Love Letter

I have two large shoeboxes in the top of my closet that, by all appearances, look old and worn out.  In fact, they are pretty old.  These two boxes hold all the letters and cards that my wife has given me over the years that we’ve known each other.  We met in our junior year of high school, and it’s pretty funny to go back and read of our innocent love for one another and how we longed to be in each other’s company.

Later, when I was in bootcamp with the United States Air Force, she would send me letters of love and encouragement that helped me get through our time of separation.  I keep those mementos to this day as a reminder of our feelings for one another and the bond of commitment that we share.  It reminds me to never take her for granted and to always recall the innocence and purity of when we first fell in love.

There’s another such love letter that we all have access to and its message has always stood the test of time.  The Bible is the most beautiful love letter ever written, and we have it preserved for us so that we may never forget that we are truly and wholly loved.  The story of God and his love for us is a remarkable one, one in which we see what real love and commitment look like.  All that he has done to redeem us to himself is, by far, the most amazing act of love of all time.  God himself, Christ in the flesh, bought us back, his adulterous bride, with his own blood, and the Bible is testament to that glorious gospel message.  We simply can’t miss it…God loves us more than we could ever imagine.

One of the best ways to understand this is by studying all of the analogies between human marriage and the marriage of Christ and the church that are spoken of in the Bible.  Books like Hosea and Ephesians tell of the sacrificial love that one should have for their spouse and it’s the same kind of love that Jesus has for us.  It’s a love that looks at the faults of the other and chooses to still love anyway.  It’s a love that strives for perfection for the one who is chosen.  And God tells us of this ideal union all throughout his word.  It’s a love letter that’s there for us to read and to relish every day.

God wants you to know him just as a husband and wife know each other physically (Ephesians 5:31-32).  But the intimacy of the sexual union between marriage partners pales in comparison to the closeness that God desires with each of his children.  He longs for you to fall into his arms, into his rest, into his grace and mercy.  He wishes for you to reciprocate that love and give yourself freely and completely to him.  He hopes that you will continually read his love letter to you and know, in the deepest part of your heart and soul, that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate you from his love (Romans 8:38-39).

-Joe

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Monday Motivation: Calvary

“Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

(Isaiah 53:1-9)

Calvary.

Never forget the sacrifice that has saved you.

Never forget how gruesome and painful it was.

Never forget that it wasn’t forced or bought, but was freely given.

Never forget… Calvary is the real definition of love.

-Joe

Monday Motivation: Grace

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

(Ephesians 2:4-10)

God is rich in love and mercy.  So rich that he sent his only Son to be a sacrifice for us, making us alive for all of eternity.  That grace, that gift is far beyond what our feeble minds can imagine or dream of, and it’s that grace that should cause us to act.  God not only created us, he not only saved us, he has prepared for us good works that we should do in order to glorify him and his goodness.

What are doing today and the rest of this week to show gratitude to God for all that he’s done for you?

-Joe

It’s the Simple Things That Change the World

I love it when I’m able to brighten someone’s day.

A casual “good morning” to a stranger.

A favor granted for a friend in need.

A loving gesture for my wife that says, “I love you.”

All of these things and more bring me great joy when I’m able to lift the spirits of another, even if it’s only in some small way.

I’m not as good at it as I could be though.  There are many days when I count up missed opportunities, moments when I noticed someone down, someone in need, but I failed to act because I was focused too much on my own momentary agenda.  Sometimes I question or bemoan the state of society until I realize that I could be a small solution to that problem.  Christians, people like me, fret over how we can affect the world for Christ and the truth is, the solution is right in front of us every single day.  It’s not always a powerful sermon or an insightful commentary of God’s word that produces change in the world.  It’s also the simple things, the little acts of kindness and consideration and love that show the world what Christ is all about.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus gets right to the point of this matter when he says that we should care for the simple needs of those around us if we are to call ourselves Christians.  This is feeding someone when they are hungry.  It’s visiting those who need encouragement.  It’s actually noticing the other souls around us who we share this earth with and acknowledging them and treating them the way we would want to be treated.  Jesus is even serious enough to say that our reward in heaven depends on our service to others.  Refuse to love when there are obvious needs around you, and you are basically turning your back on God as well.

And in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, we see that we can do amazing acts of righteousness like having tremendous faith or powerful spiritual gifts, and if we don’t show love, we are nothing.  All of our works are in vain if we fail to show love while doing them.

Do you want to change the world?  Do you want to live your life with purpose, to have an impact on those around you so that they can’t help but question who God is because of your love?  Well, it’s the simple things that change the world.  The opportunity to be an inspiration may literally be waiting right around the corner.  Take it and you’ll be changed as well.

-Joe

 

Monday Motivation: Dressed Like Christ

Have you seen Jesus?  That was kind of a trick question because if you are reading this then you’ve never seen Jesus in the flesh.  Even though we’ve never physically seen him, we still have an opportunity to show Jesus to the world around us.  The Bible teaches that Jesus had an unassuming appearance, nothing that would draw our attention to him (Isaiah 53:2).  And yet, he was able to draw multitudes!  How?

I’m sure the miracles had something to do with it, but I think it was more than that.  I think it was what he wore.  Before you think I’m going to discuss the merits of appropriate clothing, it’s actually not Jesus’ choice of attire that I’m speaking about.  I’m talking about what Jesus wore on the inside and how we clothe our hearts and attitudes today.  In Colossians 3:12-15 it says,

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

I believe people were drawn to Jesus for the same reasons they should be drawn to us today.  If we are clothed with Christ, with his demeanor and attitude, others can’t help but notice the difference between us and the world.  Being clothed with Christ means we show…

  • compassion
  • kindness
  • humility
  • meekness
  • patience
  • forgiveness
  • love
  • peace
  • gratitude

Let’s not be the person who may dress in expensive clothing but is only judgmental and downright selfish.  Let’s be the person who has a Christian heart.  If we do, the world will get to see the reflection of Christ which is the way it’s supposed to be.

-Joe

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

What would it be like to be friends with someone really famous?  What would it be like to be friends with the president of the United States?  Better yet, what would it be like to be friends with every president of every influential country around the world?  Imagine the sway you could hold over some of the most important decision makers of our time.  Think of what it must be like to be in the know in regards to all of the policy decisions made each and every day, not to mention the popularity such friendships would bring.

You might expect that to be friends with that many world leaders would require some background in politics or at least some ability in public relations.  But what if it were just you or me, just an average, everyday person with a family, a normal job, and a normal life who was friends with the most important people in the world?  Or even better, what if you were friends with someone even more important…say the Creator of the entire universe?

It is not heresy to say that we can call ourselves friends of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  It’s God himself who says we have this friendship and it is the most intimate and impactful thing we have as Christians.  No other religion in the world claims to have a god so interested in the well-being of its followers.  But as Christians, as dearly beloved children of the one true God, we can know that our Creator wants that kind of relationship with us.  Jesus seeks us and waits for us to invite him in as our friend (Revelation 3:20).  And he doesn’t just pick you if your life is perfect either.  He communes with even the worst of society (Matthew 11:19).

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

(John 15:12-17)

Jesus does offer this friendship freely and of his own accord, but like any friendship, it’s not simply one sided.  Jesus will always love you even if you deny him, but he wishes that you would reciprocate that love.  He asks that we…

  • love one another (vs. 12)
  • obey his commands (vs. 14)
  • bear fruit in our lives (vs. 16)

His love and friendship should cause us to show that love to others.  We have been given much so that we can give to others.  Also, true friendship with Jesus means we accept him as our Lord and we obey him as a result.  We don’t take advantage of his generosity and use it to do what we want.  Finally, a friendship with Jesus will manifest fruit in our lives.  You can’t spend time with the vine and not bear the fruits of love, mercy, and peace (John 15:1-10).

I know it would seem great to be friends with all the important leaders from around our world.  It seems as if they hold the kind of clout we would love to be a part of.  But there’s nothing like having a friendship with Jesus, the one friend who will always love us even more than we could love ourselves.

-Joe

 

Monday Motivation: Are You Ready to Trust God?

“Avoiding sin isn’t about us not getting in trouble; it’s about us trusting that the Creator knows his creation best and has designed the world to work in a certain way.  Everything outside of his creative order is a distortion, and when we follow that fractured path, we are implying we are our own gods and know better  than he does.  This isn’t primarily homosexuality, idolatry, drunkenness, greed, or right or wrong.  The issue is, are we going to trust that God knows best or that our thoughts, wills, and emotions are best?

(Jefferson Bethke- “Jesus>Religion”)

My Monday Motivation posts are all about providing positive motivation for the week ahead.  What’s your motivation for having a relationship with God?  Were you taught at a young age and just continue to do the church thing because it’s what you’ve always done?  Is there comfort and familiarity in being religious or attending church services on a weekly basis?  Do you try really hard to be a good person and follow the Bible and hope that your life is pleasing to God?

These are great questions to ask because our motivation behind why we follow God really matters.  He doesn’t want people who proclaim to love him on Sundays and then live life for themselves during the rest of the week.  He’s saddened when we talk about love and mercy in our Bible classes but go out in the world and only love those who love us first or love only ourselves.  God has created everything, even the commands he hands down to us, for our good.  Everything (outside of sin) about this world we live in is put in place to work a certain way.  When we live as if we know better than God, we are basically saying, “I don’t trust you.”

Are you ready to trust God?  Do you believe that he loves you and has your best interest at heart?  Do you know that your rebellion and sin deeply sadden him and that he just wants an intimate relationship with you, to know that he has given everything to call you his child?  For the rest of this week, really think about your motivation for calling yourself a Christian.  It’s not just a name.  It’s a life completely dedicated and surrendered to a loving and gracious God.

-Joe