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Back in February, there was a really moving story on TV about a young girl in Chicago who was killed by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting. Her organs were donated to six different persons. Each person came together with the mother of the slain girl to celebrate their happiness and joy because recipients had been given new life because of the death of this young person. There were hugs of gratitude and tears of delight as the recipients celebrated and at the same time, cried for the loss that made it possible.

As tragic and wonderful as this story is, it makes us wonder why don’t we celebrate and feel the gratitude and joy that these donor recipient’s felt when we consider the death of Jesus and the new eternal life that comes to us as a result. If we stop long enough to contemplate that the Son of God was killed so that we all could get a new heart transplant, then the joy we might feel might be contagious.

As we spread the joy to others, we will witness to them that our faith is not a bunch of “Thou shalt not’s” Rather, our contagious, joyful faith will infect and draw people to Jesus. Joyful people are kind people. Kind people are the most convincing evidence of God’s love.

It all starts with gratitude for the undeserved gift of a transplanted heart (grace). When we recognize the new life that new heart offers us, really recognize the enormity of the gift… Joy is the emotion… kindness is the gift to others… and to Jesus.

Ever consider the real reasons why we obey traffic laws, don’t we cheat on our income taxes, and do not even consider stealing shoes, perfume or other items when we go into a store? We all like to think of ourselves as upstanding, moral human beings. Our answer is most likely, “Because it is the right thing to do!”

But if we are honest with ourselves, a very big reason we obey the police, don’t steal, tell the truth on our taxes and are faithful to our spouses is FEAR. It is the fear of landing in jail… fear of going to prison for tax evasion and fear of divorce… or worse… if we got catch cheating.

So, ask yourself, why do we obey God’s laws? Why are we moral and regular church attenders? Could it be the same reason that we avoid the issues listed above… FEAR? Are we afraid that if we sleep around, do drugs or do not give enough to the church, God will notice and punish us? Are we frightened that if we do not memorize enough Scripture and volunteer the perfect number of hours, somehow we just might not be “good enough” to be accepted into heaven when it is our time to die? Is it a spirit of fear that is our incentive to live good lives?

The Bible speaks about how perfect love drives out fear. (See I John 4:18 and Romans 8:15). It expresses how the Holy Spirit writes the law of God on our hearts and does not make us slaves to fear or bondage. What does that mean for us?

It means that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us that the perfect love of God was coupled with His wisdom and expressed to us with Jesus death and resurrection.

It means that the Holy Spirit will change our incentives and motivations from fear to joyful gratitude.

The Holy Spirit points us towards recognition of the fact that in Jesus we have the perfect example of God’s love. When we recognize and receive this perfect gift our responses change. The fears of losing out, fears of not being good enough, fears of punishment are banished. As God’s heirs, we rest in the kind, loving arms of a God who valued us so much He sent His only Son to rescue us.

Live without fear!

Easter has passed. The celebrations have ended, but what are the lessons of Easter and the Cross for us going forward? What does the Cross tell us about ourselves and about God?

If we broke the law but received a summons in the mail from the NYPD, we might not consider our crime is not all that serious. If we found out that the NYPD had put out an APD (All Points Bulletin) on us, we would immediately know it is more serious. If the NYPD linked up with the FBI and a SWAT teams in helicopters, there would be no doubt that we that we were in serious trouble.

When we take stock of our lives we usually think, “We’re OK…not the best, but better than most.” We really feel that our sin is not that big of a deal. We sometimes wonder why God makes such a fuss over it. We sometimes think, God, just send us the speeding ticket and we will pay the fine…

So seriously consider this: What then does it say about our self-centered, human natures, our personal lives and behavior on Earth that it took the Son of God hanging on the Cross to make us right with God? Much more than being in trouble with the police force that requires a SWAT Team, we are out of sync with Almighty God. We are out of harmony with Him. What it tells us in BOLD TYPE is that we are more corrupted, messed up, sinful, than we ever dared imagine…and it took the Son of God’s death to fix it!

But wait! The news gets better…

Because, in God’s wisdom, He sent Jesus to pay the ransom for our debt (sin) it also shouts at us that we are more precious, more valued and more loved than we ever dared hope.

Here, in this passion play is the essence of the Gospel. We did not and cannot earn salvation. There are no tricks, good works or donations that we can offer to secure a righteous standing before God. Only our humble, surrendered hearts accepting this free gift allows us to stand before Him, justified.

Justified before God means two things: 1) because of the blood of Christ, we are declared “Not Guilty” but 2) we are declared “righteous.” This means we are perfect in front of God. We are a sweet aroma in God’s nostrils.

Women and men of God, let these facts about the meaning of the Cross wash over you. And after you realize the gift that is offered, accept it with humility and offer your lives in gratitude in serving Him.

Jesus and the Apostle Paul place a great deal of emphasis on being a “Son” of God and being called into “Sonship” with Christ (See Matthew 5:9; Luke 6:35; John 12:36; Romans 8:14 & 9: 26; Galatians 3:26 & 4: 4-6). For many women, these passages and references to the Son and Sonship irritate and sometimes cause women to turn away from the Gospel of Jesus. They feel it is not inclusive or worthy of 21st Century thinking. To many it seems outdated and therefore irrelevant.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Jesus is and was the ultimate supporter and promoter of women. To fully understand how significant His affirmations of women were then and are today, we must comprehend the culture of 1st Century Judea.  Then, a woman had no status, nor was her testimony admissible in courts of law.  Men could divorce their wives by simply saying, three times, “I divorce you.” Men were not expected to address women in public. Women were treated as possessions. In 1st Century Judea, you had to be a man to inherited family wealth.

Jesus, in 1st Century Judea, by contrast, was the ultimate feminist! No one bestowed honor and value and worth to women more than our Savior. Consider three occasions that prove this point. First, in John 4: 1-42, Jesus meets, talks and asks for a drink of water from the Samaritan woman at the well. By doing this, He broke the rules of male/female relationships. In John 8: 1-11, Jesus defends and counsels the woman caught in adultery. He protects her, values her and gently instructs her to “go and sin no more.” Lastly, in John 20: 11-18, Jesus first appears to Mary. He entrusts the most important moment and message of history to a woman! He empowers Mary, who would not normally be believed on any subject, with the responsibility of informing the disciples that He is Risen! By 1st Century standards, this would not have been considered a promising way to begin a religious movement.

Jesus was elevating women to men’s level. Full equality! When Jesus talked to all people about becoming Sons of God and Paul continues with his teachings that we are ALL heirs of God’s bounty and righteousness, they are speaking to ALL people…women included, that they are Sons of God! To Jews listening in 1st Century Jerusalem, Jesus was preaching a radical orthodoxy that made women equal to men. The announcement that all women are equal to men and heirs to the Kingdom of God speaks powerfully to the inclusiveness of the wonderful, God we serve.

truth

We are all bombarded with self-help programs; programs to treat violent anger, addiction, and other behavioral abnormalities. Sometimes our anger management classes bump into our 12-Step AA and NA schedules. If we are not in group therapy, we are in book clubs that discuss Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Most of these give good advice and counsel. But let’s not mistake good advice for the Good News of Jesus.

Jesus claims that He is the Son of God and the only way to the Father. He is the One who became flesh, was crucified, and rose from the dead. Jesus bridges the gap between sinful humanity and a perfect God. Christ became sin for all of us so that we might be able to live with God for eternity. He paid our debt.

The Good News of Jesus is similar to the New York Times, in that the newspaper shares accounts of events that actually happened—fact not fiction. And Jesus is not fiction. He lived, He loved, He died and He rose from the dead…fact, not fiction.

Jesus is not a self-help guru. To see Jesus as an ancient psychiatrist would be to miss His power and life-changing mission. Many of us prefer the self-help version of Jesus because it allows us to pick and choose which advice to follow. It permits us to keep the rules we like and discard the ones that complicate our lifestyles. It lets us try to save ourselves, rather than surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives.

Imitating Jesus’ commands and life choices is a good thing, but it is not good enough. He wants surrender, not imitation. Bending a knee in total surrender to the living person of Jesus as Savior and accepting His grace is the only way to salvation. This is the cornerstone lesson from the life of Jesus.

black and white jesus on cross

Many people around the world admire Jesus. They like Jesus because they feel He taught a moral and ethical philosophy that is in tune with their lifestyle and outlook on life. Jesus’ teachings of loving your neighbor as yourself, forgiving others and treating others, as you would like to be treated, resonates with people as wisdom and words to live by.

What people really dislike about Jesus is that He died on the Cross. Jesus dying on the Cross is offensive to a lot of people. Many men and women, who admire Jesus as a wise man want to believe that God grades our actions like a mathematics professor in college…on the curve. They feel that if they simply live a good life…not perfect, of course, but hey, who does…then when they stand before God, everybody will be just fine. We have done our best, and that should be good enough for a loving God to accept us into eternal glory.

Unfortunately, in the eyes of God we are all in the same sinful boat. All have sinned and fallen short. This fact is difficult for “good people” to believe. They cannot come to believe that in God’s eyes, a good guy like Paul Newman of Newman’s Own Charities is the same as Adolph Hitler. Dr. Timothy Keller once preached this marvelous analogy about this riddle. Suppose you asked three swimmers, one a novice, one a good swimmer and the other an Olympic champion, to swim from San Francisco to Hawaii. The first would drown within the first mile from shore. The second might make it five miles and the Olympic champion might make it 150 miles…but in the end, they all drown without a rescue boat.

Jesus’ death exposes our human hearts as so wicked and so deceitful and black with sin that only the death of His Son would be adequate to pay our penalty. That revelation and truth about our hearts is distasteful because it rips into the pride of men and stabs the ego that says we can contribute to our own salvation. To admit to ourselves that only the death of His Son would pay the price to get right with a holy and just God makes us furious and we reject Jesus.  We reject the dying Jesus because we all want to earn salvation ourselves. Human pride hates to bend a knee to anything greater that itself. This is the Offence of the Cross.

alive

Going to a funeral isn’t high on any of our lists. Funerals mean we’ve lost someone we know and love. We experience pain and sorrow, along with tears and crying. Not a very good time, usually.

Yet for us to get right with God, we’ve all got to attend what Oswald Chambers would call our own “white funeral”—the burial of our old lives. Jesus replied to Nicodemus, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 NIV) We call it a white funeral because our old natures—the accepted wisdom that has blown up our lives—must die. Most of us who know Jesus Christ as our personal Savior remember the exact time and date when we attended our own white funeral. Our needs changed from craving success, bling, status and perhaps alcohol, drugs, and sexual encounters to hungering for a relationship with Jesus. It was as if we became addicted to God. The Holy Spirit pulled at our hearts like a magnet. We became new persons on the inside.

For those of us who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus, we need a white funeral—to be born again. We may scratch our heads, not really knowing what that means. What it means is this: When we come to that place where our hearts cry out to God and we open them to the presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ enters into our hearts. If we truly appeal to God to change our lives in a transforming way, our old natures die and our new natures are born. We gain freedom from guilt, fear, anger, and an unforgiving heart. In its place is a heart that acknowledges sin and comprehends Jesus’ amazing sacrifice on our behalf. We become newborns—new creations in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). Our sinful selves die, and we begin a new life in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

ananias

Most of us are familiar with Saul’s “Road to Damascus” experience where he met Jesus, fell from his horse, accepted Christ…and was blinded by the light. For three days after Saul’s encounter with Jesus, he sat around in a room, blind, probably wondering what was going to happen next. What happened next is that God sent a Christian brother named Ananias to Saul. Ananias was wary but never wavered in obeying God’s call. He trusted God and went to Saul, even though he was afraid of this man with a reputation of violence. Ananias received Saul as a Christian brother. He touched Saul’s eyes (and maybe Saul’s heart) as he explained God’s purpose. This encounter teaches us several lessons.

Lesson 1: Ananias was ready for service. He had a relationship with God and was sensitive to His leading.

Lesson 2: Ananias was cautious and not afraid to question God’s calling. Ananias tested his impulse to make sure that he was truly hearing from God (Acts 9:13-14). God invites questions, but when He answers, He demands obedience.

Lesson 3: Ananias acted on the call. Ananias tested the Spirit, but when he found it genuine, he immediately went to Saul. Ananias trusted God’s command and treated Saul as a Christian brother. He laid hands on Saul and restored his sight. More significant, Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit, which created a new center in Saul’s life. What’s the take-away for us from this little vignette?

Are we near enough to God’s heart to hear His voice? Are we courageous enough to engage people we thought were antagonistic, but now receptive to Christ? How about an ex-wife or ex-husband who now professes a love for Jesus? Can we deal with that and encourage them? Would we come together and worship even though the hurt may still be fresh? Will we go, or will we hide? God calls us to serve. Are we tuned in to His voice?

kindness

Last month our virtue was Patience. Love – Passive… We labeled it the least favorite of all virtues since patience requires discipline, silence and is usually lacking of any recognition whatsoever. Being patient is tough and mastered only by the spiritually mature.

This month our virtue is Kindness. Love – Active. Love and Patience are really two different sides of the same coin. For people who are patient are almost always kind. As the late Reverend John Short wrote, “Love that is patient reveals itself in kindness.” When we examine the life of Jesus we find that He spent most of his time being kind to people. Healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry…Jesus spent a great deal of His time on Earth being kind.

Kindness costs so very little, if any, money. In most cases it costs nothing. All that is required is a loving heart, surrendered to Jesus and a disciplined spirit to perform little acts of God’s love to others. Saying a kind word, passing along a smile to a stranger on the street, paying a visit to someone in the hospital or emailing a friend or sending an encouraging note, are acts of kindness that send out positive ripples into the universe where their effects can only be calculated by God.

Being kind is also the key to finding real Joy. Whereas we find Rest in God’s Love and Peace in God’s Will for us…Joy is discovered in kind service to others. How many of us want Joy, yet fail to grasp how easy it is to attain? How many others would be drawn to Jesus if we were all more kind, for “Kindness is the convincing evidence of Christian love.” (Rev. John Short)

One final thought is to encourage us all to be kind today, right now. Don’t put off writing that note, encouraging a co-worker or hugging your husband, wife or child. Respond to this Virtue of the Month with immediacy and be kind today!

            I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can

            do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now.

            Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

Stephen Grellet

cross

The apostle Paul, before his conversion and name change was known as Saul. Saul was a very well educated man on the fast tract to the High Priesthood. Sort of like going to Harvard undergrad with a Stanford MBA. But Saul, as he persecuted the early Christian church squandered his talent and intellectual prowess for a reputation of violence and destruction. He found himself defined by what he was against instead of what he was for. He was full of potential but used it for destructive purposes and his own gain.

We should not be too critical of Saul however, since it’s easy for all us to want be a big man on the campus when people are watching. We may want to impress other women with our cloths, job or address, but when we’re alone with ourselves, perhaps awake at 4:00 AM, then the praise of our peers fades away. Authentic thoughts about our lives come lurking around. Our souls are heavy, and we begin to reflect.

In this silent wilderness our thoughts turn to the true quality of our lives and the talents and opportunities we’ve squandered. We remember the birthdays missed and the anniversaries forgotten. As we penetrate the darkness of our souls, we conclude that our lives up to this point have been wasted and full of mistakes. We know in our hearts that we are not as great as the image we show to others. Uncovering this truth about us is the first step toward real transformation in our lives.

When we reach this point, our hearts know: We need a center other than ourselves. We hunger for someone to forgive us, to comfort us, and to assure us that a new beginning is possible. We look up at the stars and discern with confidence that there is a God behind them all. In the greatness of creation, God reveals His greatness to our inner being. We realize, perhaps for the first time, that we are small in contrast. We may also recognize that God is out there for us, if we want to meet Him.

We are ripe for a turnaround, for a conversion. Is it time to place Jesus at the center of our lives?


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Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
    Hebrews 13:3

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
     1 John 3:18

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