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An August Anniversary

This post is written to link with Five Minute Friday, where we write spontaneously for five minutes on a one-word prompt.  The prompt this week is Anniversary.

As August 2018 begins, one of the most discussed topics in Houston, Texas is the upcoming first anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. On August 29th, 2017, after this devastating storm came in at the Texas coast, it moved northeast toward the huge metropolis of Houston. And Houston hasn’t been the same since.

The annual recurrence of the date marking a notable event – an anniversary – can be a time of rejoicing or a time of sorrow. In this case, my emotions concerning this upcoming anniversary are mixed. Hurricane Harvey caused devastation, but it also showed how loving and concerned the people of our city are for one another.

Our own church received major damage to it’s buildings during this memorable event, and yet the thing that stood out to me was the outreach to the surrounding community. Hundreds of people went around the neighborhood, cleaning out flooded homes, removing debris and delivering the hope that is found in Christ. And this same thing was happening in churches and ministries throughout the greater Houston area.

When disaster hits, we are faced with a choice. Will we sit around feeling sorry for ourselves, or will we show the love of Christ to our neighbors who are hurting? I’m grateful to be a part of a city and church that made the right choice in this, the choice that led to restoration and changed lives.

Houston isn’t the same today as it was after last August’s devastating flooding. Lives and property were lost, and some areas still need work before restoration is complete. Our own family was touched by the storm, as we faced damage to our home that to this point is still only partially repaired and as our special needs son David had a small illness that turned into a life-threatening battle with pneumonia because of delay in getting a prescription for an antibiotic filled in the midst of the storm.

But the thing that stands out to me as I look back is a clear lesson in what it means to truly love those around us in word and deed. We can look inward in the midst of a disaster such as this, or we can look at the opportunity before us to be “Living Proof of a Loving God to a Watching World.” This theme our pastor reminds us of frequently was lived out last August in practical ways. God used His people to bring good out of the disastrous storm. And for that, I’m thankful.

Peace Within the Body of Christ

God’s Word, the Holy Bible, is our guidebook for how to walk in peace in each area of our lives. Last week, the focus of my blog post was on peace in our relationship with God. If you missed that post, here is the link.

https://readywriterbr.wordpress.com/2018/06/16/peace-with-god-the-peace-of-god/

This week, I’m shifting attention to peace in our relationships with others in the body of Christ. God’s will for His people is to walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians‬ ‭4:2-3‬ ‭ESV)‬‬ In practical terms, how do we do this?

For Christians, how to act in a specific situation is often black and white. Option 1 is obedience to a command of God’s Word, option 2 is disobedience and living according to our fleshly desires. But there are also many areas of our daily lives where right and wrong are not so clearly spelled out. These are areas where we need to seek understanding from the Lord concerning what He wants us to do, where with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we form our own personal convictions.

Once we have formed our own personal convictions and are seeking to live according to them, we need to understand how these relate to our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. If God has shown us something is right for us, does that mean it is right for every Christian? Not necessarily. This week’s verses for the Perfect Peace study begin with Romans 14, which deals with areas of personal conviction, things which the Bible does not say in themselves are right or wrong.

How to live by my personal convictions yet not insist that others adopt the same convictions was one of the first lessons I remember God teaching me as a new believer. Some things God clearly says are right or wrong (sin), but in many areas the choices we make are between us and the Lord. We are not to force our personal convictions on others.

As God was teaching me this lesson, I was invited out to dinner with some dear family friends who were Christians but belonged to a church that tends to be rather legalistic in areas like abstaining from certain foods and gathering for worship on a specific day of the week, both areas mentioned in this chapter. I was asking God how I should handle this invitation. He lead me to Romans 14 and told me to accept the invitation, order only the type of foods they would be comfortable with me eating, and avoid the trap of trying to change their personal convictions.

I love this chapter in The Message – it makes this lesson so clear and easy to apply. Here is the Message paraphrase of Romans 14:1 which gives a good summary of the message Paul was trying to get across, and I’m including the link to the entire chapter below for anyone interested in reading more.

“Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.”

‭https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+14&version=MSG

Where God does not say one choice is right and another is definitely wrong, He gives us some guidelines in His Word to help us make decisions. Here are a few mentioned in Romans 14.

  1. We are to welcome other genuine believers in Christ with open arms.
  2. We are to seek peace and walk in love toward all of our true brothers and sisters in Christ.
  3. The forming of personal convictions is between each individual believer and the Holy Spirit that lives in the believer’s heart. I am not to attempt to do the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of my brother or sister in Christ.
  4. Once God has shown us what is right for us in these areas, we are to be fully convinced in our mind. God will hold us accountable for our own choices and behavior.
  5. Quarreling over personal convictions does not maintain peace among believers, so this is to be avoided.
  6. Judging others in areas where right and wrong is not spelled out in the Bible is not our responsibility.
  7. We are to avoid actions that would be stumbling blocks to others who are seeking to follow Jesus Christ.

Walking in love with others in the body of Christ, especially with those who don’t see things the way we do, can be a challenge. But with the truths taught in Romans 14 we have some clear guidelines in how to promote harmony and peace with our  brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s begin using these to begin bridging some relationship gaps so we will be a clearer representation of what it truly means to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

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True Love Bible Reading Challenge: Week 4 Summary

February, a month when my thoughts have been focused on love with both this True Love Bible Reading Challenge and the Proverbs 31 Ministries online Bible study of Wendy Blight’s book I Am Loved, is drawing to a close. But first, seven more passages to reflect upon God’s love for us and our appropriate response to that love.

Day 22 – Philippians. 2:1-11

Reflecting upon the love of God has brought encouragement, comfort and joy to our lives during this month. Today’s passage focuses on the ultimate picture of God’s love for us, as seen by Jesus’ willingness to empty Himself, take on the form of a servant, and become obedient to the point of death on a cross. God’s call to us in response is to have the same mind as Christ had, in humility loving others as He loves us.

Day 23 – Colossians 3:8-15

Acknowledging Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is the first step in the process of our lives being transformed into the image of Christ. With the Holy Spirit within to empower us, we are then equipped for the disciplines of putting off the old self of our former manner of life, renewing our minds through the Word of God, and putting on the new self made in the image of God. We must put off (or put away) the practices that are rooted in sin, as the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to them. But to put off without putting on leaves a void. Replacement is a necessary part of transformation. Put off. Put on. Both are essential for us to be changed into the likeness of Christ. And the most important thing for us to put on is love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Day 24 – John 14:21-27

Loving God is closely linked with obedience to His Word. In these verses, Jesus made this truth clear to His disciples. And He also reminded them that the words they heard Him speak are not just His words, they were also the words of the Father who sent Jesus. Just as Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19), this passage tells us He only said what He heard the Father saying. Therefore there is no separating God’s Words – which we often think of as the Old Testament Scriptures – and the Words of Jesus which we read in the New Testament. If we truly love Jesus, our desire will be to obey all of God’s Word, both the Old and New Testament. But we also need to balance this truth with the truth of God’s grace and forgiveness, with the fact that our obedience during our days on earth will never be perfect. As Beth Moore says, “Obedient lives are not perfect lives. Obedience does not mean sinlessness but confession and repentance when we sin.”

Day 25 – John 15:9-13

How does Jesus love us? The same way the Father has loved Him. The Father’s love for Jesus is deep, tender, sacrificial, eternal and unchanging. Jesus’ love for us is a clear reflection, a mirror image, of the Father’s love for His own perfect Son. What an amazing thought! The Father loves the Son so much that He “has given all things into his hand” (John‬ ‭3:35‬).‬‬ The Father loves the Son so much that He “shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:20). The Father’s love for Jesus is perfect love. And this is the same way Jesus loves us.

And the response Jesus asks of us? We are to abide in His love, having an intimate, close relationship, not just a superficial acquaintance. When we do this, two things happen. We find delight in keeping His commandments and His joy fills our lives. And as we are filled to overflowing with the love of Christ, we love others in the same way He has loved us, even to the point of laying down our lives for them.

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Day 26 – John 15:14-21

In this next section of John 15, Jesus says to those who abide in His love, as seen by laying down their own will and walking in obedience to God’s will and ways, “You are my friends.” What is the difference between a servant and a friend? A servant doesn’t know his master’s business. He simply does what he is told. But to His friends, Jesus says, “everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” One of the ways the Father loves the Son that I listed above is by showing Jesus all He is doing. And if we are His friends, Jesus passes this information on to us.

So how do we know if we are living as a friend of Jesus? If we belong to Jesus, if we are His friends, there will be lasting spiritual fruit in our lives. And the primary fruit will be our love for one another. Plus an added benefit of this lifestyle: answered prayer.

Day 27 – 1 John 3:1-5

Sometimes I think we miss the fullness of all Jesus accomplished on the cross. Derek Prince has identified ten things from Scripture that Jesus achieved by His suffering and death on the cross. Today I’m just going to share three of those.

  • Jesus was punished that we might be forgiven.
  • He tasted death for us that we might share His life.
  • He endured rejection (because of our sins being laid upon Him) that we might have His acceptance with the Father.

When we think of Jesus’ death on the cross, we usually focus on Him paying the penalty for our sin that we might be forgiven. That is a major truth, one I am eternally thankful for. But I’m equally grateful that His death made the way for me to share His life. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, I am a new creation. As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Now I am one of God’s beloved children, fully accepted into the family of God. And that is good news today and for eternity.

Day 28 – 1 Corinthians 13:1-7

Love is Who God is! God is the heart of true love. The characteristics of love are the characteristics of God. By knowing the heavenly Father and Jesus Christ the Son, we learn what love is all about. The characteristics of love are also the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us expressed to others. As this “Love Month” of February comes to an end, this is my take-away from this month’s study of LOVE. It’s what I want to remember when circumstances feel overwhelming, when I’m tempted to lose heart. God is Love, and because this is true I have hope for the future!

True Love Bible Reading Challenge: Week Two Summary

During this second week of February that ends with the day set aside to celebrate love, let’s remember the source of true love. God’s love for and through us is the True Love that has the power to change lives.

Day 8: Zephaniah 3:17-20

Life on earth is filled with battles, but these verses from the prophet Zephaniah remind us that God doesn’t leave us on our own to win the war. He Himself is the Mighty Warrior who saves us because He takes great delight in us.

Day 9: John 13:34-35

Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ? There’s one way to know for sure. Jesus said, “everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Love is shown in many ways. But one way of allowing God’s love to flow through us to those around us is by praying for one another. Interceding for others, lifting their needs up to our heavenly Father, is a concrete demonstration of our love.

Day 10: Psalm 136:1-13

One characteristic of God’s love, whether we are the receivers or the conduit through which it flows to others, is that it keeps on going and never quits. It is everlasting, perpetual, and there is always more left over.

Day 11: Psalm 136:14-26

When we recognize the depth of God’s love for us, it will do two things in our lives. Our hearts will be filled to overflowing with praise to this One whose love for us is beyond our comprehension. And that love, too great for us to contain it, will flow out of us to those around us.

Day 12: Deuteronomy 10:12-15

This passage, addressed to the Jewish people but equally applicable to those Gentiles who are now “ingrafted branches” (Romans 11:17) through our relationship with Jesus Christ, gives five things that the Lord our God asks of us as His people. We are to fear or revere Him, honoring Him as our Lord to Whom we will one day give account for how we have lived. We are to walk in obedience to him, serve Him with all our heart and soul, and observe His commands which have been given for our own good. And we are to love Him with all our heart and soul, which gives us the proper motivation to do the other four things.

Day 13: Psalm 5:7-12

Father, this morning I’m grateful for the privilege of coming into Your presence. I rejoice in You. Lead me today, my Lord, in Your righteousness. Make Your way straight before me. I love You and take refuge in You.

‭‭Day 14: Psalm 25:1-10

Lord, I’m so grateful that You don’t leave me on my own to figure life out. By Your Spirit, You guide me in Your truth and teach me how to walk. All Your ways toward me are loving and faithful. You are good and upright, a God of mercy and love.