time for everyone. Yesterday, I was in a hurry, had to run to the grocery store for a quick purchase on my way to somewhere else when A woman stopped me in the parking lot holding up some money in her hand and asking if I could give her more. I rarely carry much cash, and I do not believe that handing out money is particularly helpful, but I did not give her my time. I did not even find out what she needed. I said, “Sorry I cannot help” and sped on to my next task. People soliciting money is not an uncommon occurrence and in Oklahoma City it is against the law to beg, but I missed the mark in this encounter. I need to game plan myself a way to love a child of God like the woman in the parking lot while not contributing to whatever problems she might have that led her to that situation and fitting her into my hectic schedule.

Prayer: Lord, help me to prepare for whatever you call me to do. Let me learn from my failures and not repeat them. Amen.

*See at https://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&aq=&oq=O+Lord+its+hard&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4WQIB_enUS519US519&q=o+lord+it%27s+hard+to+be+humble+lyrics+&gs_l=hp..1.0i10l5.0.0.0.7913………..0.gBdG8vC4ZSY

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized 
Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council 
of Churches of Christ in the United States of American. Used by permission. All rights 
reserved.