I Wanna Be Like Christ

Remember the Gatorade commercials “I wanna be like Mike”?  In the commercials, kids try to emulate Michael Jordan while singing:

Sometimes I dream
That he is me
You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be
I dream I move, I dream I groove
Like Mike
If I could Be Like Mike

Again I try
Just need to fly
For just one day if I could
Be that way
I dream I move
I dream I groove
Like Mike
If I could Be Like Mike
I wanna be, I wanna be
Like Mike
Oh, if I could Be Like Mike

Today, as the NBA finals are being played kids are probably dreaming of being like LeBron James or Steph Curry.

Today the Bible opened to John and the reminder that we are called to be like Christ (not Mike).  Jesus tells us:

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

This is how all will know that we are disciples of Christ — if we have love for one another — if we be like Christ and love no matter what.  Jesus says these words right after sending Judas off from the Last Supper to betray Him.  A reminder that we have to love even those who hurt us, who frustrate us, who challenge us, who don’t love us back.  That is how all will know that we are disciples of Christ — not by the cross around our neck or our appearance at Church on Sunday — but by our love — by our actions.

Maybe we could change the words to the song:

Again I try
Just need to fly
For just one day if I could
Be that way
I dream I love
Like  God above
Like Christ
If I could Be Like Christ
I wanna be, I wanna be
Like Christ
Oh, if I could Be Like Christ

 

Father’s Love

I found a new favorite verse in the bible:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”

Romans 8:14-15

I have heard before that we are children of God, and of course that sounds wonderful.  But tonight the part that struck me was that we “did not receive a spirit  of slavery to fall back into fear.”  God does not want slaves.  He does not want us to choose Him out of fear.  To me, the Old Testament often seems full of fear.

God sent His Son and His Spirit so that we would know His love.  His Spirit surrounds us, not to force us into a relationship with God, for what kind of a relationship would that be.  (Can a slave love his master, or is he always looking for the day when he can get away, when he is finally free.)   But rather the Spirit is a constant reminder that  God chooses us. He willingly adopts us.  He is not stuck with us like a birth parent might be.  Not only did He create us, but even with all of our faults and sins, He chooses us again and again every day. He sent His Spirit to lead us to Him, if we choose to follow, so that we can have a real relationship with Him, so that we can run to him like an innocent child runs to her father crying “daddy” as we leap into His arms, with total confidence, trust and the purest love.

Father!

Forgive me for turning away.  Send your Spirit to lead me and guide me.  I want to be with you!

 

 

 

Made and Loved by God

Tonight’s passage is wonderful (and easy to understand):

For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate.  How could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?  But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Ruler and Lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!

Wisdom 11:24-12:1

God loves us.  He made us.  He created us.  By His will, we exist.  We are His. It is just that simple.

As I read this scripture over, it almost makes me say “well, duh — of course He loves us.”  I can feel my soul breathe a deep sigh of relief, because this passage makes it so simple and clear.  We all have a tag on our soul that says Made by God.  (Who needs a Made in the USA tag — we all bear the Made in Heaven stamp!)

And just when I think it cannot get any better, the very last clause blows me away: “for your imperishable spirit is in all things.”

I watch my son, the one little part of God’s creation that I had a hand in making and I can see part of me in him (some good and some not so good).  God made us.  And just like part of me is in my son, part of God is in each of us.  And that is all good!  God’s imperishable spirit is in all of us!  We need to let that part shine!

God,

I love you!  I am not worthy of your love, but I am so grateful to have it.  Let your Spirit  fill me and shine through me!

 

Janet’s Joy

Today, I went to a funeral service for Janet, the mother of a friend and a faithful servant to God.  I was lucky enough to meet Janet and to speak with her on a few occasions.   On one such occasion she shared her love of God with me and she shared this verse:

Yet even now—oracle of the LORD—return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning.  Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God, For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment.

Joel 2:12-13

She shared this with me when I was questioning whether God was the God of the Old Testament (who often seems angry and maybe even mean) or the God of the New Testament (who seems to be all about love).  Janet cited this verse to assure me that God was the same throughout time — all about love.

Return to me with your whole heart, He tells us.  No matter what we have done.  No matter where we are.  God invites us to return to Him.  He tells us to rend our hearts, not our garments and return to Him.    Sometimes our hearts and minds are fixed on something other than God.  Rend your heart, fast, weep, mourn and return to God.  I think sometimes we are afraid to make the change necessary to return our hearts to God.   It needs to be a conscious decision.  We need to fast and cleanse our body, weep and cleanse our inner spirit, mourn and say goodbye to something in our life.  We change our heart, change our life and follow God.  And the good part is…  He will take us back.  He is gracious and merciful.  He is slow to anger.  Look around at the world.  He has lots to be angry with.  But He still loves us, all of us!  He is abounding in steadfast love.  That is my favorite part.  Abounding in steadfast love.  God is love (Old Testament or New Testament — He is love).

And He is constantly calling us to Him.

Janet’s body is now returning to God, but I believe her heart, her whole heart, has long been with God.

God,

Thank you for your abounding and steadfast love.  Show me how to share the same with others.  I am sorry for the times I turn away.  Help me to rend my heart.  Help me to return to you whenever I turn away.

(And God, thank you for Janet.  No matter her struggle she remained steadfast in you.  Welcome her into your kingdom.  We will miss her here, but know that she is finding everlasting joy in you.)

Discipline and Love

We discipline our children hoping that it will lead them in the right direction, but knowing that one day they will have to make choices on their own.  I don’t enjoy the disciplinarian role of being a parent.

I have often wondered about the Old Testament.  God often feels like a disciplinarian in it.  We hear about Him destroying cities, smiting and raining fire and brimstone.  He feels much different than the loving God revealed by Jesus.  Today the Bible opened to Galatians:

Before faith came, we were held in custody under law, confined for the faith that was to be revealed.  Consequently, the law was our disciplinarian for Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a disciplinarian.  For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.  For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:23-29

When we are immature, we need discipline, rules, order to try to keep us on the proper path.  The Old Testament is filled with stories of human immaturity.  We were not ready for faith alone.  As we individually grow, we also go through phases where we need discipline, rules, and order.   Sometimes we are not ready for faith alone.  We need to be confined by rules so that we are in place for faith to be revealed.  But ultimately, like a child, we must grow up and make our own choices.  Ultimately we must choose faith.  We must choose God.   Jesus opened us to faith.  He came into the world so that we might have faith.  So that we could see and believe.  He came into the world to show us love.  The love of our Father.  Despite all of the times that we deserve discipline, God loves us.

Lord,

Help me to be a good parent.  Help me to set rules and order but also to show love.  Help me to have the faith that you have made available.  Help me to grow from my immaturity.  Thank you Father!

Love without Obligation

I hate being told what to do.  And I hate when others do what they think they are obligated to do without meaning what they do.

In Philemon, Paul asks for the release of a slave, Onesimus.  But he does not order it.  He urges it out of love.

Therefore, although I have the full right in Christ to order you to do what is proper, I rather urge you out of love, being as I am, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus.  I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment, who was once useless to you but is now useful to [both] you and me.  I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.  I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.  Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.  So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me. And if he has done you any injustice or owes you anything, charge it to me.

Philemon 1:8-18

This passage is powerful.  In it, Paul urges the slave’s master to forgive the slave who has run away (and perhaps committed another crime against the master).  To welcome him back with love.  To release him.  And in releasing him, releasing the master himself.

Paul refuses to order the master to accept him back and refuses to keep the slave away because doing either would prevent the master from having the opportunity to respond with love.  Paul recognizes that you cannot force love.  You cannot order love.  Love must be chosen willingly.  Forgiveness must be chosen willingly.  The good you do must not be forced but voluntary.   Paul is offering the master the opportunity to free the slave from any past debt or wrongdoing, and at the same time freeing the master to love and be loved.  Paul suggests that the “bad” that the slave did (running away) will bring about good: “Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.”

We all have slaves in our lives.  People who we have imprisoned or condemned in our own minds.  People who have made us slaves to our own anger and ill will.  Paul urges us to release these slaves.  To welcome them with love.  Not because of some obligation but out of a voluntary choice to love.  Out of a choice to follow God’s greatest commandment.  We all meet people everyday who seem useless to us.  But Paul reminds us that each of them is an opportunity.  An opportunity to choose love.  An opportunity to share God’s love, so that they (and we) can be useful.  After all, Onesimus is just one of us.

Lord,

You call us to love, not just to do good out of obligation.  Help me to release those who I have imprisoned in my thoughts and words.  Open my heart to the true love that you call us to share.  Open my heart to forgiveness.  Help me to share your love every day with every one that I encounter.

Fruit of the Vine

Today I did not need to open up the bible to find the verse.  Instead, while I was driving to work this morning, out of nowhere these words came to me: “I am the vine, you are my branches.”  And the words took hold.  So tonight, I opened the Bible to John:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.  He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.  You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.  Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.   Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.  By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.  As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

John 15:1-10

I have heard this verse it seems a million times, but today as I was driving to work it started to make more sense.  God has connected us to Him.  We are connected just like a branch is to a vine.  A branch by itself is meaningless.  It is dead with out its source of life (as are we without God).   But when we stay connected, we can grow.  Sometimes we may try to grow too far away from the vine, but as long as we keep our connection to God, he won’t let us go.  If we remain connected, we will bear fruit.  God’s love flows to us, just as the water and nutrients necessary for a branch to bear fruit flows to it.  And just as a gardener sometimes has to prune or cut back a branch in order to allow it to bear better fruit, so too, God sometimes needs to prune us — to cut us back.  He does that with His word, and we can help others by sharing that word — by bearing God’s fruit.  And sometimes, maybe, God has to prune us back a little more sharply.  And sometimes it feels like it cuts deep.  But out of those dark times, if we stay connected, we bloom forward even more beautiful than before and we strengthen our connection to God.

Dear God,

I want my connection to you to grow stronger.  I don’t want to be connected by just a little twig.  I want a wide base — fill me with your love and your word so that I can bear fruit pleasing to you.  I want to remain in you forever.

 

When In Doubt… LOVE

What are my gifts?  What does God call me to do?  Do you ever ask those questions?  It feels like I do more and more.  The Bible tells us that we all have gifts.  God has given us the tools that we need.  We just need to use them.  I think I have been spending too much time trying to figure out what I should be doing instead of just doing what I know I need to do.  Today I was directed by a study group to read Peter:

The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be serious and sober for prayers.  Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.  Be hospitable to one another without complaining.  As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.  Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God; whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:7-11

As  I read this, my eyes fall on this line: “Above all let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sin.”  I may not know exactly what specific thing God is calling me to do — but maybe I am letting myself get lost in the weeds.  Love more.  Isn’t that what He is calling us to do?  And won’t everything else flow from that?  Love more.  Isn’t that the answer?

Love more.  Let your love be intense — for everyone — not just the easy ones, your spouse and kids, mom and dad  — but for everyone.  Love more.  Be hospitable to one another without complaining.  (Not always that easy.)  Love more.  Use your gifts to serve one another.  I may not know what gifts I have.  I may not know the exact plan for these gifts, but I know that God calls us to love.  He calls us to serve one another.   I could go crazy trying to figure out the plan for my life, or I could just love.  And serve.  Love covers a multitude of sins.

Lord,

You have blessed me with so many gifts.  Help me to use them in the way you intended.  Help me to use them to love and serve others.

Pure Love Through Any Storm

What a beautiful  morning!  Storms are expected to be moving in, but…

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.  In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of [your] faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9

Blessed is God!  He is preserving our inheritance in heaven  — our salvation.  It is imperishable, undefiled and unfading.  Bring on the storm — because what is waiting for us will not fade.  It will not fail.  We may suffer through various trials and be tested by fire, but we will rejoice!  Our faith allows us to rejoice.  All that we experience, all that we endure allows us to give all praise, all glory and all honor to Jesus Christ.  He suffered and died for us so that we would know.  So that we would believe.  So that we would have faith.  So that we would know God.  So that our faith — the genuineness  of our faith — would lead us back to God.

Peter goes on to say:

Now if you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one’s works, conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb.  He was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you, who through him believe in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 1:17-21

Jesus, through his precious blood, ransomed us from our futile conduct — from our sin.  He suffered and died, just so we would know.  Just so we would have faith and hope in Him.  God’s love is so immense, so pure — it is greater than any love we can experience.  I want to love like Him.

Peter instructs us:

Since you have purified yourselves by obedience to the truth for sincere mutual love, love one another intensely from a [pure] heart.  You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God, for:

“All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of the field; the grass withers, and the flower wilts; but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

1 Peter 1:22-25

Father,

Although I have not seen you, I believe.  I rejoice in you.  I have joy because of you.  I love you.   Help me to love like you.

 

 

Love in Deed

Remember the Whitney Houston song “How will I know”?  Today’s bible passage reminds me of the refrain: how will I know if he really loves me.

Do not be amazed, [then,] brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him. The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?  Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.

1 John 3:13-18

How do we know that God loves us?  He gave his life for us.  He gave us life.  Look around. The world is a beautiful place.

How will others know that we love them? Words are not enough.  We must love in deed and truth. God shows us His love.  Do we show others ours?

We doubt God’s love, despite everything He does for us.  Yet we sometimes expect others to accept our words.

Lord, thank you for showing me your love. Help me to to share your love with others. Help me to love in deed.