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When I was in school, there was a game that schools were teaching kids called “Lifeboat”. Basically you were the captain of a ship that was at sea and it was going down. There was one lifeboat, but there wasn’t enough room for everyone. They gave you a rundown on everyone on board. Some were young, some were old, some had questionable past, some had noble professions, some had medical conditions, some were addicts, etc. You were then to choose to see how your morals or values guided you. My parents, and a lot of Christians were against this type of education and wanted us to respect all people and value their life. I don’t remember the game lasting very long in schools, but I do remember them reiterating the Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated.
Both the Old and New Testaments teach us to love our enemies and to treat them well. The word enemy here is someone who is hostile toward you or who opposes you. That can be tough to do. Usually if someone is hostile toward me, my first reaction is to attack them back or go on the defensive. I’ve always tried to keep Proverbs 15:1 in mind when someone is angry at me, and give them a soft answer. Another thing I try to do to de-escalate the situation is to try to understand their side and point of view by asking questions gently. Most people simply want to be heard and understood. They feel like attacking or yelling is the way to do that. Our response has the ability to add gasoline to that raging fire or water.
Finally, if all else fails, value them and their life. Remember that they were made in the image of God as much as you were. Romans 12:16 says, “Live happily together in a spirit of harmony, and be as mindful of another’s worth as you are your own” (TPT). When we argue our points by devaluing someone else and their points. It’s like tossing them overboard in the game of Lifeboat. It’s telling them that they don’t matter and you and your points are worth more than theirs. As believers, we must learn how to live in harmony across denominational, racial, ethnical and personal belief lines. We must value each other as brothers and sisters in Christ even though we may not see eye to eye. We are not each other’s enemy, and our battle is not against flesh and blood. Each of us have the same worth to God and He paid the same price for their sin as He did for yours. When we learn to value others as ourselves, we create an ability to live in harmony.
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One day, there was a religious leader who wanted to trap Jesus. He asked Him which of the commandments was the most important. Jesus knew what was in his heart and replied that we must love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. What the leader wasn’t prepared for was what Jesus said next. He said, “A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself” (NLT). He knew if we could do these two things, we could fulfill the law.
The first one seems easy enough. We are to love a perfect God with everything in us. The second one, that’s equally important, is the tough one because people are imperfect. People do things that make us mad, offend us, hurt us and drive us nuts. Yet Jesus is telling us to love them with everything in us as much as we love God. Why would He put that pressure on us? Why can’t we just love God and go to Heaven?
I believe God wanted us to learn to look past each other’s faults to see what He sees in them. Genesis 1:27 tells us what to look for. “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Each of us are made in God’s image, even the people you can’t stand. God put His likeness in each one of us and it’s up to us to learn to see it the way He does.
If you look for the best in others, they will look for the best in you. If you can see God’s image in them, you can learn to love them because we can easily love God. It’s tough sometimes to dig through their layers to find it deep inside them, but His image is in there. When we learn to see Him in others, and to help them see His image in themselves, we begin to see the world through different lenses. We begin to know as we are known and also to fulfill that second, but equally important commandment. Look deeper into to others today to find God’s image and fulfill the law of Christ.
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Throughout the last couple of millennia, Christianity has thrived in times of pandemics and plagues. While the world is full of fear from an unseen enemy, Christians have peace in knowing death is not the end. They know the words Jesus spoke, “Do not let your heart be troubled…Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…Love your neighbor as yourself.” They have then put those words into practice. There are stories of places where the plagues were killing everyone, but it was the Christians who tended to the sick without fear. They used times of global fear to show the love of Christ and to explain the hope of salvation while hearts were open to understanding and learning about God.
I believe today is no different. We should be on the frontlines of bringing hope and peace. We should be encouraging people rather than living in fear. These windows of opportunity only open so often and close as quickly as they open. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “If anyone asks about the hope living in you, always be ready to explain your faith” (TPT). It’s times like these that we should be helping, encouraging and sharing our faith. When we put others first, especially in crisis, they want to know why we are doing what we are doing. That’s when we share the hope we have. That’s when we tell them our lives are not our own.
Hebrews 10:24 says, “Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love.” What creative things have you seen people doing for others lately? I’ve seen churches make masks to donate, care for widows, buy groceries for people out of work, offer drive through pantries and more. What can you do to bring hope and show compassion as an expression of God’s love? What has God put in your heart to do? Share it with others and encourage them to help you do it. This is our time to make a difference. This is our time to show others the peace they can have even in a crisis. Look for creative ways to encourage people being affected by this pandemic, and then go do it. You don’t need permission, you just need passion.
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Every spring there are big displays in home improvement stores selling seeds. I like to look through them to see if there’s anything we would like to try to grow. One one side of the packet you have a picture of what the seeds inside will produce. On the other side you have a map of the US, a color coded map that tells you where these seeds grow the best and them some instructions that tell you how deep to plant them, how far apart, when the best time of year to plant them is and how long it will take them to produce. The more closely you follow those directions, the more likely that your garden will produce something from the packet.
Most of the seeds we plant in life can’t be seen and aren’t physically put in the ground. There’s no packet that you can read to tell you where they will grow best, how long until they produce or when the best time to plant them is. When I was a kid, a popular saying in the church world was, “You’ll real what you sow.” To me, it always seemed to have a negative connotation. They only brought it up when you weren’t doing the right thing. While it’s true that it works for those behaviors, it also works for the behaviors God wants to reinforce in our lives. The law of sowing and reaping was instituted in during creation when the Bible tells us that God planted a garden in the east. He didn’t speak the Garden of Eden into existence like most everything else.
As Christians, we need to pay attention to the things we are planting in our lives, the lives of others and into the world. We don’t have to worry about timing, location or season. 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “We know that we prosper and excel in every season by serving the Lord, because we are assured that our union with the Lord makes our labor productive with fruit that endures” (TPT). The seeds you’re sowing today are not in vain. They will produce whether you think it’s the right season to plant them or not. The law of sowing and reaping can only come into affect when you plan seeds. God is the one who makes them grow, not you. Don’t hold back in planting where God tells you to or when. Your planting will be productive through Him.
In Matthew 22, some Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. In verses 37-39 Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (GNT). Jesus was very clear that we should love God first and then our neighbor.
On the night before the crucifixion, at the Last Supper, Jesus gathered His disciples around for one final teaching. In John 13:34 Jesus said, “And now i give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.” Jesus was adding that now we have to love other believers as well.
Sometimes the hardest people to love are within the walls of our churches. We find it easy to go out and love the homeless, the orphan, the destitute and the broken, but that’s not how Jesus said they would know we are Christians. Are those things necessary? Yes! Those are our neighbors. What’s difficult for so many of us is to love the person on the pew next to us or in the church across town. And that’s who Jesus commanded us to love on His last night. He knew we would struggle with this.
Jesus once said, “A house divided can’t stand.” Since that time, the enemy has tried to divide the Church. We’re divided into denominations and now we split churches because we grow to hate our brothers. If we’re going to be effective in loving our neighbors, we’ve got to love each other first. We need to put down our grudges and love each other instead. Until we get that right, how will the world know we are truly His disciples? If you’re holding a grudge, slandering or angry against another believer, you’ll find it’s difficult to obey the first two commandments effectively. Learn to love your brother (or sister) in Christ whether you think they deserve it or not.
The Boy Scout’s motto is “Be prepared.” It means that you should always be prepared to do what’s necessary to help others. I think it’s a great motto that we as believers should adopt as well. We should always be willing to help others and to do what is necessary, not just what is expedient. You will never become great by doing what’s easy. You have to be willing to pay a price that others won’t. As a Christian, that often comes in loving others as you love yourself.
Timothy was the Apostle Paul’s apprentice in the faith and in ministry. In his second letter to him, Paul gives him advice similar to the Boy Scout’s motto. II Timothy 4:2 says, “Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching” (NLT). His message then and now is to quit waiting for an opportune time to share your faith or help someone out. Do it now!
The time for preparation is before the times are hard. When a disaster is imminent, people rush to the stores and buy what they can in a panic. They may have what you need or they may be sold out. That is not preparation, that’s desperation. Where I live, we know hurricane season is June 1 – November 30. We know that sooner or later one will come. It’s better to be prepared before one enters the Gulf of Mexico. If you wait until it’s too late, you’re going to suffer.
That was Paul’s message to Timothy. He tołd him there was a storm coming. “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.” Since that time was coming, Timothy needed to be prepared to use the Word of God to correct, rebuke, and encourage. With a storm time coming, the time to prepare was now.
For us, there is a time quickly approaching like there was for Timothy. When that time gets here, it says that people will not listen to sound doctrine. We can no longer afford to wait for an opportune time to correct, rebuke, and encourage our family members, co-workers, or friends. We must get an urgency about us like Noah had to get people into the Ark. The night is coming and we need to be prepared. We need to be prepared to preach the Word of God now with our mouths and our lives. Eternity depends on it.
Recently, the news has been covering stories of people who have devalued the lives of others. I’ve watched as people have cheered when another human was murdered because of the color of their skin or for their profession, and I’m heartbroken. Whether a person is guilty of a crime or work in a profession that others don’t like, they have a soul that will spend eternity somewhere. In the end, we are all guilty of breaking God’s laws, and we are all in need of grace. Please don’t misunderstand me, I believe people should receive justice for their wrongdoings, but I won’t cheer when a life is taken, whether deserved or not.
These recent stories in the news remind me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man, who was looking for a loophole in the second greatest commandment, which is to love your neighbor as yourself, asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” He was looking for Jesus to cut out certain people groups that he didn’t like. He was trying to get Jesus to say that some races or lives mattered more than others, but Jesus didn’t take the bait.
Jesus told him the story of a Jewish man who was robbed and beaten while traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. Luckily, a fellow Jew who was also a priest came walking down the road where he was. When the priest saw the hurt man lying there, he crossed the street to walk past him from a distance. He didn’t want to get involved and run the risk of getting hurt. After he passed, a Levite scholar came by who was also Jewish. He avoided the hurt man as well.
Then Jesus added a twist to the story. He said a Samaritan came by. The Jews didn’t value the lives of the Samaritans so they expected him to walk by, but Jesus used him to help the injured Jew. He was driving home the point that our neighbor isn’t just someone with our nationality, heritage, or with the same political persuasion. Our neighbor is any other human and God expects us to love them as much as we love ourselves because He created us all as His children.
If you believe that Jesus died for our sins, then you must believe that His grace is strong enough to save even the worst among us. Instead of putting down those we don’t agree with or calling for their death, we should be showing them love, caring for their wounds, and being a neighbor. If our neighbor, according to Jesus, includes those we have a deep conflict with, then it’s time to stop tearing them down, avoiding them, and to start loving them like we love ourselves. It’s time to value the lives of others as much as we value our own life.
How would your life be different if you really cared about others? Think about it for a second. We say we care about others, but do our actions reflect that? Right after Jesus told us what the Greatest Commandment was, He said, “The second one is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Loving your neighbor is as equally important as loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. So why is it easier to love God that way, but not our neighbor?
I’m the same as you. I’ve got neighbors I like and ones that I don’t. They mow their grass at inappropriate times, they host parties until 4 AM, they don’t keep up their yards or houses and they aren’t friendly. Jesus didn’t allow for those excuses here. He didn’t say love them if they’re easy to love. He said love them as you love yourself. If you would do something for yourself, you should be willing to do it for your neighbor. You should put their needs above yours.
I know this isn’t easy and I’m guilty of not loving my neighbors as I should. If we’re serious about our faith and we’re serious about seeing God’s Kingdom grow, we’ve got to shift the focus from ourselves and onto others. In Luke 10:29, someone asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” He then told them the parable of the Good Samaritan. When He finished, Jesus asked, “Which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” They replied, “The one who showed mercy.” Then Jesus told us to go do the same.
Loving our neighbors, as illustrated in that parable, isn’t just those who live next to you. It’s anyone you see or come across who is in need. We are to love them and do for them what we would do for ourselves if we were in that situation. I saw a man yesterday sitting outside the 99 cent store playing guitar with his case open for money. I asked my wife, “Why is he sitting outside the 99 cent store and not in front of a store where people who have money are?” Her reply was, “He knows they carry cash.”
The more I think about it, the more I realize that the people going in there are more likely to give to him than someone at an expensive store. Even though they only have a little, they’re more willing to give. Most people who have money aren’t willing to let go of it easily. Jesus illustrated that in the Good Samaritan as well. The people who should have helped the man who was robbed, walked by on the other side of the street. The one who no one thought would help, put the man on his own donkey and walked to the next town. He took care of the stranger’s wounds. He paid for his food, lodging and medical bills. He loved his neighbor the way we’re supposed to.
What neighbors in need has God put in your life that you’ve passed up constantly? Who can you show mercy to today? I think there’s no better way to show God we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength than to love others who need it most like we love ourselves. How would your life change if you really loved others that way? How would your relationship with God grow if you did? Open your eyes today to see what neighbor God puts in your path and then love them the way you love yourself.