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Brave Love

By |2021-05-26T09:06:05-04:00May 26th, 2021|

The four chaplains weren’t known as “heroes.” But on a frigid February night in 1943, when their transport ship, the SS Dorchester, was torpedoed off the coast of Greenland during World War II, the four gave their all to calm hundreds of panicked soldiers. With the ship sinking and injured men jumping for overcrowded lifeboats, the four chaplains calmed pandemonium by “preaching courage,” a survivor said.

When life jackets ran out, each took his off, giving it to a frightened young man. They had determined to go down with the ship so that others might live. Said one survivor: "It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven."

Linking arms as the ship began to sink, the chaplains prayed aloud together, offering encouragement to those perishing with them.

Bravery marks their saga. Love, however, defines the gift the four offered. Paul urged such love of all believers, including those in the storm-tossed church at Corinth. Roiled by conflict, corruption, and sin, Paul urged them to “be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). Then he added, “Do everything in love” (v. 14).

It’s a sterling command for every believer in Jesus, especially during a crisis. In life, when upheaval threatens, our bravest response reflects Christ—giving to others His love.

She Did What She Could

By |2021-05-19T09:06:05-04:00May 19th, 2021|

She loaded the plastic container of cupcakes onto the conveyor belt, sending it toward the cashier. Next came the birthday card and various bags of chips. Hair escaped from her ponytail, crowning her fatigued forehead. Her toddler clamored for attention. The clerk announced the total and the mom’s face fell. “Oh, I guess I’ll have to put something back. But these are for her party,” she sighed, glancing regretfully at her child.

Standing behind her in line, another customer felt this mother’s pain. Then Jesus’ words to Mary of Bethany echoed to her: “She did what she could” (Mark 14:8). After anointing Him with a bottle of expensive nard before His death and burial, Mary was ridiculed by the disciples. Jesus corrected His followers by celebrating what she had done. Jesus didn’t say, “She did all she could,” but rather, “She did what she could.” The lavish cost of the perfume wasn’t His point. It was Mary’s investment of her love in action that mattered. A relationship with Jesus results in a response.

In that moment, the second customer sensed God’s nudge. Before the mom could object, she leaned forward and inserted her credit card into the reader, paying for the purchase. It wasn’t a large expense, and the woman had the extra funds that month. But to that mom, it was everything. A gesture of pure love poured out in her moment of need.

Jesus’ Unpopular Ideas

By |2021-05-03T09:06:05-04:00May 3rd, 2021|

For fifteen years, Mike Burden held hate-filled meetings in the memorabilia shop he ran in his small town. But in 2012 when his wife began to question his involvement, his heart softened. He realized how wrong his racist views were and didn’t want to be that person any longer. The militant group retaliated by kicking his family out of the apartment they’d been renting from a member.

Where did he turn for help? Surprisingly, he went to a local black pastor, with whom he’d clashed. The pastor and his church provided housing and groceries for Mike’s family for some time. When asked why he agreed to help, Pastor Kennedy explained, “Jesus Christ did some very unpopular things. When it’s time to help, you do what God wants you to do.” Later Mike spoke at Kennedy’s church and apologized to the black community for his part in spreading hatred.

 Jesus taught some unpopular ideas in the Sermon on the Mount: “Give to the one who asks you . . . . Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:42, 44). That’s the upside-down way of thinking God calls us to follow. Though it looks like weakness, it’s actually acting out of God’s strength.

 The One who teaches us is the One who gives the power to live out this upside-down life in whatever way He asks of us.

The Baggage Activity

By |2021-04-15T09:06:05-04:00April 15th, 2021|

Karen, a middle school teacher, created an activity to teach her students how to better understand one another. In “The Baggage Activity” students wrote down some of the emotional weights they were carrying. The notes were shared anonymously, giving the students insight into each other’s hardships, often with tearful response from their peers. The classroom has since been filled with a deeper sense of mutual respect amongst the teens, who now have a greater sense of empathy for one another.

Throughout the Bible, God has nudged His people to treat one another with dignity and show empathy in their interaction with others (Romans 12:15). As early in the history of Israel as the book of Leviticus, God pointed the Israelites toward empathy—especially in their dealings with foreigners. He said to “love them as [themselves]” because they too had been foreigners in Egypt and knew that hardship intimately (Leviticus 19:34). 

Sometimes the burdens we carry make us feel like foreigners—alone and misunderstood—even among our peers. We don’t always have a similar experience to draw on as the Israelites did with the foreigners among them. Yet we can always treat those God puts in our paths with the respect and understanding that we, ourselves, desire. Whether a modern-day middle schooler, an Israelite, or anything in between, we honor God when we do.

Serving the Least

By |2021-04-12T09:06:03-04:00April 12th, 2021|

His name is Spencer. But everybody calls him “Spence.” He was a state track champion in high school; then he went on to attend a prestigious university on a full academic scholarship. He lives now in one of America’s largest cities and is highly respected in the field of chemical engineering. But if you were to ask Spence his greatest achievements to date, he wouldn’t mention any of those things. He would excitedly tell you about the trips he makes to Nicaragua every few months to check in on the kids and teachers in the tutoring program he helped establish in one of the poorest areas of the country. And he’d tell you how enriched his life has been by serving them.

“The least of these.” It is a phrase people use in a variety of ways, yet Jesus used it to describe those who, according to the world’s standards, have little or nothing to offer you in return for our service. They are the men and women and children the world often overlooks—if not forgets completely. Yet it is exactly those people Jesus elevates to such a beautiful status by saying “whatever you did” for them, “you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) You don’t have to have a degree from a prestigious university to understand Jesus’s meaning: Serving “the least” is the same as serving Him. All it really takes is a willing heart.

Love Reins Us In

By |2021-04-09T14:48:35-04:00April 8th, 2021|

Most young Samoan boys receive a tattoo signaling their responsibility to their people and their chief. Naturally, then, the marks cover the arms of the Samoan men’s rugby team members. Traveling to Japan where tattoos can carry negative connotations, the teammates realized their symbols presented a problem for their hosts. In a generous act of friendship, the Samoans wore skin-colored sleeves covering the designs. “We’re respectful and mindful to . . . the Japanese way,” the team captain explained. “We’ll be making sure that what we’re showing will be okay.”

In an age emphasizing individual expression, it’s remarkable to encounter self-limitation—a concept Paul wrote about in the book of Romans. He told us that love sometimes requires us to lay down our rights for others. Rather than pushing our freedom to the boundaries, sometimes love reins us in. The apostle explained how some in the church believed they were free “to eat anything,” but others ate “only vegetables” (Romans 14:2) While this might seem like a minor issue, in the first century, adherence to Old Testament dietary laws was controversial. Paul instructed everyone to “stop passing judgment on one another” (v. 13), before concluding with particular words for those who ate freely. “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall” (v. 21).

At times, loving another means limiting our own freedoms. We don’t have to always do everything we’re free to do. Sometimes love reins us in.

“So Helpful”

By |2021-04-09T14:10:10-04:00April 1st, 2021|

The caller to the Christian radio station said that his wife was coming home from the hospital following surgery. Then he shared something that spoke deeply to my heart: “Everyone in our church family has been so helpful in taking care of us during this time.”

When I heard this simple statement, it reminded me of the value and necessity of Christian hospitality and care. I began to think that the love and support of fellow believers for one another is one of the greatest ways to demonstrate the life-changing power of the gospel.

In 1 Peter, the apostle was writing a letter to be circulated among the first-century churches in what’s now the country of Turkey. In that letter, he compelled his readers to do something that his friend Paul wrote about in Romans 12:13: “Offer hospitality.” Peter said, “Love each other deeply . . . offer hospitality,” and he told them to use the gifts God has given to “serve others” (1 Peter 4:8–10). These are clear directions to all believers in Jesus for how we’re to treat fellow believers.

All of us know people like that caller’s wife—those who need someone to come alongside and show concern and Christ-like love. In God’s strength, may we be among the ones who are noted for being “so helpful.”

Minding My Own Business

By |2021-03-06T08:06:21-05:00March 6th, 2021|

Years ago my son Josh and I were making our way up a mountain trail when we spied a cloud of dust rising in the air. We crept forward and discovered a badger busy making a den in a dirt bank. He had his head and shoulders in the hole and was vigorously digging with his front paws and kicking the dirt out of the hole with his hind feet. He was so invested in his work he didn’t hear us.  

I couldn’t resist and prodded him from behind with a long stick lying nearby. I didn’t hurt the badger, but he leaped straight up in the air and turned toward us. Josh and I set new world records for the hundred-yard dash.  

I learned something from my brashness: Sometimes it’s best not to poke around in other people’s business. 

That’s especially true in relationships with fellow believers in Jesus. The apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). We pray for others and seek by God’s grace to share the Scriptures and occasionally we may be called on to offer a gentle word of correction. But learning to live a quiet life and not meddling into others’ is important. It becomes an example to those who are now outside God’s family (v. 12). 

Our calling is to “love each other” (v. 9).

A Legacy of Acceptance

By |2021-01-18T16:46:30-05:00January 18th, 2021|

In his book Breaking Down Walls, Glen Kehrein writes about climbing to the roof of his college dorm in Chicago after the assassination of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. “The sound of gunfire bounced eerily back and forth off the large buildings, and soon my rooftop perch provided a near panoramic, yet horrific, view. . . . How in the world did I get from a Wisconsin cornfield to a war zone in the inner city of Chicago in less than two years?” Compelled by his love for Jesus and people whose backgrounds were different from his, Glen lived on Chicago’s West Side and led a ministry there that provided food, clothing, shelter, and other services until his death in 2011.

Glen’s life mirrors the efforts of followers of Christ who’ve come to grips with the need to embrace those who are different from themselves. Paul’s teaching and example helped Roman believers see that God’s plan to rescue wayward humanity included Jews and gentiles (Romans 15:8–12). Believers in Jesus are called to follow His example of acceptance of others (v. 7); prejudice and discord have no place among those called to glorify God with “one mind and one voice” (v. 6). Ask God to help you cross barriers and break down walls and to warmly embrace everyone, regardless of their differences. Let’s strive to leave behind a legacy of acceptance.

Our Compassionate God

By |2021-01-14T08:06:04-05:00January 14th, 2021|

The winter night was cold when someone threw a large stone through a Jewish child’s bedroom window. A star of David had been displayed in the window, along with a menorah to celebrate Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. In the child’s town of Billings, Montana, thousands of people—many of them believers in Jesus—responded to the hateful act with compassion. Choosing to identify with the hurt and fear of their Jewish neighbors, they pasted pictures of menorahs in their own windows.

As believers in Jesus, we too receive great compassion. Our Savior humbled Himself to live among us (John 1:14), identifying with us. He, “being in very nature God . . . made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” on our behalf (Philippians 2:6–7). Then, feeling as we feel and weeping as we weep, He died on a cross, sacrificing His live to save ours.

Nothing we struggle with is beyond our Savior’s concern. If someone “throws rocks” at our lives, He comforts us. If life brings disappointments, He walks with us through despair. “Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar” (Psalm 138:6). In our troubles, He preserves us, stretching out His hand against both “the anger of [our] foes” (v. 7) and our own deepest fears. Thank You, God, for Your compassionate love.

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