Love Demonstrated

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)

There are behaviors and skills which are second nature in life. Then there are behaviors and skills which must be taught. Breathing, sleeping, and walking are examples of second nature skills; albeit, walking is a progression and requires self-teaching. Riding a bicycle, swimming, and placing others’ needs first are all examples of skills and behaviors which must be taught to us. Certain forms of love, or at least demonstrations of love, fall in the latter category. We need examples placed before us so we are able to understand how to appropriately demonstrate our love for others.

In the portion of the letter which we have read today, we are made aware of the love of God as demonstrated to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus gave an example of how to express a deep level of love for others. Humanity had the need to overcome sin and the result of sin, death. Because of God’s deep love for all of humanity, in Christ the need was met through the actions on the cross. This was a profound action taken to demonstrate the level of love God has for each one of us. The writer here then gives the example of one of us witnessing someone who has a material need. If the witness has the means to meet that need but does not, she/he is not demonstrating God’s love within them. We are to look to Christ’s example to teach us how to express God’s love. This expression is not in words but in actions.

The passage from today is convicting to many of us. We easily say that we love each other, including strangers, in Christ’s love but our actions often fall short. Christ gives us the example to learn from which teaches us that God’s love is not about words but is found in the actions of God. If we claim that we love one another because God has loved us, yet when given opportunities to exhibit that love through our choices and actions, the truth is not in us. Love as defined and shown by God is a love of action. May we learn and follow this truth.

Casting Nets

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11 (NIV)

Most of us wish to relax after putting in a full day of work. We desire to come home, have some dinner and then engage in one of our favorite past times to unwind from the day. Some evenings we have home projects to complete or events to attend before we can begin our relaxation time. The last thing we wish to do is return to work activities.

In the passage from Luke today, we hear Jesus requesting Simon to return to the work he has been doing all night long. Jesus first asks Simon to let him borrow his boat to go out in the water so he can create some space from the growing crowd. Simon obliges Jesus and Jesus teaches a while from the boat to the people on the shore. After Jesus finished teaching, he told Simon to do something which we all would hate if we were Simon, to start working again. Simon politely explains to Jesus that they had been fishing all night but caught nothing. Simon clearly did not wish to work anymore, he wanted to finish cleaning the nets and rest. While he is not mentioned, we can assume that Simon’s brother, Andrew, is in the boat with them. Simon and Andrew cast their nets once again. This time instead of catching nothing, they caught so many fish that their partners, James and John, have to assist them in hauling all the fish into the boats. Simon realizes Jesus’s power and Simon’s unworthiness to even be near him. Jesus tells Simon and the others not to be afraid of him. He then explains that from now on they will not fish for fish but for the souls of humanity. All four begin to follow Jesus.

Most of us can imagine Simon’s thoughts when Jesus tells him to cast the nets one again. Simon was tired after a long night of work. Simon was frustrated because all the work of casting the heavy nets and pulling them back in over and over had produced nothing.Then comes this man who not only wants to be taken out in the boat, interrupting completion of the last chore of the day which would be followed by a meal and rest, but then says to throw the nets back in the water for nothing. We can relate to Simon because that is how we feel about our fishing for Jesus. Our attempts to invite people to worship, help on service projects, or hear about our faith can feel futile. We get to the point where we want to stop fishing, stop reaching out to others, and just enjoy practicing our faith in our own way. But Jesus says to cast our net one more time, we may be surprised with the results.

Victory

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:50-57 (NIV)

Competition is a part of everyone’s life. There are all forms of athletic competitions. Beauty pageants and performance competitions are held all over the world. Spelling bees, academic decathlons and game shows test skills and knowledge. With the rise of reality television shows, a whole new form of competition has entered our society. Then there is the fact of competition in our everyday lives. Competition exists in the work environment as employees vie for positions, promotions, and raises. Businesses compete against one another for the consumer’s money. The list of life’s different competitive situations can appear to be endless. Competition is not an exclusively human dynamic either. Throughout creation competition exists for food, water, mates and shelter.

The passage which we read today from Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth speaks of a competition. This competition is between life and death. It is a competition not just for the physical nature of humanity as much as it is for the spiritual aspect of humanity. Yes, Scripture tells us that at the point of resurrection, the physical body will be raised and reunited with the spirit just as with Christ but a person’s spirit is even more important to God. The competition was ended by Christ as he defeated death by his destruction of sin and his resurrection. Christ claimed the victory.

For you and me, being given a victory which we have done nothing to earn is amazing. Paul tells the Corinthians and us that God has given us the victory over death through Jesus Christ. We obtain this victory because death is due to sin. Since Jesus wiped away our sin through the cross, there is no need for death anymore. The victory is ours in a competition we could never win. Jesus is the only way we have victory.

Such A Time

Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.

So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate. Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.

Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”

12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.

Esther 4:5-17 (NIV)

Timing can be key in some situations. Submitting an application for a position at just the right time can make the difference in receiving the position or not. Walking into a coffeehouse at a specific moment can lead to an encounter which may open doors to a new opportunity or relationship. An idea may be well received at one time even if it had been rejected at another time. Timing can be the key to success.

The passage from the story of Esther focuses on timing. Esther had caught the eye of the king and the king chose to make her his queen. This placed Esther in a position which would later serve her and the Jews well. When Mordecai shared the plight of Esther’s people with her, she was hesitant to approach the King because of her fear for her own safety. It is only when Mordecai pointed out the true threat to her and her family’s safety did Esther begin to see the call to action in a different light. Then when Mordecai asks Esther if this is the time for which she has been placed where she is, she springs into action.

Each day we are given new opportunities and new challenges. Some of these are small in perspective while others are significant. God is moving us forward and providing us with choices which may lead us to a position where we can make a meaningful impact. Fear can cause us to hesitate from acting on opportunities that our positions may afford us. Just as Mordecai asked Esther, we must ask ourselves if we may have been placed where we are for such a time as this.

New Creation

11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

Galatians 6:1-16 (NIV)

Have you ever encountered someone who wishes everyone to be aware of all of their successes and accomplishments? At one level this can be important when applying for a job or new position. There is a need for self promotion in these circumstances. The issue arises when this is taken to the extreme and the work which the person is doing is to make oneself look good in the eyes of others. It is even a greater issue when the individual makes demands upon others so they may boast about themselves.

Today’s passage is found in the letter Paul writes to the believers in Galatia. Paul is speaking to the Galatians regarding the encouragement by the Jews to the Galatians to be circumcised. Paul says this is entirely because they want to boast about their success in converting the Gentiles to be followers of the law. He indicates this is hypocrisy because those making this request as a part of the law are unable to keep the law themselves. Boasting should be limited to the cross of the Lord. Being a new creation is more important than upholding a section of the law.

The emphasis which Paul makes to the Galatians is the boasting here should be about how we are a new creation through the cross of Jesus. Our boasting comes not from any action by us but the action of our Lord. This new creation counts far beyond our ability to adhere to a law. Adherence to the law shows an emphasis in our actions. The actions of the Lord are far greater and more important. 

Come and See

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
    Sing the glory of his name;
    make his praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power
    that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you;
    they sing praise to you,
    they sing the praises of your name.”

Come and see what God has done,
    his awesome deeds for mankind!

Psalm 66:1-5 (NIV)

Hiking can be an activity filled with many wonderful benefits. Being outside along trails allows one to exercise which helps to reduce weight, improve heart and lung health, and benefit sleep. This form of exercise can also reduce stress and improve mental health. Hiking also offers beautiful views of nature, including experiencing wildlife. Viewing nature can create feelings of wonderment and awe.

Like many of the psalms, Psalm 66 is a psalm of praise. The psalm begins with a call for all creation to express joy. Singing of God’s glory and offering of praise sets the tone for this psalm. The fifth verse in the psalm invites all people to come and see. The psalmist seems to indicate that by seeing what the Lord has done it is almost inevitable that one would shout for joy and sing praises to the Lord.

Experiencing God’s marvelous work in creation is one of those come and see moments. How the Lord has created the brilliant colors, the amazing effects of sunlight on rippling water, and the interaction of creatures, communicates the awesome deeds of the Lord. The key for us in hearing the invitation. Most people benefit from first-hand experiences. We are surrounded by the awesome deeds of the Lord but we must take the time and open our eyes to see.  Our praise will follow. 

A Leader’s Example

21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25 (NIV)

An important responsibility of a good leader is to set an example for others to follow. Some leaders attempt to lead by force and a controlling hand. These leaders have a fearful following who either attempt to adopt an authoritarian approach or they see a decrease in followers who respond negatively to this leadership style. A leader who models the behaviors and the type of work which they expect from their followers tend to experience an increase in the number who follow and a positive outcome in regard to what they are trying to accomplish.

The writer of 1 Peter indicates that we have been called to follow the example of our leader, Christ. Christ is described as “the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.” The example which Christ places before us is that even though he was blameless, he placed his trust not in human judgment but in God’s judgment. Even though Christ suffered he did not threaten or speak evil. While he retained all the power in creation he did not retaliate in any fashion.

The example which we are called upon to follow is one that few humans have successfully followed. Leaders who we admire this day which came close to Christ’s example include Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, among others. They did not retaliate with violence when they faced injustice and oppression. We must strive to follow their examples. By doing so we live as ones whose sins died on a cross which held our leader. We allow our wounds which are inflicted upon is to be healed by the wounds of Christ.

Drought Relief

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NIV)

Droughts can be a devastating natural phenomenon. They devastate the plants and vegetation in the area which is experiencing the drought. A ripple effect then occurs. If plants, trees, and other fauna are no longer present, the food supply for animals including humans is gone. This can lead to starvation. The absence of plant life and lack of water can also cause major dust storms because there is nothing to keep the soil in place when the winds blow. An economic impact also occurs since crops and livestock are wiped out. This impact affects those outside of the agricultural industry as food supply dwindles and prices rise to record levels. Life suffers when the land is too dry.

The well-known story we find in Ezekiel today speaks of a dryness and lack of life. The prophet has a vision which entails him going to a valley filled with dry bones. While in this valley, God gives Ezekiel three messages to deliver. The first message is to the bones in the valley. This message is that God will bring life back to the bones. While the prophet delivers the message, the bones come together and are given flesh to connect them and create a body. The second message is to the breath of life. While this message is shared, the breath enters the reconstructed bodies and gives them life. The third message is to the Israelites. It is a message of promise; the promise that God would bring Israel back to life and return the people to the land of their ancestors.

There are times in our own experiences when we can feel lifeless and dried up physically, emotionally, mentally and/or spiritually. The story of Ezekiel in a valley of dry bones can be an encouraging story for us during those times. It reminds us that when we are experiencing a drought in our life, God Is able to breathe new life into us. As God sends rain to a drought-stricken land, God will send us what we need to be restored. This is possible on an individual or a group level. The nation of Israel needed God to end their drought just as individuals within that nation needed it. Call on the Lord for new life whenever you are dry.

Family

12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”

“Very well,” he replied.

14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.

When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

29 When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30 He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”

31 Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”

33 He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”

34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him.

36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

Genesis 37:12-36 (NIV)

Families are an interesting aspect of a person’s life. Families come in all sizes. The definition and structure of a family can be as unique as the individual members. Different cultures and periods of time generate varied understandings of family. Recently society has seen shifts in how family is perceived. The next generation is likely to witness other shifts in today’s perceptions. Some families are based upon dependability, reliability, intimacy, and love. In some experiences there is a much looser understanding of family where each member is independent and does not rely upon other members. Competition, envy, jealousy, and discord can exist within a family as easily as trust, support, and encouragement. Most people hope that their family will be the ones to stick by them no matter what but that is not always the experience.

The story of Joseph, Jacob’s son, is a story of family. The passage which we read today is the portion of the story where family is seen as jealous, envious and cruel. All but one of Joseph’s brothers had experienced enough of Joseph’s arrogance and the dreams which he would relay to them. These dreams placed Joseph above his brothers and since it appeared he was already their father’s favorite, this added fuel to the fire. A plot is made to kill Joseph as they see him approach them and the flock. Reuben attempts to rescue Joseph by convincing the brothers to throw Joseph into a cistern instead of killing him. Reuben’s plan prevails until an opportunity to earn some money comes along in the form of an Ishmaelite caravan. The brothers sell Joseph into slavery and they convince Jacob he was mauled to death by an animal by presenting a goat’s blood soaked robe. Instead of experiencing love, support and protection from his brothers, Joseph experienced hatred, jealousy and greed.

Family relationships can be complicated. Just because you share the same blood and possibly the same dwelling does not mean there is harmony, love and support. Sometimes you have to look elsewhere for these things. Even when life can look very bleak, there is a way the Lord can change the picture. With God being the perfect Father and Jesus the perfect brother, you have a source for support and love. God also brings other of God’s children into your life to walk with you during whatever dark times you may be experiencing. Each of us has a second family which surrounds us to either augment our natural family or fill in the gaps.  We also have a Father who is able to take bad situations and create good from them.

Making Requests

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

Psalm 25:4-11

We make requests of people all the time. As parents, we ask our children to put away their toys, clean their room, hang up their coats, take the dogs out, and the list goes on ad nauseam. In the work environment there are requests going both ways between employer and employee; i.e., employers request tasks to be completed, employees request time off. Everyday life is filled with examples of requests being made and being fulfilled or granted.

In the midst of Psalm 25, we see a series of requests being made. First is a request for the Lord to show us the Lord’s way. A request is then made for the Lord to teach the Lord’s truth. The requests continue with a desire for grace and mercy to be shown instead of our rebellious behaviors. The Lord is acknowledged for the way in which the Lord instructs sinners and guides the humble. Requests, confession and praise fill these verses.

These verses serve as a guide in regard to how we need to humble ourselves and seek the Lord. Each of us are aware of the times we rebel against the Lord. Those times when we choose to exert our independence so we can go the direction which we think is best in our lives. Often we discover that such rebellion leads to problematic results. This is when we must humble ourselves and make the above requests of the Lord. The first request should be for mercy, forgiveness and grace. Then a request to be taught, or retaught, about the Lord’s ways, paths and truth. Because of the Lord’s great love for us, we can be assured that these requests will be granted.

Make your requests of the Lord. Then humbly learn and strive to rebel no more.