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

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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]

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Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us. . . . 
~ EPHESIANS 5:2
 

 People of Hospitality

Is it just me, or is human contact going the way of the snow leopard? There was a time when every activity spurred a conversation. Service your car; greet the attendant. Deposit a check at the bank; chat with the teller about the weather. Buy a gift, and speak with the salesclerk. Not now. You can gas up with a credit card, make deposits online, and order a gift over the Internet. You can cycle through a day of business and never say hello.

Call us a fast society, an efficient society, but don’t call us a personal society. Our society is set up for isolation. We wear earbuds when we exercise. We communicate via e-mail and text messages. We enter and exit our houses with gates and garage door openers. Our mantra: “I leave you alone. You leave me alone.” 

Yet God wants his people to be an exception. Let everyone else go the way of computers and keyboards. God’s children will be people of hospitality.

Long before the church had pulpits and baptisteries, she had kitchens and dinner tables. “The believers met together in the Temple every day. They ate together in their homes, happy to share their food with joyful hearts” (Acts 2:46 NCV). 

It’s no wonder that the elders were to be “given to hospitality” (1 Timothy 3:2 KJV). The primary gathering place of the church was the home. . . .

Not everyone can serve in a foreign land, lead a relief effort, or volunteer at the downtown soup kitchen. But who can’t be hospitable? Do you have a front door? A table? Chairs? Bread and meat for sandwiches? Congratulations! You just qualified to serve in the most ancient of ministries: hospitality. 

~ OUTLIVE YOUR LIFE

Lord Jesus, may we open our homes to serve others. May we give a meal or a minute or a meaningful time of fellowship to others. May we joyfully share what we can in your name to bring hope and healing to the hurting, amen.

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.
~ 1 TIMOTHY 6:11 

 A friend loves at all times. 
~  PROVERBS 17:17 

The world of the generous gets larger and larger. 
~  PROVERBS 11:24 MSG

Live Loved

Do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
~EPHESIANS 6:4 

 Cherish Your Children

Quiet heroes dot the landscape of our society. They don’t wear ribbons or kiss trophies; they wear spit-up and kiss boo-boos. They don’t make the headlines, but they do sew the hemlines and check the outlines and stand on the sidelines. You won’t find their names on the Nobel Prize short list, but you will find their names on the homeroom, carpool, and Bible teacher lists. 

They are parents, both by blood and deed, name and calendar. Heroes. News programs don’t call them. But that’s okay. Because their kids do . . . They call them Mom. They call them Dad. And these moms and dads, more valuable than all the executives and lawmakers west of the Mississippi, quietly hold the world together.

Be numbered among them. Read books to your kids. Play ball while you can and they want you to. Make it your aim to watch every game they play, read every story they write, hear every recital in which they perform.

Children spell love with four letters: T-I-M-E. Not just quality time, but hang time, downtime, anytime, all the time. Your children are not your hobby; they are your calling.

Cherish the children who share your name. 

~ FACING YOUR GIANTS

Lord God, when you give us children, you give us a precious treasure. May we be serious about raising our children to serve you. Teach us how to train them to love you and serve you. May we be good examples to them of godliness. May our lives reflect your character. May our mouths speak forth your words. May our hearts be filled with compassion and wisdom to help our children fulfill your purpose for their lives, amen.

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
~ MATTHEW 18:10 [NIV]

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
~ MARK 9:37 [NIV]

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. 
~  EPHESIANS 6:4 [NIV]

Live Loved

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
~ ROMANS 3:23

Forgiven to Forgive

Who wants to live with yesterday’s rubble? Who wants to hoard the trash of the past? You don’t, do you?

Or do you? 

Not in your house, mind you, but in your heart? Not the junk of papers and boxes, but the remnants of anger and hurt. Do you pack-rat pain? Amass offenses? Record slights?

A tour of your heart might be telling. A pile of rejections stockpiled in one corner. Accumulated insults filling another. Images of unkind people lining the wall, littering the floor.

No one can blame you. Innocence takers, promise breakers, wound makers, you’ve had your share. Yet doesn’t it make sense to get rid of their trash? Jesus says: Give the grace you’ve been given.

Let’s calculate our indebtedness to him. How often do you sin, hmm, in an hour? To sin is to “fall short” (Romans 3:23). Worry is falling short on faith. Impatience is falling short on kindness. The critical spirit falls short on love. How often do you come up short with God? For the sake of discussion, let’s say ten times an hour and tally the results. Ten sins an hour, times sixteen waking hours (assuming we don’t sin in our sleep), times 365 days a year, times the average male life span of seventy-four years. I’m rounding the total off at 4,300,000 sins per person.

Tell me, how do you plan to pay God for your 4.3 million sin increments? Your payout is unachievable. Unreachable. You’re swimming in a Pacific Ocean of debt.

Yet God pardons the zillion sins of selfish humanity. Forgives 60 million sin-filled days. “Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. . . .” (Romans 3:24 MSG). Multimillion-dollar forgiveness should produce a multimillion-dollar forgiver, shouldn’t it?

~ EVERY DAY DESERVES A CHANCE

Gracious Father, you have forgiven selfish humanity for every selfish sin. You have reached out in grace, mercy, and forgiveness without keeping count. When we are tempted to withhold forgiveness from others, may we remember how often you have forgiven us. Teach us to be as generous to others as you have been to us. May we never tire of being compassionate forgivers, amen.

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.
~ PSALM 32:5 

 Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 
~  MATTHEW 6:12

Live Loved

Use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God.
~ ROMANS 6:13 [NLT]

God’s Tool, God’s Temple 

When it comes to our bodies, the Bible declares that we don’t own them. “You are no longer your own. God paid a great price for you. So use your body to honor God” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20 CEV). Use your body to indulge your passions? To grab attention? To express your opinions? No. Use your body to honor God. “Use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God” (Romans 6:13 NLT). Your body is God’s instrument, intended for his work and for his glory. . . .

What work is more important than God’s? Doesn’t it stand to reason that God’s tools should be maintained? . . .

Maintain God’s instrument. Feed it. Rest it. When he needs a sturdy implement—a servant who is rested enough to serve, fueled enough to work, alert enough to think—let him find one in you. He uses you. . . .

Your body, God’s tool. Maintain it.

Your body, God’s temple. Respect it.

“God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20 MSG).

Manage God’s house in such a way that passersby stop and notice. “Who lives in that house?” they will ask. And when they hear the answer, God will be honored.

~ IT’S NOT ABOUT ME

Heavenly Father, our bodies belong to you; they do not belong to us. We are your children, and we want to use our bodies as tools to honor you. Help us to be faithful to care for our bodies with proper food and rest and exercise. Teach us how to be good stewards of the bodies you created for us. Forgive us when we do not take care of what really belongs to you. May we be faithful to maintain and respect our bodies in a way that brings honor and glory to you, amen.

I discipline my body and bring it into subjection.
~ 1 CORINTHIANS 9:27 

 Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 
~  1 CORINTHIANS 6:19 

To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 
~ ROMANS 8:6

Live Loved

God] comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
~ 2 CORINTHIANS 1:4 [NLT]

Crossing Cultures, Touching Hearts

God loves the nations. He loves Iraqis. Somalians. Israelis. New Zealanders. Hondurans. He has a white-hot passion to harvest his children from every jungle, neighborhood, village, and slum. “All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Numbers 14:21 ESV). During the days of Joshua, God brought his people into Canaan “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty” (Joshua 4:24 ESV). David commanded us to “sing to the Lord, all the earth! . . . Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Psalm 96:1, 3 ESV). God spoke to us through Isaiah: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV). His vision for the end of history includes “people for God from every tribe, language, people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9 NCV).

God longs to proclaim his greatness in all 6,909 languages that exist in the world today.20 He loves subcultures: the gypsies of Turkey, the hippies of California, the cowboys and rednecks of West Texas. He has a heart for bikers and hikers, tree huggers and academics. Single moms. Gray-flanneled executives. He loves all people groups and equips us to be his voice. He commissions common Galileans, Nebraskans, Brazilians, and Koreans to speak the languages of the peoples of the world. He teaches us the vocabulary of distant lands, the dialect of the discouraged neighbor, the vernacular of the lonely heart, and the idiom of the young student. God outfits his followers to cross cultures and touch hearts.

Lord God, you love the entire world. You want your kingdom to include people from every corner of this earth. You care about the needs of all people groups, and you want us to touch them with your love. Cleanse our hearts from any thoughts of superiority or inferiority among the people of the world. Let us embrace all tribes and nations and cultures and speak to them the language of your love. Teach us to be gracious in our speech and to bring out the best in others. We want to cross cultures and touch hearts, amen.

I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.
~ ISAIAH 49:6

Truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.
~ NUMBERS 14:21

Live Loved

Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.
~ JOHN 11:26

God’s Loving Welcome

I love to hear my wife say “whoever.” Sometimes I detect my favorite fragrance wafting from the kitchen: strawberry cake. I follow the smell like a bird dog follows a trail until I’m standing over the just-baked, just-iced pan of pure pleasure. Yet I’ve learned to still my fork until Denalyn gives clearance.

“Who is it for?” I ask.

She might break my heart. “It’s for a birthday party, Max. Don’t touch it!”

Or she might throw open the door of delight. “Whoever.” And since I qualify as a “whoever,” I say “yes.”

Whoever. The pronoun is wonderfully indefinite. After all, who isn’t a whoever?

The word sledgehammers racial fences and dynamites social classes. It bypasses gender borders and surpasses ancient traditions. Whoever makes it clear: God exports his grace worldwide. For those who attempt to restrict it, Jesus has a word: Whoever.

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven” 
~ Matthew 10:32 [NIV]

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” ~ Matthew 10:39 [NIV]

“Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” 
~ Mark 3:35 [NIV]

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” 
~ Mark 16:16 [NIV]

We lose much in life—sobriety, solvency, and sanity. We lose jobs and chances, and we lose at love. We lose youth and its vigor, idealism and its dreams. We lose much, but we never lose our place on God’s “whoever” list.

Whoever—God’s wonderful word of welcome.

~ 3:16: THE NUMBERS OF HOPE 

Heavenly Father, your welcoming love is so refreshing. When there are so many qualifications and restrictions to love here on earth, your love for anyone and everyone is touches our hearts. We praise you for loving us enough to send your Son to die for us. May we take advantage of every opportunity to tell others about your welcoming love, especially those who feel left on the fringes of life, amen.

“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.” 
~ MATTHEW 10:32 [NIV]  

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” 
~ MATTHEW 10:39 [NIV]

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Live Loved

Let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
~ EPHESIANS 5:33

Your Marriage Masterpiece

Consider it your Testore cello. This finely constructed, seldom-seen instrument has reached the category of rare and is fast earning the status of priceless. Few musicians are privileged to play a Testore; even fewer are able to own one.

I happen to know a man who does. He, gulp, loaned it to me for a sermon. Wanting to illustrate the fragile sanctity of marriage, I asked him to place the nearly-three-centuries-old instrument on the stage, and I explained its worth to the church.

How do you think I treated the relic? Did I twirl it, flip it, and pluck the strings? No way. The cello is far too valuable for my clumsy fingers. Besides, its owner loaned it to me. I dared not dishonor his treasure. 

On your wedding day, God loaned you his work of art: an intricately crafted, precisely formed masterpiece. He entrusted you with a one-of-a-kind creation. Value her. Honor him. Having been blessed with a Testore, why fiddle around with anyone else? .

Be fiercely loyal to one spouse. Fiercely loyal. Don’t even look twice at someone else. No flirting. No teasing. No loitering at her desk or lingering in his office. Who cares if you come across as rude or a prude? You’ve made a promise. Keep it. . . .

Make your wife the object of your highest devotion. Make your husband the recipient of your deepest passion. Love the one who wears your ring.

~ Facing Your Giants

Father God, we dedicate our marriage to you. We ask that you would help us develop a relationship that pleases you in all ways. May we walk in step with each other and in step with your plans for our marriage. Help us to cultivate a sacrificial love for each other. May we love each other with diligence and consideration. Teach us to be gracious to each other and kind, setting aside all selfish interests for the good of the one who wears our ring. We want to give each other our highest devotion and our deepest passion. Most of all, we want our marriage to please you, amen.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and two will become one flesh’. . . . So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
~ MATTHEW 19:5–6 [NIV]

Each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.
~ 1 CORINTHIANS 7:2–3 [NIV]

Live Loved

Conduct your lives in love.
~ 2 JOHN 6 [MSG]

The God-Centered Life

Self-promotion. Self-preservation. Self-centeredness. It’s all about me!

They all told us it was, didn’t they? Weren’t we urged to look out for number one? Find our place in the sun? Make a name for ourselves? We thought self-celebration would make us happy . . . But what chaos this philosophy creates.

What if a symphony orchestra followed such an approach? Can you imagine an orchestra with an “It’s all about me” outlook? Each artist clamoring for self-expression. Tubas blasting nonstop. Percussionists pounding to get attention. The cellist shoving the flutist out of the center stage chair. The trumpeter standing atop the conductor’s stool, tooting his horn. Sheet music disregarded. Conductor ignored. What do you have but an endless tune-up session!

Would we see a change in families? We’d certainly hear a change. Less “Here is what I want!” More “What do you suppose God wants?” . . .

Life makes sense when we accept our place. The gift of pleasures, the purpose of problems—all for him. The God-centered life works. And it rescues us from a life that doesn’t.

~ IT’S NOT ABOUT ME

O Lord, rescue us from self-promotion and self-centeredness. Remind us that it is the God-centered life that works. Help us learn what part you want us to play in the orchestra of life, and give us the grace to make your song our highest priority. May we be willing to decrease so that you and your kingdom might increase. Give us godly hearts that serve you by serving others, amen

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
~ ISAIAH 55:11 

A thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan, to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 
~  2 CORINTHIANS 12:7 [NKJV]