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“Then Peter….said: ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  Jesus said to him: ‘ I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'”  Matthew 18:21, 22

” A new commandment I give to you that you love one another; as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34, 35

Full disclosure: the I did not make up this title but it comes from a song by the same name written by Peter Scholtes.

Jesus is preparing His disciples for a time that he is not physically with them.  He is preparing them for a time when they will be going forward, into the world, in His Name.  Jesus knows that the world will have considerable doubt about these men.  Even those who might be inclined to believe in Jesus will want to know that these men come with the authentic message of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Jesus lays it out simply.  Jesus tells them:  “if you love Me then keep my commandments”.  You see the hearers were not going to just decide to follow Jesus based on what they heard from these men, but what they saw also.

What did Jesus want the people to see in His disciples.  Jesus wanted people to see love.  Jesus wanted the people to see the disciples loving and serving each other; but not just each other.  Jesus wanted the disciples to be showing His love to the world.  How would that love be shown?  The love of Jesus Christ would be shown through loving forgiveness, not just once but as often as necessary.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church is not a stranger to hatred.  The church has been burnt down and seen its members threatened and even beaten before.  Yet the church was and is seen as a beacon of openness and sanctuary of hope.  Throughout their history, when they could have lashed out in hatred, given up and moved to a place where they would feel more safe, they instead, forgave and stayed put to continue to show forth Christ’s love.

On the evening of Wednesday June 17th, hatred came to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  A blind hatred much the same as that hurled against the Savior, Himself, as He hung on that tree.  Nine beautiful saints died that night.  What’s a Christian to do? The world would want a hate spewed, violence filled, catastrophic response.  What’s a Christian to do who wants to show that He or She is a disciple of Christ?

Disciples came to Emanuel AME church, that Wednesday night and have been coming ever since.  The disciples came not with weapons in their hands, not with chants of “burn it down!”not with menacing in their souls.  The disciples came with love, with song, with tears and prayers.  The young man so filled with evil hatred, who perpetrated this horrific crime was caught.  He was brought in front of a magistrate and families of the slain victims were in the courtroom.  The judge allowed them to speak.  Those who spoke could have cried out for vengeance, for lynching, for eternal damnation of this boy’s soul.  Instead, most spoke of pain, the awful pain this young man had inflicted and then they forgave him.

Other disciples in the community of Charleston SC could have taken to the street with malevolent anger in their hearts wanting to strike out in frustration and to destroy.  Was their anger and confusion; sure, yet expressed not in violence but in somber reflection of how this type of hate still exists.  There was sorrow and grieving yet also in the midst of this despair there was also love and unbelievably, at least to the world, hope.

Other disciples in other cities and towns across the nation and even across the world could have struck out in anger hoping to divide and devastate.  Yes people did come together, and they marched.  But they didn’t march to the chants of violence, flanked on their sides by rows of police officers in riot gear, with the sting and choking smell of tear gas in the air.  No, they marched to the sweet sounds of hymns being sung, walking hand in hand, all races, all genders and even various faiths.

How do we know that these were disciples of Christ; by their love.  Jesus Christ is calling to each of us, whether touched by this tragedy or some other attack against us.  Do not look to gouge out the eye in return, don’t look to knock out the tooth, instead; follow Jesus Christ.  Follow Jesus Christ in forgiving they that come against you.  Follow Jesus Christ in loving others; yes to be sure your fellow disciples, your fellow travelers on the road with and to Christ.  Yet Jesus asks more of us.  Jesus Christ asks us to follow His example of, when He was hanging on the cross, innocent yet so hated, wronged by those He so wanted to help.  Jesus Christ forgave them.  Jesus Christ forgave His tormentors.  Jesus Christ showed He loved His enemies.  That is a very, very difficult thing to do.  In fact I don’t believe it is possible unless Jesus Christ resides in our hearts.  However, I do believe with Jesus Christ it is possible to do.  Just look at the Christians of Emanuel AME Church, look at the Christians of Charleston SC, look at the Christian response across the nation to this terrible act.  With the love they are showing, I know that they are Christians.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we so thank You Father, that You sent Your Son Jesus Christ to us to show us the true meaning of love and how to live it.  Help us to be like Christ and show to the world the power of true love and the healing power of forgiveness.  Be with those grieving families and members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, comforting them as You have promised to do.  Let the world see the power of this kind of love and know that it comes not from us as good human beings, but comes freely for all, just as they are, from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man and he said to Nathan: ‘ As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die!”  2 Samuel 12:5

“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged……”  Matthew 7:1

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” so the old saying goes.  If I’m willing to take my own medicine, am I not justified in forcing that medicine onto another I judge to be diseased or evil?  Let’s take a moment to look at this in a real life.

As we have read earlier, David is a king.  Great in victories, great in wealth, great in wisdom, great in popularity; loving of and loved by God.  He has it all; well…………..not exactly.  What he does not have is Bathsheba who he sees bathing next door.  He takes her, sleeps with her, impregnates her and to cover all that up, has her husband, in every respect a good and decent man, killed.

So now David should be feeling really terrible about himself.  David should have judged himself unworthy; confessed his crime which would have surely meant giving up the throne and most probably being stoned to death.  David, I’m sure you will judge rightly and do the honorable thing.  Hmmm, David?  Hello David? This not exactly what David does.

Scripture tells us that after Bathsheba’s husband is killed in battle (murdered, set up secretly by David), she goes through the mourning period and then David brings her into his palace to be his queen; seemingly as if nothing nefarious had happened.  But remember, God sees what others don’t.  God sees the heart.  God will not let this sin go.  There is a prophet in Israel named Nathan.  God sends Nathan to David.  Nathan has a plan.  Nathan does not come directly out and confront King David with his evil deeds.  No, Nathan wants King David himself to see and understand the disgusting treachery which he has committed against an innocent man.

Here’s where the judgement, and the danger of judging others comes into play.  For Nathan tells King David a story of two of his subjects.  One is meek, poor, innocent but a good man.  The other is a rich, vile, greedy, powerful man.  What’s interesting in the story is that the rich man did not kill the poor man.  But the rich man, who had flocks and flocks of wonderful sheep, takes the one lamb that the poor man has and kills and eats it instead of taking one from his own flock.  King David is outraged at the rich man’s greed, insensitivity and arrogant behavior against the poor man.  He pronounces the judgement, even invoking the Lord’s name within it:  This man shall die!

Nathan then springs the trap.  “David, you are that rich man!” Nathan tells him.  You are the one with riches and many lambs; in this case wives.  You saw a wife of another, a good man who had only one but who loved her dearly and you took her.  If that was not bad enough, you killed the husband to have her.  At least we can say this about David; when the veil is removed and it is shown to him, how evil he has acted, David does not try to bluff, bargain or excuse his way out of it.  David’s response?  “I have sinned against the Lord!”

Here’s the lesson for you and I, dear brothers and sisters.  David was so willing to judge the story of the two men.  He was so quickly ready to rein down devastation in righteous indignation to the rich man who had abused the poor man.  King David, who had many wives himself, but saw no real problem in killing to get just one more, who was not overwhelmed by guilt but continued on in his kingship, this same King David felt completely righteous in condemning another to the ultimate penalty for an offense lessor than his own.

David was far removed from being able to apply the same judgement to himself, that he would easily apply to others.  Wise was Jesus in talking about the planks of wood in our own eyes, versus the splinters in other people’s eyes. Wise was Our Savior in extolling us to first look to ourselves and leave the judging to the Only One who is perfect, who has nothing blocking His Vision in judgement.

Perhaps a final question you might ask is:  Are you saying that I should at least be judging myself?  Should I not be pronouncing a sentence of condemnation upon my own head for my own deeds?  Having sinned, should I not go through life under a cloud of judgement?  The devil might tell us to.  Yet Paul, through the Holy Spirit, answers us totally different.  We, who by the Grace of God, believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, are saved from condemnation and death by the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  If I am not and have no right to judge others; then I also have no right to judge even myself.  God has the right.  Our Heavenly Father has seen fit to be merciful as on He can.  Saving us from judgement to life ever lasting. Amen

So let it be that in response; we live a life in the spirit; attempting with all of our being not to sin.  Yet understand we are imperfect flesh and imperfect spirit and we will sin.  Others will sin.  Let us truly repent and urge others to do likewise.  Yet let us refrain from pronouncing any sort of judgement on others or ourselves.  Let love be our guide.  Let the Love, Mercy and Forgiveness, Our Heavenly Father shows to us daily, be the example we strive to live to each other.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we thank You that You have seen fit to respond to our sins’; our evil thoughts, words and deeds with mercy and forgiveness instead of the Judgement we deserve.  Thank you for the sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ, that we may come blameless into Your Presence.  Give us the strength to avoid the temptation of judging whether it be others or ourselves.  That each day, by Your Example, we may live a life closer to sinless perfection.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.”  John 14:11

Everywhere you look these days there is some type of test that we can take that will give us information about ourselves.  There is the DISC and the MBTI that attempt to give us our personality types.  There are tests that give us information about how we best learn, how we see and use emotions, how we select partners and on and on.  Of course the underlying theme to all these tests is the concept that we are different.  Not only that, but if there is going to be a successful relationship between ourselves and the world around us (be it work, family, church, volunteer groups etc.) those differences need to be taken into account.

Jesus is meeting with His disciples the last time before He is taken away to His death.  Judas has already left so here then is the core of His believers who are going take His message forward.  Yet even here, at this point with their walk with Him, they don’t fully understand.  When Jesus says He is going somewhere they can’t follow, Peter claims that he will follow Jesus anywhere, even to death.  That’s when Jesus predicts Peter’s denial.  Jesus tells them that they will now know The Father because they know Jesus.  Philip asks Jesus to show him The Father.

A basic theme throughout Jesus’ ministry has been to bring light to the nature of The Father; what His Kingdom is like, the Love He has for us.  The people respond often about asking for proof.  Now here is where we get into the different types of people.  There are some people who need proof in terms of historical context.  Jesus often quotes scripture pointing to who the Messiah was going to be and how He was going to act.  Jesus then points out that He is acting just as scripture predicted.  Some need material proof in the now.  They need to see to believe.  Jesus provides them with miracle after miracle to show His messianic power.  Some need to feel the truth emotionally.  Jesus spends so much of His ministry speaking on love; first the Father’s love for us and thus the love we should have for one another.  For those who like logical arguments, Jesus lays out how the He is doing the Will of the Father, glorifying the Father and then how The Father will glorify Jesus in return.  Near the end, in an almost desperate plea to Philip, Jesus says: Believe.  Believe because of what I’ve said (which I’ve also outlined about what was predicted about me) or if you can’t go there believe because of what you have seen; the amazing miracles you’ve experience.  Only for your sake (not God sake) believe.

I believe His same plea is laid out in front of the world, including you and I today.  In a way He is asking:  “What is going to take for you to believe?”  Jesus knows that we are different, that we approach things, make decisions based on different things.  Jesus is telling us:  I have given you everything you need to believe.  There are words and there are actions and they are all consistent.  And as if that were not enough, I, the Only Son of God, I, who have been there from the very beginning.  I, who have all power, all knowledge, perfect wisdom, perfect judgement.  I, your Savior, your King, will have given my very life asking only in return that you believe.  I don’t know how much more He can do.

Brothers and sisters, know that we have been shown and are shown The Father through Jesus Christ.  If we are analytical, there is a logic to Jesus Christ’s message.  If we are emotional, there is no greater love to Jesus Christ’s message.  He is reaching out to each of us and to the world:  Only Believe.  May it be that our response is to truly and completely believe in Him who has given and done whatever it takes.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we humbly admit that we can be a stubborn people.  Forgive us when we ask for proof and ask for it in a way that we can connect to.  We are so thankful Most Generous Father that You have seen fit to show us Yourself in so many ways; in Word as well as Deed.  Help us to strengthen our belief in You that in so doing our eyes will be opened and our lives changed through the Truth that is Your Love for us and that we will respond with lives that bring praise to Your Most Holy Name.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

 

“…for such is the kingdom of God.  Assuredly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”  Mark 10:15

“….but when I became a man; I put away childish things”  1 Corinthians 13:11

As we come to that time of year where we celebrate the birth of the Child, it seems fitting to perhaps reflect on what is said and thought about being like a child.

Ah childhood, a period of time in popular culture (sadly not a universal actual happening) that is wistfully looked upon as a time of innocence and blissful joy.  A time where possibilities seem endless and the spirit soars at each new encounter.

Yet then again, rarely do you hear an adult called a brat and to the extent that the terms is used on an adult it congers up pictures of tantrum throwing little kids.  Bullies and bullying was a term, until more recently, relegated to the time frame of childhood and adolescence.  I have heard the phrase: “Gullible as a newborn….”  Sticking one’s tongue out, holding their breath until they turn blue are all characteristics that we tend to associate with the not so wonderful side of childhood.

And as wonderful as we might think the time period of being a child might be; isn’t as adults, with out insight and wisdom, drive and ambition, depth and breadth of our experience; aren’t we the people who really get things done?  So what are we to make of Jesus Christ’s admonition?  Especially when placed alongside Paul’s admonition to the Corinthian’s to put away childish things.

One story that seems to illustrate this to me came from my own experience with my own children.  Driving in the car when they were very young, the sun is shining in their eyes and being restrained in car seats, they could not move to block it.  So the request came very matter-of-factly and with ever confidence that it could be done:  “Please turn off the sun, it is in my eyes!”  (This was the beginning of a long downward slide in my children’s realization of the multitude of things I couldn’t do)  The amazing thing to me at the time, and still today, was how reasonable the request seemed to them.  This was a very natural thing that a loving father could do.  Please, Please don’t get caught up in the absurdity of request in terms of its fulfillment.  Think more in terms of faith and trust involved, the steadfast belief in their father.  Of course I could not fulfill their wish to turn off the sun.  However, what I did do was to pull over and pull down the shade (safety designed for cars) to block the sun from them.  Here again is a key distinction concerning the sufficiency of my response.  I did not turn off the sun, which was the original request, yet they were perfectly content that the sun was still shining but no longer into their eyes. (If only all requests were so easy).

There is another aspect to a child’s perspective that is different from adults.  They can (if taught) more easily learn a respect and even awe for authority.  Think about it, they know or can be easily shown that they are not in control.  They can be physically picked up and relocated whether it was within their will or not.  They are unable (talking young toddlers here) to fend for themselves, to get their own food, provide their own shelter.  There is an innate belief and trust in a child that the adults in their lives are doing what is best for them simply because of the power that the adults have.  It is this inability to fend for themselves as well as their trusting nature that sadly gets manipulated into their abuse at times by evil adults in their world.  So here’s the thing; my children learned that I have limitations.  There were and are many things that I just could not do.  Not only that, some of the things I did, using what I thought was my best judgement, turned out not to be good.  I am imperfect!

Jesus says though we need to receive the kingdom of God as a child, and in fact that if we don’t we won’t enter it.  Children trust.  Adults say trust, but verify.  Children believe until proven wrong.  Adults say prove it to me and then I’ll believe.  If you say come or go to your little child they will often do so; an adult will first ask; what is in it for me.  When faced with a tough situation; a child will ask for and accept help.  An adult will say, and so often we applaud; let me get through this on my own.

What are then to make of Paul’s admonition about putting away childish things?  The Corinthians had taken the Word preached by Paul but then wanted to do things there own way.  They wanted to pout when they were corrected.  It is childish to want everything our way.  If my children had screamed and cried because the sun was still on, though not shining in their eyes; that would have been childish.  If I can’t have my way, I won’t play any more is a childish way to think and must be put away.  The only way to answer my prayer is the way I want it.  And if you won’t do that God; I’ll take my soul home and you can’t have it!  Childish

How can it be safe for us to approach God with the faith, trust, acceptance and awe of a child?  It only works because unlike us, God is perfect.  His love is perfect.  His plan is perfect.  As the Creator of all there is nothing, Nothing beyond his capability.  Did He use that capability to condemn us for our sins against Him?  Are we who believe in Him and Jesus Christ judged to eternal punishment?  He could have.  Maybe as a parent we would have.  No, instead God sent His  Only Son to take our place; to take our punishment.  That is the Love the Father has for us.  I know how desperately I want and need to be his child.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father forgive me when I am a childish adult.  Forgive when I only want my way, when I desire proof before I will trust You, when I tell you thanks but no thanks to the help You most generously wish to provide.  Grant that I might have the proper spirit of a child; trusting in You completely, joyfully basking in the warmth of Your Loving Arms, being wholeheartedly grateful for all that You have, are and will do for me.  Give me the spirit to share my blessings freely with all I encounter.  So, that as children can so sweetly do not worrying about quality or whose listening, we will raise our voices in praise to You.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

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