Being loved and loving another are subjects of some of the most famous authors, musicians and artists in history. It a subject that we humans never get tired of hearing and telling. Their works cover the many different meanings of “love” because the word “love” can be used in so many ways: “I love chocolate”, “I love you”, “I love my friends”, “I love puzzles”, “I love my sister” and “I love my life”. God wrote about love a lot too in his book: The Bible. 1 John 4:1-21 is one of the greatest “love” chapters in the Bible. What sort of love is highlighted in 1 John?
The Greek word for “love” used in 1 John is “agape”. This roughly translates to selfless, unconditional love. This is the type of love, among all the various types of loves, that is the most satisfying. Its what we’re all truly searching for. Other types of love simply fall short. Romantic love fades; erotic love is fleeting; greedy and possessive love, like the love of money, does not make you happy and certainly doesn’t love you back. We want that kind of love that loves us no matter what; loves us despite ourselves. Warts, imperfections and all. How do we get it and where do we look?
1 John gives us a roadmap where to look. We start by seeking the truth of the scriptures. Seek out those things that come from Jesus; that reveal that he made himself man and became one of us. Avoid the false gods that inevitably come along in this life. If you think your happiness will be achieved by chasing after financial comfort, status, a different gender or a romantic connection – you are not seeking the truth; not seeking the one true God. All those types of love will disappoint.
The most amazing thing about your search for this love is that your effort doesn’t matter. There’s nothing you must do to find or earn it. God brings it to you. He does the seeking – for you. He finds. God does it all. We aren’t required to be worthy of His amazing love. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done. God and His love will meet you where you are at any point in your life. Once you accept His love, you’re encouraged to share it with others. That can be a tall task. To love the unlovable. Those who don’t love you back, who don’t meet your expectations or outright disappoint you. Loving those who are very different from you or even hate you. That’s what God does, and He calls you to do the same. But in so loving others, you are fighting your own sinful self. You can be a contrast to what is otherwise a world corrupted by sin, fear and twisted gods seeking to draw others away from God and His unbelievable love.
“I am the good shepherd.” That’s how our gospel reading begins this week in John 10:11-18. Its worth celebrating. Life is filled with challenges, setbacks and pitfalls. Having a good shepherd to turn to in times of difficulty gives us the ability to deal with and even overcome what life throws as us.
Life throws us challenges that we often have no control over. Maybe a health crisis, or calamity. We’re also prone to get ourselves into trouble that we can’t get ourselves out of. Jesus, out good shepherd, is always there to help us deal with the challenge and show us the way out of the jam. We’re alot like the unfortunate sheep in this video:
As soon as we’re rescued by Jesus, we have a tendency to run away from our rescuer and get right back into trouble. Thank God that the good shepherd does not abandon us. That’s in contrast to the “hired hand”.
“He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” Today, the hired hand are those who pretend to lead you and who aren’t sent by or part of the good shepherd. These may be people in your life who try to take the place of the good shepherd. Maybe you let them take the place of the good shepherd. They are dangerous and ultimately will disappoint you. Jesus tells us that when times get tough, the hired hand leader will run and abandon you. Beware allowing the “hired hands” of this world take your focus off the good shepherd.
Do you have a “hired hand” leading you in your life?
Jesus, the good shepherd, stands by us no matter the crisis. He puts himself between us and the things of this life that are intended to kill us spiritually. Jesus will not run or abandon us. We have perpetual security with Him. What’s even more amazing is that Jesus laid down his own life that we might be saved. He did that knowing who we are and knowing all of our dirty little shameful sins and secrets that we keep hidden from the world. He did that despite the many, many times that we ran from Him after he rescued us. His love abides forever, not matter what we do.
If you were devising a plan to save yourself from eternal damnation, what sort of plan would you come up with? Whatever your plan, there’s no way you’d come up with a plan like God’s plan. The world won’t understand what God’s plan is through Jesus. Some think it’s totally crazy.
This was the Apostle Paul’s point in his message to the church in Corinth. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
If you were describing your ideal savior, your description would probably include characteristics like strong, just, willing to fight for your salvation, destroyer of your enemies. Well, your description of your savior bears a striking resemblance to our savior through God. The difference is how they’d accomplish the salvation.
The worldly savior would likely use strength, might and overwhelming armies and forces to destroy your enemies and win your salvation. God’s heavenly savior, Jesus, saves us by giving up his might and strength. The worldly savior avoids and cheats death. Jesus willingly accepts and does not resist death at the hands of his enemies. The worldly savior rules with power and domination. Jesus rules with servanthood and sacrifice on the cross.
The contrasts between the worldly savior and God’s savior could not be more stark. That’s why the cross of Jesus makes no sense for the unbeliever. To them it is utter foolishness. But thanks be to God for his “foolishness”. Jesus has already vanquished our enemies and secured our place in heaven with God for all of eternity. Paul goes on to write: “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe . . . 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Is God’s plan crazy? If eternal salvation is what you seek, it’s the only plan that will work.
For any parent, one of the most harrowing, savage and unimaginable portions of the Bible is when God commands Abraham to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrifice. Genesis 22:1-18. The magnitude of the requested sacrifice is huge. After all, Abraham and his wife long thought they would never have a child but were blessed late in life with Isaac. Isaac was their pride and joy. After Abraham binds his only son Isaac to an altar, and just as he is about to slaughter him, an angel of God sounds the blissful reprieve. What does this scene have to do with us? What can we learn from it? Here are three take-aways for you to contemplate during this Lenten season.
Jesus Followers are Not Free From Sacrifice
God does not promise His followers a rose garden. Quite the contrary. The life of a Christian will be filled with sacrifice. Perhaps you’ll be called to sacrifice your reputation when choosing to act in a Godly way rather than the way dictated by the crowd. Perhaps that coveted spot on a scholastic team is jeopardized because involvement interferes attending worship. Maybe your relationships with friends or family have been strained by your desire to follow Christ. When these “tests of faith” arise in your life, how will you react? Will you remain faithful to God?
Believe in God’s Promises
God makes and keeps his promises. Always. Do you believe that? Certainly there are times when it is difficult to continue to believe in his promises. Things happen in our lives — illness, loss of employment, death of a loved one, unfairness. Abraham chose to believe in God’s promise that He would send an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of mankind as he ascended Mt. Moriah. Those times of trial in our lives are opportunities to renew and reaffirm our trust in God’s promises. They are an invitation to deepen our relationship with God.
God is Merciful
At the last moment on Mt. Moriah, God sent his reprieve to both Abarahm and Isaac. God did, in fact, provide His own sacrifice. He does that for us as well. We are all sinners — we can’t help ourselves no matter how hard we try. Notwithstanding our good intentions, we lapse into sin daily. There’s nothing we can do to appease God’s wrath. The wages of sin are eternal death. Despite deserving death for our repeated sins, God loves us, has mercy on us and sends His own sacrifice. Instead of Abraham offering his own son, God offered His own son — Jesus — as the one and only perfect sacrifice for the sins of all mankind for all eternity. We don’t deserve that but nonetheless God sent a reprieve for our sins.
Comparing our willingness to sacrifice with that of Abraham when faced with a test of faith can be humbling for sure. But take heart — even if you fail the test, God is merciful. He loves you and desires to be merciful despite your failures of faith and obedience.
What is your reaction to the word “authority”? If I were to take a guess, I would guess that astonishment and joy wouldn’t have been on the top of your list. Your first reaction might be something more like suspicion, fear, and even outright rejection. Authority is not often perceived as a good in our society. It is associated with oppression or having too much power. Yet, the reaction of the crowds to Jesus’ authority on display in Mark 1:21-28 is joy and astonishment. Why?
As demonstrated by the casting out of the unclean spirit, Jesus is revealing to us how He intends to use His authority. He has come to wield His authority to liberate us from our great oppressors of sin and Satan. Jesus teaches His disciples that the world uses it authority to lord it over others; this is not the way God intends authority to be used (Matthew 20:25-28). Jesus shows us that God intends for authority to be used in service to those under it. This is precisely what Jesus does! He exercises His authority to free you and me from our sin; Jesus exercises his authority to serve you! How amazing is that?! The reason the crowds and you can respond to Jesus authority with joy and astonishment is because He uses it to serve and protect those underneath it; He doesn’t lord it over us. The cross is the prime example of this.
Let’s face it, authority is abused in our sinful and fallen world all the time. Sometimes we are the victims of that abuse and other times we are the one committing it. Who do we want to have authority? Myself or some other “good” person? No, we all fall short and misuse it. This is why it is such good news that Jesus has the authority (Matthew 28:18). Because He has and will continue to use it to serve you. He uses it to liberate you from sin, death, and the devil! What wondrous mercy and love God has for us in Jesus!
In Christ, Pastor Thompson Ascension Lutheran Church
It’s the season for making resolutions. Maybe you made a New Year’s resolution to eat healthy or call your Mom more often. Lent is quickly approaching and invites you to again make resolutions to give up something in symbolic sacrifice. Sticking to these resolutions is a real test of willpower but often our emotions undermine us. We know we should choose that salad, but our desire for the fries that we smell at the table next to us overcomes our willpower. Our emotions seem like they’re our enemy but that’s not necessarily true.
Emotions help us decide what to do next. They are our God-given internal program for navigating the future. Emotions can be powerful motivators too. They can help us accomplish difficult tasks. Think of how good you felt after exercising or the congratulations you received from friends at church after accomplishing a task. The positive emotions associated with those accomplishments can stoke and maintain a desire in us to continue doing difficult things.
If you’re lacking motivation to get started, we’d like to suggest a starting point to build up your will power and self-control. With all things start with the cross and with gratitude – it’s a super powerful emotion.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
People who experience more gratitude have more will power and self-control. The Bible tells us this as does science. Even more powerful is when your gratitude isn’t just focused on yourself. If you engage in outward expressions of gratitude for others around you – it helps you and your social network. They feel valued by you. They, in turn, will value you and more willingly express gratitude for you. You’ll be more willing to sacrifice to help others and they you.
Focusing on gratitude is associated with a wide array of benefits – the quality of your relationships will improve; you’ll experience reduced stress and even have lower incidence of illness. “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Proverbs 16:24.
When you’re involved in a social network of gratitude, it can serve to support and sustain your will power and self-control. It’ll help you maintain those resolutions, develop those new physically and spiritually healthy habits when your ability to help yourself is quite up to the task.
So, practice a little gratitude – it’s good for you!
Knowing what to say in certain situations can be quite difficult. A friend’s parent or child has passed away. A family member is diagnosed with a serious affliction. A co-worker is struggling with a difficult personal issue. We often find ourselves at a loss for words. We want to give comfort but how?
It may help you to know that before you enter the hospital room, before you make that call to the suffering friend, God is already present. “We love because He loved us first.” 1 John 4:19. God is pouring from his pitcher of love into you so that you can pour out to others and then be replenished with God’s love.
If you forget this basic truth and think instead that its you who is bringing God into the room or conversation, it can create a tremendous amount of pressure on you. You’ll feel pressure to say the right thing, try to impress those present with just the right words and maybe even take yourself a bit too seriously.
You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to be there. Be encouraged that God precedes you into that room or onto that phone when you reach out to comfort your friend. Just show attentive respect, good eye contact and convey a sense of ease and peace. Let the one who you are seeking to comfort decide what direction the conversation should go. Maybe it will lead to prayer and then be mindful to express love and compassion and not a veiled message. God will do the hard part — He knows what is needed at that time and will give it to those who ask.
The news of the COVID vaccine was wonderful to receive. Wouldn’t a vaccine for death be even better? It exists and its called Baptism. Baptism is the one true cure for death. Are you skeptical? How can simple water be the cure for death? Its not just water. Its the water coupled with God’s Word that makes Baptism so powerful.
Our Gospel verse this week was from Matthew 1:4-11 — Jesus being Baptized by John. Why did Jesus get baptized? It was for sinners and repentance after all. Jesus was sinless and didn’t need the baptism offered by John. He did it for two reasons: First was to fulfill the law. Secondly, he did it for our sakes. He bound himself to us sinners, taking on our role as sinners. He who knew no sin became sin for our sakes. In binding himself to us, we also are united with Jesus in his death. From that we also are bound to Jesus in his resurrection. Freed from the bondage of sin and death, we are able to live in the glory of Jesus’ resurrection.
Baptism draws its ultimate power not as a symbol of our commitment to follow Jesus. If its power relied upon our commitment, it would surely fail because we fail again and again to follow the law. Rather, it draws its real power because of God’s promise to us that he’ll save us from sin, death and the devil. As such, baptism is the one sure fire, guaranteed cure for death that can be found in this world.
Holy Saturday is the odd day of Holy Week. It is a day when seemingly nothing happened. The Gospels are largely silent about this day, the Sabbath Day whose coming pressured the faithful to rest Jesus’ body in the grave as quickly as they could. I do think that we know something about this day. It was likely a day of grieving. A heart stopped beating. He breathed his last. A son, a teacher and a friend died. The family and friends of Jesus were empty on this Holy of Saturdays. The realization that life as they knew it was over was overwhelming.
That Saturday was also a day of worship. “They saw the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed. Then they went back to prepare burial spices and perfumes. They rested quietly on the Sabbath, as commanded.” Luke 23:55-56. So they went to church. . . and they waited. We can identify with their grieving and waiting – we too are grieving the loss of life as we knew it. Maybe normal will never return. We are also waiting for this COVID-19 pandemic to ease and for life to return to normal. We have a lot of trouble waiting for things. We are generally not very patient as people. We have fast food, drive up windows, and self-check out lines because we don’t want to wait. We can get in our cars and go anywhere, anytime; see who we want to see, when we want to see them.
It should not surprise us that waiting is the hardest part of faith. Yet waiting is an act of faith. We do not wait as the aimless whose restless hearts live in anxiety and fear. We wait upon the Lord. We know this Lord as the one who loved us that He gave His only-begotten Son who was born in our flesh and blood to suffer and die in our place upon the cross. We are not waiting for the unknown but for that which we know in the promise of Christ.
On this day the Church has historically welcomed new people to the faith through baptism and confirmation. The dark night of Holy Saturday gives way to the bright morning of Christ’s resurrection and this has been a symbolic moment rich in imagery and meaning for the newly baptized and confirmed. You might say that the whole life of the baptized is a life of waiting, of joyful expectation not complete until we close our eyes this side of glory and awaken them to see Jesus face to face. Some have recently lost loved ones and hopefully will be comforted by the thought of the fulfillment of the baptismal promise given to those loved ones so long ago. We think of our wait for the blest reunion with those who have gone before, who died in Christ. We think of the restless character of the soul searching for place and belonging that is not stilled or met until we rest in Christ. Yes, whether you like it or not, Christian life involves much waiting.
Easter is not a surprise ending for us but the ending we know and for which we hope. This day is sort of like the children waiting for Christmas morning to see what gifts were brought. We wait because we know there are gifts given, blessing awaiting us, and a future prepared. Such a wait is not drudgery even when it may seem long. It is how we anticipate in this life the promise of the life to come. So wait with me. . . what is to come is beyond imagination and far beyond our expectations — what God has prepared for those who love Him. And it all starts with an empty tomb. Shhhhhhh…. Easter is coming!
We are called to be followers of Jesus. What’s involved in being a true follower? We must follow in loving obedience to God’s authority. Put His will ahead of our own wants and desires. We submit to a life of humble service. Free from arrogance and pride, we seek opportunities to serve others in the various situations of our lives. Everyone can serve someone somewhere. Finally, we follow with steadfast faithfulness to Jesus. If we commit to following Jesus, He will help us to become transformed more and more into His likeness!