Live Loved

Take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. 
~ EPHESIANS 3:18 [MSG] 
 

Loved with a Heavenly Love

Your goodness can’t win God’s love. Nor can your badness lose it. But you can resist it.

I have a feeling that most people who defy and deny God do so more out of fear than conviction. For all our chest pumping and braggadocio, we are anxious folk—can’t see a step into the future, can’t hear the one who owns us. No wonder we try to gum the hand that feeds us.

But God reaches and touches. He speaks through the immensity of the Russian plain and the density of the Amazon rain forest. Through a physician’s touch in Africa, a bowl of rice in India. Through a Japanese bow or a South American abraço. He’s even been known to touch people through paragraphs like the ones you are reading. If he is touching you, let him.

Mark it down: God loves you with an unearthly love. You can’t win it by being winsome. You can’t lose it by being a loser. But you can be blind enough to resist it. 

Don’t. For heaven’s sake, don’t. For your sake, don’t.

“Take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18–19 MSG). Others demote you. God claims you. Let the definitive voice of the universe say, “You’re still a part of my plan.” . . . God will not let you go.

~ 3:16: THE NUMBERS OF HOPE 

Lord, you have reminded us of your loving plan of salvation. May we never try to replace your sacrificial gift with our own attempts to be good enough to deserve it. May we never forget that we don’t have to win your love. May we never fear that we might lose your love. Make us bold to tell others of this amazing gift, amen.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people.

~ PSALM 125:2

What manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!

~1 JOHN 3:1

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.

~EPHESIANS 3:19 NLT

Live Loved

The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.

~ 1 SAMUEL 18:1

You Have a Friend in Jesus

Jonathan could have been as jealous of David as Saul. As Saul’s son, he stood to inherit the throne. A noble soldier himself, he was fighting Philistines while David was still feeding sheep. 

Jonathan had reason to despise David, but he didn’t. He was gracious. Gracious because the hand of the Master Weaver took his and David’s hearts and stitched a seam between them. “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1).

As if the two hearts were two fabrics, God “needle and threaded” them together. So interwoven that when one moved, the other felt it. When one was stretched, the other knew it. . . . 

Oh, to have a friend like Jonathan. A soul mate who protects you, who seeks nothing but your interests, wants nothing but your happiness. An ally who lets you be you. You feel safe with that person. . . . God gave David such a friend.

He gave you one as well. David found a companion in a prince of Israel; you can find a friend in the King of Israel, Jesus Christ. Has he not made a covenant with you? Among his final words were these: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Has he not clothed you? He offers you “white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed” (Revelation 3:18). Christ cloaks you with clothing suitable for heaven. . . .

Catalog his kindnesses. Everything from sunsets to salvation—look at what you have. . . . Let Jesus be the friend you need.

FACING YOUR GIANTS

Precious Savior, you are the friend we need. We can trust you with our destiny. We find our identity in the life you plan out for us. We come to you freely in faith and love. In you we find help and hope for our daily needs. You are a friend who walks with us each minute and each step of the way. There is nowhere we can go but you have already been there. You know our thoughts and our feelings. Thank you for being our dearest friend, amen

~Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” 
~ JOHN 15:13 

“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
~ MATTHEW 28:20

I called on the LORD in distress; the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place. 
~ PSALM 118:5

Live Loved

Our Purpose

God made all things, and everything continues through him and for him. To him be the glory forever. 
~ ROMANS 11:36 [NCV]

If we boast at all, we “boast in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17 NASB). 

The breath you took as you read that last sentence was given to you for one reason, that you might for another moment “reflect the Lord’s glory” (3:18 NIV). 

God awoke you and me this morning for one purpose: “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples”
~ Chronicles 16:24 [NIV]. 

“God made all things, and everything continues through him and for him. To him be the glory forever”
~ Romans 11:36 [NCV]

 “There is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we exist for him”
~ 1 Corinthians 8:6 [NLT]

Why does the earth spin? For him. Why do you have talents and abilities? For him. Why do you have money or poverty? For him. Strength or struggles? For him. Everything and everyone exists to reveal his glory. Including you.

IT’S NOT ABOUT ME 

Father in heaven, may our only boast be in you. You have created everything and we exist for you. The earth spins for you. The moon shines for you. The flowers burst into bloom for you. May our lives bring glory to you. Use our talents and abilities for you. All our strengths and struggles are for you. Our hearts sing only for you and give you glory. May that always be the purpose and passion of our lives, amen.

Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works!
~ 1 CHRONICLES 16:9 

I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me. 
~ DANIEL 4:2 

 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness.
~ PSALM 107:8

Live Loved

May the God of peace . . . make you complete in every good work to do His will. . . . 
~ HEBREWS 13:20–21

Kindness without Compensation

Want to snatch a day from the manacles of boredom? Do overgenerous deeds, acts beyond reimbursement. Kindness without compensation. Do a deed for which you cannot be repaid. 

Here’s another idea. Get over yourself.

Moses did. One of history’s foremost leaders was “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3 NIV).

Mary did. When Jesus called her womb his home, she did not boast; she simply confessed: “I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve” (Luke 1:38 MSG). 

John the Baptist did. Though a blood relative of God on earth, he made this choice: “This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines” (John 3:30 MSG)

Most of all, Jesus did. “Jesus . . . was given a position ‘a little lower than the angels’ ” (Hebrews 2:9 NLT). 

Jesus chose the servants’ quarters. Can’t we?

We’re important, but not essential; valuable, but not indispensable. We have a part in the play, but we are not the main act. A song to sing, but we are not the featured voice. God is.

He did well before our birth; he’ll do fine after our deaths. He started it all, sustains it all, and will bring it all to a glorious climax. In the meantime, we have this high privilege: to surrender personal goals, discover the thrill of the doubled distance, do deeds for which we cannot be paid, seek problems that others avoid, deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Christ.

EVERY DAY DESERVES A CHANCE

Lord and Savior, you gave up your throne in heaven to be born as a tiny baby. You grew up the son of a humble carpenter. As a man here on earth, you chose the servants’ quarters. When we start thinking we are indispensable, remind us, Lord, that we are important but not essential. You are the main act. Thank you for letting us have even a small part to play in your grand scheme of things. May we be willing to go the extra mile and to deny ourselves for the sake of your kingdom, amen.

Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. 
~ ROMANS 12:16 

He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife, but he who trusts in the LORD will be prospered. ~ PROVERBS 28:25 

 “Not My will, but Yours, be done.” 
~  LUKE 22:42

Live Loved

We have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view.
~ 2 CORINTHIANS 5:16 [NLT
]  

Label Them or Love Them?

Categorizing others creates distance and gives us a convenient exit strategy for avoiding involvement.

Jesus took an entirely different approach. He was all about including people, not excluding them. “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14 MSG). Jesus touched lepers and loved foreigners and spent so much time with partygoers that people called him a “lush, a friend of the riffraff” (Matthew 11:19 MSG). Racism couldn’t keep him from the Samaritan woman; demons couldn’t keep him from the demoniac. His Facebook page included the likes of Zacchaeus the Ponzi-meister, Matthew the IRS agent, and some floozy he met at Simon’s house. Jesus spent thirty-three years walking in the mess of this world. “He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!” (Philippians 2:6–7 MSG). . . .

God calls us to change the way we look at people. Not to see them as Gentiles or Jews, insiders or outsiders, liberals or conservatives. Not to label. To label is to libel. “We have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16 NLT). 

Let’s view people differently; let’s view them as we do ourselves. Blemished, perhaps. Unfinished, for certain.

In our lifetimes you and I are going to come across some discarded people. Tossed out. Sometimes tossed out by a church. And we get to choose. Neglect or rescue? Label them or love them? We know Jesus’ choice. Just look at what he did with us.

Precious Savior, change the way we look at people. Forgive us for categorizing and classifying others. We have failed you by labeling people and keeping them at a distance. When you walked here on earth you reached out to all people, even the lepers and sinners. You came near to outcasts and misfits, and you touched them with love. Teach us to walk in the mess of the world like you did, breaking down barriers and reaching out with a helping hand, amen.

Love does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked. 
~ 1 CORINTHIANS 13:5 


 As we have opportunity, let us do good to all. GALATIANS 6:10 Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
~ 1 JOHN 4:7

Live Loved

He who heeds the word wisely will find good, and whoever trusts in the LORD, happy is he. 
~ PROVERBS 16:20

“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 6:19 NLT). Paul wrote these words to counter the Corinthian sex obsession. “Run away from sexual sin!” reads the prior sentence. “No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body” (v. 18 NLT)

What a salmon scripture! No message swims more upstream than this one. You know the sexual anthem of our day: “I’ll do what I want. It’s my body.” God’s firm response? “No, it’s not. It’s mine.” 

Be quick to understand, God is not antisex. Dismiss any notion that God is antiaffection and antiintercourse. After all, he developed the whole package. Sex was his idea. From his perspective, sex is nothing short of holy.

He views sexual intimacy the way I view our family Bible. Passed down from my father’s side, the volume is one hundred years old and twelve inches thick. Replete with lithographs, scribblings, and a family tree, it is, in my estimation, beyond value. Hence, I use it carefully.

When I need a step stool, I don’t reach for the Bible. If the foot of my bed breaks, I don’t use the family Bible as a prop. When we need old paper for wrapping, we don’t rip a sheet out of this book. We reserve the heirloom for special times and keep it in a chosen place. 

Regard sex the same way—as a holy gift to be opened in a special place at special times. The special place is marriage, and the time is with your spouse. 

~ IT’S NOT ABOUT ME

Lord God, may we treat the marriage covenant as sacred. May we resist any temptation to break down the walls of protection around our marriage. We want to honor you with our bodies and our sacred vows, amen.

Sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 
~ 1 CORINTHIANS 6:18 [NLT]

You must abstain from . . . sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. 
~ ACTS 15:29 [NLT]

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures. 
~  GALATIANS 5:19 [NLT

Live Loved

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” 
~ MATTHEW 5:7
 

 We Choose to Give Grace

Forgiveness is, at its core, choosing to see your offender with different eyes. When some Moravian missionaries took the message of God to the Eskimos, the missionaries struggled to find a word in the native language for forgiveness. They finally landed on this cumbersome twenty-four-letter choice: issumagijoujung-nainermik. This formidable assembly of letters is literally translated “not being able to think about it anymore.”

To forgive is to move on, not to think about the offense anymore. You don’t excuse him, endorse her, or embrace them. You just route thoughts about them through heaven. You see your enemy as God’s child and revenge as God’s job.

By the way, how can we grace-recipients do anything less? Dare we ask God for grace when we refuse to give it? This is a huge issue in Scripture. Jesus was tough on sinners who refused to forgive other sinners. Remember his story about the servant freshly forgiven a debt of millions who refused to forgive a debt equal to a few dollars? He stirred the wrath of God: “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt. . . . Shouldn’t you have mercy . . . just as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:32–33 NLT). 

In the final sum, we give grace because we’ve been given grace.

~ FACING YOUR GIANTS 

O Lord, Thank you for forgiving every sin of everyone who calls you Lord. May we be as merciful to others as you have been to your children. Teach us not only to forgive but also to forget about the offense. Fill our hearts with a willingness to leave the consequences in your hands. As you forgave a debt we could never pay, so we choose to forgive the debts of others, amen.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you. ~ COLOSSIANS 3:13 [NIV]

Always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. ~ 1 [THESSALONIANS 5:15]

Live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. ~ [2 CORINTHIANS 13:11]

Live Loved

As heaven’s advertising agency, we promote God in every area of life, including success. 

That’s right—even your success is intended to reflect God. Listen to the reminder Moses gave the children of Israel: “Remember He is the one the LORD your God who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he made with your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 8:18 NLT).

From where does success come? God. “It is the LORD your God who gives you power to become successful.”

And why does he give it? For his reputation. “To fulfill the covenant he made with your ancestors.”

God blessed Israel in order to billboard his faithfulness. When foreigners saw the fruitful farms of the Promised Land, God did not want them to think about the farmer but the farmer’s Maker. Their success advertised God.

Nothing has changed. God lets you excel so you can make him known. And you can be sure of one thing: God will make you good at something. This is his principle: “True humility and fear of the LORD lead to riches, honor, and long life” (Proverbs 22:4 NLT). . . .

“We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NASB). The ambassador has a singular aim—to represent his king. He promotes the king’s agenda, protects the king’s reputation, and presents the king’s will. The ambassador elevates the name of the king.

May we do the same. May God rescue us from self-centered thinking. May we have no higher goal than to see someone think more highly of our Father, our King.

~ IT’S NOT ABOUT ME 

Father, enable us to serve you with our whole hearts. Show us how to love, serve, help, teach, and care. May your will be done here on earth and in our lives. Teach us to center our goals and plans and ambitions on you. May the world know what an amazing and loving Savior you are, amen.

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” 
~  JOHN 15:13 

 “He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do.” 
~  JOHN 14:12 

 He gave some to be apostles, some prophets . . . and some pastors. 
~  EPHESIANS 4:11

Live Loved

“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 
~ ACTS 1:8

“You Will Be My Witnesses” 

The tall one in the corner—that’s Peter. Galilee thickened his accent. Fishing nets thickened his hands. Stubbornness thickened his skull. His biggest catch in life thus far has come with fins and gills. Odd. The guy pegged to lead the next great work of God knows more about bass and boat docks than he does about Roman culture or Egyptian leaders.

And his cronies: Andrew, James, Nathanael. Never traveled farther than a week’s walk from home. Haven’t studied the ways of Asia or the culture of Greece. Their passports aren’t worn; their ways aren’t sophisticated. Do they have any formal education? 

In fact, what do they have? Humility? They jockeyed for cabinet positions. Sound theology? Peter told Jesus to forget the cross. Sensitivity? John wanted to torch the Gentiles. Loyalty? When Jesus needed prayers, they snoozed. When Jesus was arrested, they ran. Thanks to their cowardice, Christ had more enemies than friends at his execution.

Yet look at them six weeks later, crammed into the second floor of a Jerusalem house, abuzz as if they’d just won tickets to the World Cup Finals. High fives and wide eyes. Wondering what in the world Jesus had in mind with his final commission: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV).

You hillbillies will be my witnesses. 

You uneducated and simple folk will be my witnesses.

You who once called me crazy, who shouted at me in the boat and doubted me in the Upper Room.

You will be my witnesses.

You will spearhead a movement that will explode out of Jerusalem like a just-opened fire hydrant and spill into the ends of the earth: into the streets of Paris, the districts of Rome, and the ports of Athens, Istanbul, Shanghai, and Buenos Aires.

I will praise You, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works. 
~ PSALM 9:1

Live Loved

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! 
~ MARK 9:24
 

 A Parent’s Concerns

Jairus was a Capernaum community leader, “one of the rulers of the synagogue” (Mark 5:22). Mayor, bishop, and ombudsman, all in one. The kind of man a city would send to welcome a celebrity. But when Jairus approached Jesus on the Galilean shoreline, he wasn’t representing his village; he was pleading on behalf of his child.

Urgency stripped the formalities from his greeting. He issued no salutation or compliment, just a prayer of panic. The gospel reads: “[Jairus] fell at his feet, pleading fervently with him. ‘My little daughter is dying,’ he said. ‘Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live’” (vv. 22–23 NLT).

Jairus isn’t the only parent to run onto gospel pages on behalf of a child. A mother stormed out of the Canaanite hills, crying, “Mercy, Master, Son of David! My daughter is cruelly afflicted by an evil spirit” (Matthew 15:22 MSG). A father of a seizure-tormented boy sought help from the disciples, then Jesus. He cried out with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

The Canaanite mother. The father of the epileptic boy. Jairus. These three parents form an unwitting New Testament society: struggling parents of stricken children. They held the end of their rope in one hand and reached toward Christ with the other. In each case Jesus responded. He never turned one away.

His consistent kindness issues a welcome announcement: Jesus heeds the concern in the parent’s heart. 

~ FEARLESS

Loving Father, every day brings opportunities for parents to panic about their children. There are so many unknown dangers and potential pitfalls we cannot control. But you are in control, Father. So we plead on behalf of our children. We ask you to protect them, to guide them, and to give us wisdom to raise them for your glory and honor. We thank you that you care about the concerns of a parent’s heart, amen.

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road. . . 

~ DEUTERONOMY 6:6–7 [NIV]

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. 
~  MATTHEW 19:13 [NLT]