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See How Those Christians ...?

One of the distinguishing marks of the early Christian community, recognizable by the pagan world, was that of love.  Yes, the followers of Jesus in the First Century Church leaned early on what Jesus had taught his original disciples: “Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  [John 13:34, 35]
 
That is the basic hallmark of Christian life and behavior – to love one another as Christ has loved us.  However, it is one thing for us to know that we, as Christians, are to love one another, it is quite another thing for it to be so evident, that even the pagan world, as in those early days, notices and says, “See how those Christians love one another.”
 
The love about which Jesus speaks has greater meaning than that which we in the Western cultures [or any culture, for that matter] often interpret as love.  We often think that it means to have a good feeling about someone or something.  If it makes me feel good, or if they make me feel good, then it must be love that I feel.
 
The English language has only one word for love – love.  There are three Greek words used in Scripture, for love: Familial; Eros, Agape. 
 
Familial has to do with family love, the love that exists between parents, children, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and extended family.  It is a caring, protecting and provisional love.  It is designed by God for the good of the family.  When expressed the way God intended it, the family is nourished and strengthened.  When God’s design is disobeyed or ignored altogether, the family suffers through wrong actions like abuse, incest and a multiplicity of things that wreak havoc in the family structure.  Consequently, the family suffers.
 
Eros has to do with self love, which can also be expressed in two ways.  In a positive way, it is to have a good opinion and feeling about yourself, a good sense of self worth.  In a negative way it has to do with erotica, or erotic feelings about self or others.  This leads to inappropriate relationships such as lust and sexual immorality.  It appears that much of life lived in the Western culture is lived at this level and understanding of the word ‘love.’  And, it also appears that certain segments of the Christian Church in all areas of the world understands and lives out ‘love’ at this level, approving of lifestyles that are Eros [erotic].
 
Sometimes the good feelings we may have for another person may not be love at all, but lust.  When we look at another person with thoughts of “love,” it may really be lust – or Eros.   The “good feelings” may cause a rapid heart beat - which could simply be the effects of an overactive adrenal gland or a personal desire, or need, for self-gratification, and have nothing to do with love.  Love can wait.  Lust must get as soon as possible.
 
When Jesus instructed his disciples to love one another as he loved them, he was talking about Agape.  Agape is the highest form of love that is unconditional, sacrificial and pure.  It is expressed for the ultimate good of the one toward whom it is directed.  It is the kind of love that the apostle Paul wrote about to the church in Corinth.  “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”  [I Corinthians 13:4-8a]  Jesus’ quality of love for his disciples – and for all humankind, manifested all of these characteristics of Agape.
 
That’s the kind of Love Jesus was talking about with his disciples. It is the quality of love that is expected from all those who would commit to following his example.  It may or may not have anything to do with good feelings, but it has everything to do with doing that which is right in God’s sight and that which is good for others.  We are instructed in God’s Word to be “imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  [Ephesians 5:1, 2]
 
When Jesus instructed his disciples to “Love your enemies,” he was not talking about having a good feeling about them.  He was talking about doing them no harm and to pray for them.  That is Agape quality of love.  That’s how Jesus treated his enemies, even as he hung on the cross.  “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing.”  That’s Agape love.  We are to love at that level.  Eros – and even Familial, falls far short of that quality of love.
 
Jesus said, “If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have?  Even the sinners do that.  If we greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Even pagans do that?” [Matthew 5:46, 47]  Even the pagan world knows how to familial and Eros, and practices both quite well.  Believers are called to something higher!
 
“See how those Christians love one another!”  Do we ever hear the pagan world declaring that about us, the followers of Jesus, in this contemporary world?  Do our lives reflect the quality of love that makes the atheists, agnostics and outright opponents of the Lord to have to admit that even though they may not believe in him, there’s something about the lives of those who do believe in him that is totally different from the world around them.  They have to take notice.
 
Jesus said, “This is how all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  [John 13:35]  Anything less is not worthy of bearing His Name!

The Feathered Wings of God

THE FEATHERED WINGS OF GOD

        I have been endeavoring to memorize Scripture once again. I used to do it on a regular basis, but for varieties of reason - or excuses, I got involved in "ministry" and failed to continue the practice.  I had forgotten how the Word of God nourishes the human spirit.  I am reminded once again how powerful is the Word and how refreshing it is to my spirit when I commit it to memory rather than just quoting a couple of long-remembered verses here and there according to the circumstances at hand.          

   For example, it is easy to remind people that the Lord said, "I will never leave you or forsake you.  I will be with you always."  That is a powerful statement and all of us need to be reminded of it on a regular basis, especially in those times when we feel all alone or forgotten altogether.  However, there are so many other promises in God's Word that are set amidst life's circumstances that quicken our spirits not only to the Lord's presence, but to his faithfulness and protection.

          Psalm 91:1-4 is a perfect example of such a Powerful Presence.  "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.  Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence.  He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart."

         The fowler is a person who traps wild birds for the purpose of either eating them or selling them to be placed in cages.  The Psalmist declares that God saves us from such a snare that is set for us for the purpose of either destroying us or putting us in bondage.

           Then the Psalmist declares that God will "cover us with his feathers and under his wings we will find refuge" - or safety.  We know from Jesus' teachings that God is Spirit [John 4:24]. Therefore, God is not a big bird with feathered wings, any more than He is a big man or a big woman with two arms and two legs.  At the same time, it is interesting that when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism [Luke 3:21, 23] He "descended on him in bodily form like a dove."  The Holy Spirit of God took on visible form as a dove that does, in fact, have feathered wings.

           Could it be that the Psalmist, writing perhaps a thousand years before Jesus' baptism, was inspired by the Spirit of God and that God, in reality does cover us with his feathers and under his wings we will find refuge, as he covers us with his Holy Spirit and we take refuge there?

         My prayer for you and me today is that God cover us with his Holy Spirit's presence and help us come to know that when we are under that covering nothing can or will snare us, put us in bondage or destroy us.   God's faithfulness will indeed be our shield and rampart [fortification] for our deliverance and protection from the enemy - in whatever form the enemy chooses to take.

Choices

The man sat across from his pastor, grieving because his marriage was in shambles and his wife had told him that she was leaving him.

“What seems to be the problem?” asked the pastor, though he already knew what it was because the man’s wife had been to see him.  She had informed him of the circumstances of their marriage and that she was divorcing him.

The grieving man responded, “She says that I am addicted to pornography and that it is ruining our relationship.  I am addicted to pornography.  I just can’t help it.   I’ve tried to quit but I just can’t do it.  I am addicted and my addiction determines the choices I make in everything, including my marriage.”
The pastor responded, “No, my friend, it’s the other way around.  The addiction does not determine your choices.  The choices you make determine your addictions.  You have chosen pornography as part of your lifestyle and as a result, you have become addicted to it.  That choice has now resulted in the dissolution of your marriage. Don’t blame it on your addiction; blame your choice and yourself for choosing it.”

The marriage failed, largely in part because of his choosing to continue participating in his addiction to pornography, rather than seeking to be free of it.  Addictions are real and whether it is to pornography, drugs, alcohol, food, laziness, lust or whatever, a person can either choose to stay in it and live with the consequences, or choose to find help to be freed from the addiction and work toward experiencing a more healthy and productive lifestyle.

Jesus has the power to heal us of our addiction to whatever sin in which we may be involved.  His Spirit can guide us in making the right choice when we are faced by the recurring temptation to once again entertain that sin.  But, it is still our choice to follow his counsel or not.

Unlike the dog that naturally returns to its vomit [Proverbs 26:11] and the washed pig that returns to the mud-hole, [II Peter 2:22] Jesus tells us that we are persons who can be set free by his grace and his Spirit.  We can choose to return to the old, sinful ways that serve only to entrap us, destroying us and our relationships with others.  OR, we have the power to choose, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to live a clean life and do the things that lead us to it.

It all has to do with our choices!  We can choose to be a slave to sin - in whatever form, or a slave to righteousness.  It is far a better decision to choose to be addicted to doing the things that are right and good!  As our Lord God said, “Choose life!”
 

Words that Build Up or Words that Tear Down

     Language is a means for communicating.  It provides a way for persons to live in community and to express and exchange thoughts and ideas.  Language is a beautiful gift from God, who even gives us the ability to learn languages of other cultures so that members of the human family can relate across cultural boundaries.
     The words we use in communicating with each other have the power to be spoken in a way that blesses, encourages and edifies another person.  Words also have the power to belittle, degrade and curse the one who hears them.  We have the power to choose which it will accomplish – to bless or to curse; to build up or to tear down.
     My question is, with so many positive words available in the English language, with which to express ourselves to another, why is it necessary for some to continue using vulgar, sick and perverted words, especially the wrongful use of the name of Jesus or God our Father, in trying to emphasize what they are thinking?  Why are their sentences punctuated with four-letter swear words that spew filth on the one to whom they are speaking?  Are they trying to impress their companions with their “I’m being one of the ‘in’ crowd”, or, a desire to “need to shock the listener,” attitude, in order to show how really “cool” they are?  Their body language generally reflects their verbal language.
     In reality, the one who uses such crass and vulgar words in speaking to another, is revealing their ignorance.  More to the point, the person who uses such words is dumb.  Ignorant means that one simply does not yet know or understand the appropriate ways to communicate, or how to use appropriate words, and so, is willing to learn and is willing to be taught.  Dumb means that a person does not know, doesn’t want to know and has no desire to know or be taught another way to speak.  Their vocabulary in their native language is comprised of filthy cuss words.  It’s the only language they know.  They are not teachable!  They are dumb!
     Jesus made it very clear, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good man [and woman] brings forth the good things out of the good stored up in him [and her], and the evil man [and woman] brings forth the evil things from the evil stored up in him [and her].  But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.”  [Matthew 12:34b-37]   God takes words seriously!
     People who are identified with Jesus Christ and who know they are a new creation, also learn a new language.  It is a language of love and kindness.   We endeavor to have the mind of Christ and to think and speak as he does.  “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, what is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is praiseworthy, think about these things.” [Philippians 4:8] And speak accordingly; speaking the Truth in Love.
 

Worship

What a great and awesome blessing it is to gather with other people of Faith to worship him who is the Lord of Life and the Savior of our Souls.  Even upon entering the place that has been designated for worship – whether in a cathedral or sanctuary, a simple room or under a tree beside the lake, there is a sense of divine Presence.  Hearts become attuned to the heart of God in preparation for a time of lifting up our voices as we sing praises, offer our tithes and gifts, kneel at his holy altar and hear the life-transforming Word proclaimed.
 
Little wonder that the Word of God instructs us:  “Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:25
 
Worship revitalizes our faith, feeds our spirits, strengthens our resolve and serves to encourage us as we face the various issues of life around us beyond the confines of the venue in which we gather.
 
Sometimes people can be heard to say, upon leaving a time of worship, “Wasn’t that a great worship service this morning?”  Others join in, “Yes, couldn’t you just feel the Spirit?”  Still others, “And the worship songs, weren’t they beautiful?  The worship team did an outstanding job.”  And others, “Yes, and Pastor preached a powerful message.”  Occasionally, one is heard to say, “Well, I wasn’t fed this morning.  I didn’t get anything out of it!”
 
Over all, though, the worshippers are pleased with the service and are glad that they came, for it made them feel so good and gave them some direction for the new week.  A video of the service is then posted on Face Book or Instagram, “what a great service of worship we had at Church of the Happy Hour this morning,” with a backdrop of changing light colors and occasional wisps of artificial fog to add to the visual tantalization.  Apparently it serves to add to the mystical, ethereal and supernatural atmosphere of the event, called worship.
 
Ultimately, however, the question must be asked, “Was God pleased with the worship this morning?  Was God impressed with the program?  Was the focus of the worship on the “Great and Glorious” God of Creation or the “Looking for Something to Make Me Feel Good” Human Heart.  Did God sense that the hearts of the people were in tune with his heart?  Did the singing and the sharing and the speaking bring honor and praise and glory and joy to the Heart of the One who was being worshipped?  After all, isn’t worship all about God?
 
When the hosts of heaven worship, they break forth with full attention on the One who is worthy of all worship:  “They fell down on their faces before the throne, saying “Amen! Praise and Glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever.  Amen!” [Revelation 7:11, 12]
 
Perhaps when we gather for worship and realize that we stand in the very presence of THAT God, we may emulate the heavenly hosts and fall down on our faces with repentant and contrite hearts, realizing in whose Presence we are privileged to be and the condition of the lives that we bring into worship!
 
“Lord God, teach us how to worship. Jesus said that you are seeking people who will worship you in Spirit and in Truth.  Show us how to do that so that it will bring joy to your heart here, and prepare us to then join with the hosts of heaven to worship you eternally.  Amen.”
 

Scarred for Life

Virtually everyone has at least one scar.  Check to see if there is one on your body.  Somewhere in our normal daily activities we usually experience a cut, accidentally or intentionally.  For example, we may pick up a sharp knife and the blade slips through our hand or across a wrist as we drop it and the result is a serious cut.
 
And too, we may experience a broken bone or a tumor inside our body and it is then necessary for a physician to use a sharp surgical scalpel to cut into the body to repair the damage.  There are many ways by which we may have been cut or wounded.
 
Whatever the cause, or need, for a cut to happen to our bodies, there is designed within our bodies the God-created and God-given provision for healing to happen.  God has designed the body to heal itself.  The blood that is produced by the bone marrow has within it – with rare exception, the healing properties of an immune system to keep the body healthy.
 
Immediately following a cut, blood flows.  That blood cleanses the wound and at the same time the white cells rush to protect the body from the invasion of bacteria and possible infection.  The body then works to close the wound and form a scab to protect it so that healing can happen.  Natural healing is a basic part of God’s design and it is depended upon by all who are in the healing professions whose job it is to help the body heal when it cannot heal itself.
 
One of the end results of experiencing a cut, in addition to the healing that happens, is that there is often left a scar.  Depending on the seriousness of the cut, a scar can be barely visible or it can be very obvious and ugly.  It may have no impact on the rest of our lives, or, in some cases, it may have dramatic impact on how we can function.  Whether great or small, however, a scar is the sign of a healed wound.  We may be scarred for life, but the scar is evidence that we still have life.  We can live with scars.  We may be scarred, but life goes on, because life is more than the scars we wear.
 
The same principle is true with the unseen scars in our lives.  We may be emotionally wounded by experiencing a traumatic event.  It may be the death of a loved one or an unkind word spoken by a person who has no intention of wounding, but it does, nevertheless.  It may come as the result of watching one or more of our children choose a wrong lifestyle or of a friend betraying a confidence.  Wounds happen, sometimes leaving deep and unseen scars inside.
 
We may even be scarred for life by those inner wounds.  Scarred though we may be, life goes on!  We may be wounded, but we’re still alive.  Life is far more than the inner or outer scars we pick up as we go through life.
 
Scars can serve as a constant reminder that God has brought me through.  I am a survivor.  Seen on the body, they are a visible reminder to me that I have a healed wound and I am alive.  Unseen within the body, they are still a reminder that, even though the issue and resulting wound may or may not be healed, it has not killed me.  I’m still alive to talk about it.
 
The Apostle Paul reminds us that we have this treasure [this light and life of God] in clay pots or “jars of clay.” [II Corinthians 4:7-10]  These fragile lives of ours can be hurt and even broken.  Regardless of what happens to these bodies and souls of ours, when we are in Jesus, we discover that the scars and wounds of our lives matter very little.  They do not determine the quality and value of our lives. 
 
What really matters is that, as Believers in Jesus, our lives are “hidden with Christ in God” [Colossians 3:3].  And our various scars, visible or not, are nothing compared to his.  Jesus was scarred when he hung on the cross – ugly, deep scars that disfigured his face and body, but his scars are a reminder to us that there is life after scars – even scars that result in death.  God’s word reminds us that “by his wounds, we are healed.” [I Peter 2:24]
 
Do you have physical and/or emotional scars in your life?  Check to see.  Then give praise to God!  You’re still alive!  He brought you through!  Even better, you’re alive in Jesus!  Because of his scars - and stripes and beatings and bleeding and dying and rising from the dead, you and I are alive – forever!  Compared to that, what’s a little wound in our emotions or a little scrape on our bodies?
 

WHEN HEAVEN JUMPS TO ITS FEET

     There is one thing, more than any other thing, that makes all of heaven jump to its feet in celebration.  One verse in Scripture declares what it is.  “There is more rejoicing in heaven over one [get that - ONE] sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous people who do not need to repent.”  Luke 15:7
     With that statement, Jesus concludes his three parables that are related to the lost being found: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son – each of which was found and resulted in great rejoicing.  When the lost person is found, there is great rejoicing in heaven.  Actually, there is also little on earth to compare with seeing a lost person come to Jesus and realize that in him, they have come out of “lostness” into “foundness;” they have come out of darkness in to the Light; out of ignorance into understanding; out of death into life; out of sin into salvation; out of hell into heaven.  That also gives cause for rejoicing while we Believers in Christ are yet here on earth.
     What is that one thing, that one event that takes place that makes all of hell jump to its feet in celebration?  Is it possible that Satan rejoices when no one seeks the lost and they stay lost?  Does all hell jump to its feet when it sees the ninety nine righteous people go their merry way and pay no attention to the one weak, straggling, lost sheep that can be easily picked off?  Satan loves to ‘pick out’ and ‘pick off.’  Do the minions of hell celebrate when they see the ones called ‘Righteous’ fighting over doctrine as to who is right and who is wrong, while their neighbors are trapped in sin that leads to death? 
     Do demons tell each other to just be patient because many of the “Found” can’t seem to agree whether there even is a hell or that anyone is lost?  Just be patient!  Then we can celebrate!
     Jesus made it very clear that he “came to seek and save the lost.” [Luke 19:10]  He came to seek and save the lost so that they would not be lost forever.  He came to take away any reason for Satan and Hell to celebrate.  Perhaps that is one reason as to why he has called you and me to share the good news of God’s love for all people, so that the lost can be found, and all heaven – including us “Found ones” here on earth, can jump also to our feet in joyful celebration.
 

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In spite of the media problems we experienced on Give BIG day, we received $13,609.34 doubled to $27,218.68 plus $774.00 from the stretch fund.  All together, we received $27,992.68. Some people accidentally donated double or triple amounts because the giving site (Kimbia) was timing out and experiencing difficulty handling the load.  If you are one of those people and would like to be reimbursed for your additional gifts please let us know.  We will refund the amounts you did not intend to give.  Thank you for your participation and patience.  God's blessings on each of you. --  Peg

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