Unselfish Love

To me, one of the scriptures taken out of context the most is 1 Corinthians 13, also known as “The Love Chapter”. It’s been used in nearly every Christian wedding, hung on the walls of our homes and quoted to people in Love about how they should love their spouse. The truth is that it has nothing to do with loving our spouse. It’s about loving people with God’s love that’s in us in order to point them to him. We can do all sorts of things for people that bring us glory, but if we don’t love them in a way that points to Him, it’s pointless.

The last verse in the chapter is probably the most recognized one, but I want to look at it in the Amplified version which adds context to the original meaning. It says, “And now there remain: faith [abiding trust in God and His promises], hope [confident expectation of eternal salvation], love [unselfish love for others growing out of God’s love for me], these three [the choicest graces]; but the greatest of these is love.” I believe love, in this context, is the greatest because love of this sort offers God’s grace and makes us more like Him.

The first verse in the next chapter continues Paul’s thoughts on the matter. It says, “Pursue [this] love [with eagerness, make it your goal].” That kind of love isn’t natural for most of us. It’s something we’re going to have to desire to have, and we’re going to have to pursue it. It’s going to require us to pray for it and to put it into practice in our lives until it becomes a part of who we are. To have unselfish love for others should be the goal of every one of us, especially since Jesus said we would be known for our love for one another.

Today, think about what that love likes like coming from you. What can you do to show someone God’s love? It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture that goes viral on social media. It can be a simple word of encouragement, a prayer for a friend in need, a purchased cup of coffee for the person in line behind you, a warm meal for a homeless person, or a call to someone feeling lonely. These unselfish acts of love don’t have to change the world, but if we do enough of them out of God’s love for us, it just might.

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One Body. One Mission.

What do you think of other church denominations other than yours? What do you think about the Baptists? The Methodists? The Presbyterians? The Vineyard Church? The Assemblies Of God? The non-denominational churches? Do you have positive thoughts about them? Do you see them as the competition? Do you see them as having incorrect doctrine? The truth is we all feel something when we see other churches, and it’s related to how you were brought up to think.

One of the biggest things that stood out to me when I first started attending the church I go to was that each week the pastor would pray before his sermon. In that prayer he would say, “Lord, I bless the Methodist church down the road meeting this morning. I pray for Pastor Johnson at the baptist church this morning. Speak through him. I pray over our Anglican brothers and sisters meeting this morning. Holy Spirit, meet with your body of believers this morning.” Each week, he would call out different pastors and churches in the area and bless them.

God uses those prayers to remind me that we are all One Body and co-laborers together. Each of us has a part to play in the Body. We are not in competition with each other, but in cooperation in the Great Co-Mission. Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 12:25, “The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part” (MSG). God’s desire, and design, is that we learn to work together and to become depend on each other.

We are not to be in competition with each other or against each other. Remember, if a house is divided, it can’t stand. We need to look at our commonalities and give a 100% on building relationships around those things. I’ve been on staff at a church that had 50 denominations represented in the audience with people from over 50 different nations. We worked and worshiped together as one. This is God’s design for His Body, and it starts with us individually focusing the things that unite us rather than what separates us.

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Leaving The Valley Of Weeping

Every one of us will go through valleys. They’re those dark periods in our lives that are created by the loss of a loved one, the consequence of sin, being hurt by someone we love, an illness or something else. In the valley, it’s natural to want to push everyone away and face it alone, but that’s not God’s plan. That’s when you need those who love you the most to carry you, walk with you and encourage you. Having been there and tried that, I know the reasoning and the lies that get you to believe it. I’ve found that Psalm 84:5-7 give us a blueprint to endure the valley.

Verse 5 says, “Blessed and greatly favored is the man whose strength is in You, In whose heart are the highways to Zion” (AMP). The first thing we have to realize is we shouldn’t try to walk through this time in our own strength. When our strength is weak, His is made perfect in us. We need to rely on God, and the people He’s placed in our lives, to get through this period of darkness. We also need to focus on Him rather than the issue. If we’re not careful, we can go further down into a darker place than we are.

Verse 6 says, “Passing through the Valley of Weeping ( Baca), they make it a place of springs; The early rain also covers it with blessings.” I love this because it’s up to us what we make of the valley experience. Will it be a dry, desolate place or will it be a place of refreshing springs? Are we just trying to push through it or are we learning as we go? God has blessings in the valleys of life if we’re looking for them and we’re turning those times into learning and growing experiences.

Finally, verse 7 says, “They go from strength to strength [increasing in victorious power]; Each of them appears before God in Zion.” There is light at the end of the valley because victory is ours when we do these things. You are not alone in this. God sees you, He gives you strength daily and you are on His mind. Don’t push Him or others away on this journey. They provide the strength you need to gain the victory over this period and place in life. The valley isn’t permanent. Weeping in the valley may last for a while, but joy is on the way when we do these things.

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Endure The Test

I saw a sign the other day that said, “If you hadn’t gone through that test, you wouldn’t be as strong right now.” It was a great reminder that the tests we go through produce strength in us that we wouldn’t get any other way. God has a purpose in them. He wants to grow something in us, and often difficult times are the only way to produce it. The problem is that when they come, we usually pray fervently for God to end the test and get us out of it. The truth is that God needs us to endure it if He’s going to be able to finish what He’s trying to do.

A body builder only gets muscles through lifting more than is comfortable. A marathon runner doesn’t build endurance through sprints. You and I don’t become who we are supposed to become without going through difficult times. Your ability to endure will inspire others who will go through it later. Don’t spend your prayer time asking God to get rid of your test. Ask Him to give you the endurance to get through it so He can produce in you what He needs to. Don’t quit. You can do this.

Here are some verses on tests and endurance.

1. Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.

1 Corinthians 10:13 GNT

2. Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

James 1:2-4 MSG

3. But he knows where I am going. And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.

Job 23:10 NLT

4. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which is taking place to test you [that is, to test the quality of your faith], as though something strange or unusual were happening to you.

1 PETER 4:12 AMP

5. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honor on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed.

1 Peter 1:7 GNT

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Trust In The Lord

Throwback Thursday is a new feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.

When I was young, my dad taught me to play chess. I love the strategy of chess, the need to think ahead, and the anticipation of your opponent’s next move. What I don’t like about chess is when my King is on the run, and is being backed into a check mate situation. I don’t really like to lose, and in chess, you can usually see it happen before it does. Being powerless to help in any situation makes me feel a lot like that. I don’t see a way out, so I’m powerless to help. In real life situations, I get weak and tired from worrying about the outcome, especially if I can’t see the way to victory.

Maybe you’ve been there to. You’ve either been in or are in a situation where there’s no clear path to victory. You feel powerless over the outcome, and you’re tired from all the stress and mental exhaustion. When we are tired and mentally exhausted, our immune system grows weaker. We become more susceptible to illness. I think that why in Proverbs 17:22 Solomon wrote, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (NLT).

I know it can be hard to have a cheerful heart when everything points to your defeat. That’s why I love the promises God gives in Isaiah 40:29 that says, “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.” It’s in our weakness that God gives His power to us. It’s when we are powerless over the outcome that God gives us the strength to continue. We don’t have to see the outcome 5 moves in advance. We can trust God that His will, will be done. We can trust that whatever comes our way can be used for our good.

If you’re tired, weak, and exhausted from trying to find the solution, give it to God. Lay it down on the altar and give Him control of the outcome. Your worrying about it isn’t going to solve it. He wants to give you strength and the power to handle it though. The final verse in Isaiah 40 reminds us, “But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” It starts with putting your trust in the Lord.

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What Love Does

I once was invited to a dinner that all of my upbringing was telling me I shouldn’t go to. After praying about it, I felt in my heart that God was telling me to attend. I consulted with my pastor about what to do. He simply asked, “What would love do?” While at the event, I couldn’t help but notice the people there were society’s outcasts. My heart broke because they were living life in No Man’s Land, and weren’t even accepted by Christians (including myself). This ragtag bunch had found each other, but I was saddened that none of them would step foot in a church because of how they would be received.

My prayers up to attending the event were, “God, let me show your love whether I speak to anyone or not. Give me the courage to do what you’ve asked and to be a light in darkness.” At the event, my prayer changed to, “God, these people need you. Put someone in each of their lives who will demonstrate your love and tear down the walls they’ve built to keep you out.” I kept thinking of my pastor’s question. What would love do? What did Love do? He came and died for this group of people as much as He died for me. I was no more worthy of His grace than they were.

I recalled when Jesus called Matthew to follow Him. Mark 2:15 says, “Later, Levi (Matthew) invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)” (NLT). Then the religious leaders called Him out on it. Why was He having dinner with this group of people? They were so bound up by religiosity and the fear of what others would think, that they couldn’t understand that’s what love does.

You and I have to be careful that we don’t fall into the same trap as those religious leaders. We need to be more concerned with what God thinks of us than other people. We need to be more concerned with the souls of people than our reputation of being a “good Christian”. Jesus showed us what love does. It goes where others won’t, loves people that seem unlovable and invites them into a relationship with their Creator. It’s not easy doing what love does, but we’ve got to get better at it if we’re going to bear His name.

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All Access Pass

Have you ever met a person that you respected or admired, then got to have a real conversation with them? Then, at the end of the conversation, they gave you their number and said, “If you ever need anything, reach out to me.” I’ve had that happen a few times. I still have their cards, but I can tell you I’ve never called them. I’m too afraid that I’ll be seen as someone who abused the privilege of having access to them. I don’t want them to think I’m bothering them with a stupid request. So I hang onto my key to access them without ever accessing them.

The crazy thing is that many of us have that same attitude when it comes to accessing God. We think He’s got bigger problems to solve than ours. We reason that He doesn’t want to be bothered with our needs. We then try to justify, “He probably wouldn’t answer anyway.” So we hang onto our access to God, but we rarely access Him. I’m here to tell you that Jesus didn’t rip the veil between man and God for us to sit back. He invited us to come boldly into the Throne Room.

1 Corinthians 4:8 says, “You already have more access to God than you can handle” (MSG). Think about that. You and I have more access to God than we can handle. Access that He expects us to use. Whatever failures you point to, God can forgive. Whatever wisdom you need, God can give. Whatever problems you’re facing, God can resolve, but you have to access Him. You can’t just sit back and do nothing. Use your “All Access” badge, get into the Throne Room of Heaven and let God know your request.

God is able to handle the toughest problems of this world and your greatest need at the same time. You don’t need to feel ashamed or timid in approaching Him. His ways are not our ways and His wisdom is not our wisdom so He may answer in an unexpected way. Present your needs to Him without telling Him how to solve them. God is deeply concerned about the things you’re concerned about, and He has the power to resolve them. Don’t believe the lie that you need to leave Him alone. You have the access, now use it.

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