The Core

Read John 15:9-17

Yesterday I provided my readers with a series of questions to respond to after reading this passage. I benefited from the responses which I received. My promise yesterday was that I would write a response today.

This passage allows us to be insiders to a conversation Jesus is having with his disciples prior to his death and resurrection. He is trying to prepare them for what will come soon and how they are to respond. This conversation provides a core for us as we strive to live life post Jesus’s death and resurrection as well.

As I look at this passage, I have two images which emerge for me. The first image is one of a package completely wrapped in a red cellophane. The second image is one of dough with red food coloring flowing completely through it. Both images involve the color red because it is the color that for me is connected with love. Love is the main point of what Jesus says here. A love which surrounds and is fully integrated in a person’s life.

A friend of Jesus is anyone who is surrounded by and infused with the love belonging to the Lord. Since this person lives all of life in Jesus’s love, this love flows naturally out to others. Jesus chose us to be the recipients, receptacles, and bearers of love. Because this love became a part of who we are, we naturally share it with others. While we continue to be imperfect in consistently sharing love, we see here that the Lord desires us to continue in the effort.

We also see Jesus makes a connection between joy and love. Joy and love are expressions and experiences of the soul. Joy is different from happiness. Happiness is fleeting and is a reaction to events around us. Love can be an emotion which is also fleeting but the love Jesus references here is lasting as described above. When thus love envelopes us and penetrates us, as Jesus’s love does, it enhances and partners with the joy of our soul.

All of who Jesus is and does finds its core in love. Jesus is telling his disciples, and us, that anyone who is a friend of the Lord has love as their core. When love is your core, your life expresses it and your joy is complete.

Chosen

Read Colossians 3:12-14

Remember back in elementary school when at recess or physical education class teams were chosen to play kickball or some other game? My memories of those times are not very positive. I have not been athletically inclined in my life nor am I overly coordinated so I usually was at the end of the choosing. There were other areas of life where I was on the chosen list but athletics was not the list for me. There is one very important list which includes almost every person, only if a person opts not to be on the list is her/his name omitted. The list to which I am referring is God’s list of people.

In the letter to the believers in Colossae, there is a reminder that they (and us) are God’s chosen people. Then instruction is given on how the chosen people are to act and interact. Qualities which describe such people are listed. Forgiveness and love are paramount among the chosen ones of the Lord.

Every day there is opportunity to put into practice the qualities and behaviors found in our reading. There are times when we can demonstrate compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. This can require a lot of effort. Practice is a good word to describe this effort because before these become natural, we must work on them over and over. Forgiveness is an action which is not optional for God’s people because of the magnitude of forgiveness we have received from our Lord. Love is the hallmark of believers for all these attitudes and behaviors are centered in love. God’s love for us is why we have been chosen by God and the basis for the endless forgiveness.

Shame Free

Read Romans 8:1-4

A challenge which is ever before us is to move beyond the shame of our past. Each one of us can easily come up with a list of actions we have taken or words we have spoken which we regret. Since not one of us can claim to live a sinless life, there are sins which we can recall without much effort at all. We are instructed, and Scripture clearly states, that when we have sinned we are to confess our sin and seek forgiveness. Most of us follow that instruction regularly. The challenge comes after we have confessed. More often than not, we continue to carry the shame associated with our sin way into the future. When we do, we are forgetting the rest of what Scripture teaches us and the full meaning of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

Paul is attempting to teach the believers in Rome about Jesus’s death and resurrection. He is trying to help them understand that a significant change occurred during that three-day period. Paul wants them to realize that there is no need to carry the shame of their sin into their future. In Jesus’s death, he removed the condemnation of sin. The death associated with sin and the shame associated with sin has been removed. In place of death and shame, a new life led by the Spirit has emerged. This is affirmed in Jesus’s resurrection, a new birth into a new life.

The challenge each of us face is to let go of the shame associated with our sin. Shame is a remnant of death because it kills a portion of our spirit. When we carry shame, we are living our old life. Accept the gift Jesus gave to each of us, the gift of complete forgiveness and a new way of living. Accept the resurrection not solely for the time after your earthly life but now. Leave shame in the old life before your acknowledgement of the Lord. Live in the new, abundant life of forgiven sin, free of shame.

Lessons to Learn

Read John 21:15-19

One of the more interesting post-resurrection stories is the one found in our reading today. Jesus had appeared to his closest disciples and they were all sharing in a meal. When the eating was done, while the cleaning up was underway, Jesus asks Peter about the love the disciple has for Jesus. In this interaction, there are a few lessons for us.

The first lesson is the connection Jesus makes between words and actions. After each time Peter affirms his love for the Lord, Jesus tells Peter to feed or tend Jesus’s sheep. Of course, Jesus is talking about the other followers, both present and future. What is obvious in Jesus’s words is the expectation not to just declare a love for the Lord but to show that love by caring for others. Our love for Jesus must be manifested in our acts of love toward others.

The second lesson here is one of grace. Jesus asks Peter three times to declare his love for the Lord. Three times Peter denied any relationship with the Lord prior to the crucifixion. Now in an act of grace and redemption, Peter is given the opportunity to not only acknowledge a relationship but to declare the depth of his love in the relationship. While Peter became frustrated by the repetition, Jesus knew the necessity to counter Peter’s previous actions. We learn of the efforts Jesus will make to offer us grace and redemption. Even when we do not see a necessity in what our Lord asks of us, our Lord knows what we need to overcome the guilt of our past.

The third lesson illustrated here is the need for us to give up control. Jesus tells Peter that there will come a time when someone else will make decisions for him. He indicated that Peter will need to surrender control. Jesus then says, “Follow me!” If we are going to follow Jesus, we must leave behind our previous, or “younger,” attitudes of being in charge of our destiny and choices. Following the Lord requires us to surrender control of our life to the Lord, go where the Lord takes us.

Gethsemane

Read Mark 14:32-51

Today marks the day when we recall all the events of Jesus’s last night with his disciples before his resurrection. We remember him bowing to clean the feet of his closest disciples. We hear the prediction which he makes in regard to this betrayal. We are witnesses to his telling Peter that this man who swears his dying allegiance would deny even knowing him, not once but three times. We sit at table with the Lord as he gives us the institution which we now call the Lord’s Supper, a partaking in and remembrance of the giving of his body and blood for love of us. Finally, we follow along up a hill in the Mount of Olives to a place known as Gethsemane. At this place we witness his full surrender and complete commitment to the greatest act of love we could ever know. Even though he is conflicted and in great despair, he commits to what he does for love.

Come to Gethsemane…

As A Child

Read Mark 10:13-16

The innocence of a young child is something which brings pure joy  into the world. The way in which a child is so accepting and trusting is definitely refreshing. A child has not been impacted by negativity, human failure, disappointment and prejudices as have older youth and adults. An adult might call the child naive yet many adults crave that naivety in their own lives.

The attitude of a child is what Jesus puts before the disciples and us in our passage for today. The children were being brought to Jesus to receive his blessing. Apparently some of the disciples  found the children to be disruptive and a nuisance so they blocked them from approaching Jesus. Upon witnessing this, Jesus instructs the disciples to let the children come to him. He then informs all that these children possess the kingdom of God. Jesus says not only do they possess the kingdom but they are the example each person should follow if the kingdom of God is what is desired.

Like the disciples, we may be shocked and a bit confused about Jesus’s words here. Experiencing what we have in life, how can we possibly have the attitude of a child? What does such an attitude even look like? First, we need to have an attitude of wonderment. When we look at creation and life, we should experience awe, curiosity, and joy. Second, we need an attitude of acceptance. We should encounter and experience each person as he/she is and not how we think they should be. Third, we must love with abandonment. Our love should not be conditional upon what we receive, or a set of criteria which we create. We love because everyone is a child of God who has received God’s love just as we have and do. Finally, we must believe even though it does not make sense at times. A child believes without the need to justify or explain.

What other aspects should be included in the attitude like a child? How can you follow Jesus’s instruction here? Do you need to make any changes? Spend some time observing a young child, then learn and follow.

The Introduction

Read John 17:20-26

You are probably familiar with the saying, “It is not what you know but who you know that matters.” In truth this is not entirely true but there is some reality to the saying. A person may have a vast amount of content knowledge but is unable to demonstrate their knowledge without a personal connection which leads to the opportunity. This is why a wise person cultivates a network of personal and professional relationships. Having a person who can introduce you to others with authority and resources has the potential to bring about benefits.

In today’s passage, Jesus is offering a prayer as he prepares to start the path toward his death and resurrection. We enter the second half of his prayer. He had been praying on behalf of his disciples, asking the Father to protect them. Jesus then prays for those who believe in him through the message which the disciples share, for us. He prays that we may be introduced to the Father through him as the disciples introduce him to us. Through this introduction, all believers will be of one knowledge and know the love of the Father and Son.

Jesus offers a prayer on our behalf that emphasizes it is who you know which makes a difference. We come to know Jesus through the message of the prophets, apostles, and modern disciples, Through Scripture and the sharing of the message, we are introduced to Jesus. Jesus is the greatest revelation of the Father. Having come to know Jesus, we are given the opportunity to know God. We then introduce Jesus to others by our words and actions.

Influences

Read Mark 8:14-21

As we go through life we are influenced by many people. The amount and manner in which we are influenced depends on many factors. If the influence creates positives or negatives in our lives is based on perspective. A challenge before all of us is to seek out those people who are a beneficial influence and avoid the people who influence us in negative ways. Evaluating the positive and negative influences is a crucial aspect of life choices.

Jesus was continuously engaged in a tug-of-war dynamic with the Pharisees. Being the keepers of the Law for the Jewish people, the Pharisees were prone to interpret and debate in most interactions. They considered themselves to be the gatekeepers of the Hebrews. They had just asked Jesus to produce a sign that would convince them the claims made about him were true. He not-so-politely refuses their request. Jesus there turns to his disciples to caution them against the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod. The disciples misunderstand his point and think he is talking about the bread which they are lacking.

Jesus is talking not about bread but about influence. He is saying that the disciples should not be influenced by the legalistic focus of the Pharisees. He also connects Herod to this warning as a way to also speak against ruling out of fear and force. Jesus views both ways of interpreting life and interacting with others as bad approaches. Jesus presented, as an example, a different influence operating out of grace, forgiveness, compassion and love.

The caution which Jesus places before the disciple is still very real for us today. Are we going to let individuals who live by the letter of the Law instead of the spirit of it be those who influence our world view? Are we going to follow the influence of those who dominate by the use of fear and force because of their own fear of losing power? Or are we going to be influenced by and follow the example of Jesus who lived the meaning of love and forgiveness? Be careful what and who you choose to let influence your life.

Mediator

Read 1 Timothy 2:3-6

Recently I ran across a meme on Facebook which summarized one of my core beliefs. The meme stated: “When people bring up your past, tell them ‘Jesus dropped the charges.'” This is a helpful way to look at grace and the saving actions of our Lord.

In the letter we refer to as 1 Timothy, we see the idea of Jesus being the sole mediator between us and God. Humanity existed, and still exists, in a state of bondage to sin. God is purely holy so is incompatible with sin. In our sinful state, it is not possible for us to be in full relationship with God due to this incompatibility. Here is where Jesus enters the scenario and through his righteousness, removes the barrier of sin from our relationship with God. Jesus mediates on our behalf and provides us victory over sin’s hold upon us.

I find it helpful to imagine a courtroom  scene. Each of us stands before God to be judged on our worthiness to be eternally in relationship and the presence of God. The Great Tempter prepares to argue why we are unworthy. As the first words of the charges are read, Jesus steps in front of us and says, “Father, I know this person and chose to carry any charges which may be recorded myself. The price has been satisfied and all charges should be dropped.” The Father responds, “Charges paid in full. All charges against this person are dropped.”

Praise be to the Lord!