Life: At the Intersection of Love and Action

When I was a child I knew for certain I was loved. There was never a doubt in my mind about the love my parents had for me and my siblings. Yet that love was rarely expressed in words, almost always in deeds. I’ve never dwelt on that too much, but in my heart, I’ve always found value in the additional expression of love in three simple words:

“I love you.”

Now married with my own kids, my wife and I have made it a point to express to one another, and to our children these all important words.

By themselves these are just words. But when coupled by our actions they’re activated, becoming the catalyst of life that restores, forgives, bonds, grows, encourages, strengthens, inspires, brings hope, serves, surrenders, and transforms. These words become a living reality in our lives and in the lives that they touch.

Life happens at the intersection of love and action.

When our kids were younger, they saw the contrast of how love and actions were lived out in our home and expressed in their grandparents home. They picked up on the fact that the words “I love you” were rarely expressed directly, rather love was mostly expressed through actions. They understood that their grandparents loved them dearly, just as I knew that they loved me as their son. Not willing to let this observation go to waste they decided to made a game of it, particularly with my Dad. They wanted to see if they could get Grandpa to say the words “I love you” more frequently by prompting him somehow.

Going forward, when our visits with my parents would conclude, our kids would make it a point to express their sentiments in words and in the form of a hug. (Bridging action and words.) At first it was a bit awkward, I don’t think my Dad knew exactly how to respond. But then something interesting begin to happen. It was almost as though he was given permission to respond in kind, and he often did. “I love you” became easier to say. What was always in his heart found expression in words.

In the Bible, Luke captured the close relationship that Peter and Jesus shared. Peter, by nature was somewhat impulsive and prone to act before thinking, but during their time together, Peter developed a greater appreciation for what it meant to love another.

Life is hard, there is no escaping that reality. But through our many life experiences, if we are patient and seek God with an expectant heart, we will know what it is to be loved by our Lord; we will experience the vast richness of his enveloping love for us.

During the last supper, Peter expressed that he was willing to show by action his love commitment to Jesus by declaring to Jesus that he would be willing to “go to prison” or perhaps even being willing “to die” with Jesus if things came to that.

But Jesus knew something about Peter; he knew that Peter’s statement had more to do with Peter’s pride and independence of heart, than with grasping the true meaning and significance of genuine love. Peter was moving so fast in life that he hadn’t paused to deeply understand the sincere depth of Christ’s love for him.

In life, one of the greatest expressions of love is when a parent recognizes that moment when their child might be in harms way and takes action to intercede on their behalf. Children often fail to recognize an immediate threat, and when a parent intercedes, a child may complain of the intersession. But a wise parent, with real life experiences will intercede in the life of their child to protect them from serious harm, regardless of the child’s response.

We who have placed our faith in the saving power of Jesus are God’s children, and Jesus loves us so much that he intercedes for us on a regular basis. In fact, the greatest form of  intercession was when Jesus willingly died for us on the cross to provide for us, via unmerited grace, eternal life with him.

Luke recorded a time when Jesus, because of his love for Peter, interceded on Peter’s behalf. Recall that Peter’s given name was Simon. It was when he met Jesus that Jesus gave him another name, “Peter.” When translated, it meant “Rock.” Think of it as a kind of a nickname. (Petros is the Greek word of “a piece of rock or stone.” )(1)

Jesus shared with Peter:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”” (Luke 22:31–32, NLT)

Here was Jesus sharing with Peter, God’s child,  how he interceded on his behalf knowing that Satan was out to bring great harm to Peter.

And what do you suppose Peter’s response was?

Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”(Luke 22:33 NLT)

Peter’s response to Jesus seemed to say, “Lord, I don’t need your intersession, I can handle this on my own, in fact, I’m strong enough that no one could dissuade me from you; I’m even willing to show you that; by either going to prison with you or even dying!”

Did you sense the pride in his response! The “Rock” showing off his self-sufficiency and ego. Jesus knew Peter’s heart to be filled with pride and self-sufficiency. We can infer this by how Jesus responded to Peter’s statement:

But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”” (Luke 22:33–34, NLT)

Notice when Jesus responded to Simon he did so by his nickname, “Rock.” I don’t want to infer more than needed here, but as the reader, I sensed that it was almost as though Jesus was saying, “Hey Mr. Tough Guy, Mr. Rock, let me tell you something, before the rooster crows…”

Not much later we see the entire prediction of Jesus unfold before our eyes. Luke captures the moment when Peter denied his association with Jesus for the third time:

But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.

At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter.

Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.” (Luke 22:60–62, NLT)

How crushing this must have been for Peter! The heart of the Rock and been reduced to pebbles.

The moment the rooster had crowed, Peter had been close enough to Jesus for them to make eye contact. In that instant, the Lord’s prediction replayed in Peter’s mind, imploding Peter from the inside. One could only begin to imagine the humility and anguish that Peter experienced as he looked into the hurting eyes of Jesus. No words were exchanged, yet everything was said.

If that had been the end of the story this would have been a horrible tragedy. Peter would have no doubt replayed this event over and over and wished that he had handled things differently. He no doubt felt like he had let Jesus down, that he had abandoned him in his hour of need. In Peter’s mind, the Rock was no longer, he was incapable of ever leading anything, much less the new church.

Fortunately for Peter, Jesus’ actions would soon be followed by words of restoration and redemption from Jesus himself.

Shortly after the resurrection, the disciples had all encountered the risen Jesus multiple times in one venue or another. Yet the words of restoration and love from Jesus to Peter came at a later encounter, just prior to Jesus’ return to heaven. It was during this encounter that Jesus publicly restored Peter. This critical conversation took place along the familiar shores of the Sea of Galilee soon after the risen Jesus had finished having breakfast with his beloved disciples.

The apostle John captured the moment between Peter and Jesus:

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

For each prior denial of Jesus that Peter had made, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. In the the end, Peter acknowledged that God knew all things, therefore Jesus had to also know of Peter’s true heart of love. Gone was Peter’s selfish pretense and pride, replaced instead with a servant’s heart of genuine love and humility for his Lord.

These words publicly spoken by Jesus before Peter and the other disciples fully restored Peter. These were deep constructive words that assured Peter not only of Jesus’ love, but of Jesus’ confidence in Peter’s role as a servant leader to the early church.

Similarly, as we go about our daily lives, our view of love needs to be like that of our Lord. We need to be prepared to build up those closest to us and to never underestimate the value of expressing those critical three words to those closest to us:

“I love you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(1) John F. MacArthur Jr., Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness, and What He Wants to Do with You (Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group, 2002), 34.

A Life Empowered

The hike was her first. At age six she needed an occasional hand from her Mom, Dad, or Grandpa to climb over some of the larger rocks and logs that were sometimes encountered on the steep mountain trail.

After an hour of walking on the tree covered trail the path finally flattened out. Tall Ponderosa pines whispered above the four hikers as gentle breezes found their way through the tree’s lofty branches. After a few more minutes of  hiking, the crude trail opened up to a beautiful lush green meadow. Nearby, a small wooden bridge leading to the meadow traversed a little creek that gently gurgled along its banks. Tiny yellow and white flowers dotted the the lush mountain oasis, tended by numerous songbirds, which added to the cheery scene as they sang and chirped while darting with flashes of bright colors through the gently swaying grasses.

This regal meadow scene was surrounded by soaring snow covered mountain peaks that rose like rocky edifices from the earth. The sound of cows mooing in the distance were complemented by the lazy clanging of their cow bells. Evidently a herd of cattle spent the better part of their Summer grazing upon the rich supply of food and plentiful mountain water.

Grandpa leisurely walked the way across the meadow with his granddaughter. Mom and Dad sat near the little bridge on the skirt of the meadow under the shimmering Aspens, taking pictures and watching as the two started their walk across the meadow.

About midway the into their walk, the cows who had been grazing on the other side of the meadow, spotted the two hikers. Being curious creatures, they gradually moved as one group towards them. The little girl watched with fascination as the cows steadily closed their distance.

In time the two were surrounded by fifty to sixty cows, each wearing a copper colored cow bell that clanged with each step they made. Close up the animals were huge! The little girl appeared dwarfed by their presence.

Her Grandpa paused and took her picture with the cows while the animals milled about in the background. The cows kept their distance while looking curiously at them. Soon the little girl pulled out a small yellow disposable camera from her pink backpack, something her parents had given her prior to her big hike to the meadow. She evidently wanted a picture of her Grandpa, ideally just like the one he took of her. He dutifully followed her every direction so that she could get him framed in the perfect picture with the cows as the backdrop.

All the while this was going on, she never once was afraid or concerned about the presence of these enormous animals. Occasionally an independent minded cow would get a little to friendly and try to approach them; but Grandpa was used to being around such animals and would shoo them back a bit.

In her mind why should she be concerned? She was with Grandpa, a man that loved her, who would never place her in harms way. He seemed to understand all the things in the world that she didn’t know about. Certainly he knew they were safe standing on the dirt path in the middle of a mountain meadow surrounded by a bunch of curious cattle. The experience was one she would always remember.

As believers and followers of Jesus Christ, we too should have a similar degree of confidence in our Heavenly Father, just as this young girl did of her grandfather.

For believers our encounters with God are through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, the one whom Jesus promised would come after his death and resurrection. In our case, we most likely met the Holy Spirit during the period leading up to our saying “yes” to Jesus; for it’s the job of the Holy Spirit to bring about conviction of heart that leads to conversion (John 16:8-11). Conversion is the human’s turning to God. It consists of a negative and a positive element: repentance, that is, abandonment of sin; and faith, that is, acceptance of the promises and the work of Christ.”(1)

From the moment of our decision to follow Christ in faith, we are assured of our place in Heaven. Like Jesus, and because of His work on the cross, we too have overcome death. With death behind us it’s now possible for us to look forward to life in the future with confidence and peace. Charles Wesley once wrote the following lyrics in a hymn that captured this powerful realization of Christ’s work for us. In part he wrote: “Where, O Death is now thy sting?…”(2) Indeed we have much to celebrate when it comes to our decision to respond to the entreating’s of the Holy Spirit and to place our faith in Christ.

Thankfully the Holy Spirit doesn’t simply leave us hanging after we’ve made the choice to follow Christ, He remains steadfast in our lives each and every moment. Jesus told his disciples that through the Holy Spirit they would be enabled and empowered to do works far greater than even He had done in his earthly ministry (John 14:12).

That same empowerment extends to you and I today, as the Holy Spirit is present within each believer. He empowers us to do things that would normally be beyond our natural capabilities and strengths. Yet when we look back through the milestones of God sized assignments in our lives, we can’t help but to acknowledge that our apparent accomplishments ultimately found their roots in God’s empowerment via the Holy Spirit.

One need only to look at the lives of the disciples to see this to be true. In the scriptures we are presented with twelve individuals that accomplished incredible feats in just a few years after their encounter and choice to follow Jesus. They could not have by their own strength managed to have shared the gospel and carried the message of Jesus such that over two thousand years later, the gospel and good news of Christ is still changing millions of lives. Their success was not a function of their own innate abilities, rather it’s origins were from the Holy Spirit. These individuals were associated with the initial spread of the Gospel throughout the entire Roman empire! (3)

Scriptures record that thousands of Jews placed their faith in Jesus (Acts 21:20), and these were not ordinary Jews, they were committed Jews sold out to their own way of life. Luke recorded that these were people that were “zealous for the law.” This would have meant that a choice to follow Jesus was one that likely came with a steep price. Many may have had to give up respected social positions, they were likely rejected by their families and suffered great economic hardships for their choice in following Jesus. Despite the costs they embraced the message of the gospel.

It would seem unlikely that these hardcore steadfast individuals would have given much heed to the message of the gospel were it simply delivered to them by uneducated fishermen, a hated tax collector, and a former Jewish leader (Paul) that abandoned his place in society to follow Christ. Yet they were moved to follow Jesus. Why? Only the Holy Spirit could account for such empowerment. The Bible tells us that many other prominent members of society outside of Jewish circles also believed and placed their faith in Christ (Acts 17:12).

That same Holy Spirit that empowered these normal everyday people is as available to you and I today as it was for the disciples then. I would strongly encourage you to embrace the peace that comes with knowing for certain that death no longer has hold of your life. You need not fear it.

We as believers are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, who is God, and the Bible tells us that God has his best in mind for you and I, and that his best includes God sized assignments that you and I could never accomplish without direct empowerment from the Holy Spirit.

Are you in the midst of a God sized assignment? If so, take a moment and ask God to empower you to accomplish whatever it is that he has set before you. Trust him to give you the abilities and resources to accomplish that which he has desires you to complete.

It is the desire of Jesus that we live our lives and live them to the full (John 10:10) We can only do that if we are in total reliance upon the Holy Spirit to empower us and that we genuinely believe that the work of Christ was sufficient to overcome the “sting” of death.

 

 

 

 

**************************************Notes************************

(1) Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 795.

(2) Logos Hymnal, 1st edition. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995).

(3) G. W. Bromiley and J. Orr, “Christianity,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 661.

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 FullLifeWord

 

Changed In The Midst of Prayer

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” -John 14:12 (NASB95)

I love a good movie, one that draws me in with mystery and wonderment. In the movie,  “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” in which the main character, Indiana Jones (Played by Harrison Ford) had to pass through several tests to reach the Holy Grail, learned that one of the tests he would have to pass was called the “leap from the lion’s mouth.”

With his father close to death and the grail the only hope to save him, Indy rushes through a rock archway below a carved lion’s head and finds himself standing on the edge of an enormous deep canyon that drops away into utter darkness. On the opposite side of this chasm is a rock wall with a doorway. But in between there’s nothing but air and no clear means to get to the other side. With no other options, and time running out, he does the only thing he can do; he looks straight ahead and steps out into the gaping chasm. Instead of falling to his death, his foot mysteriously lands on a solid surface, almost as though he were standing on a clear glass bridge.

I loved this scene because as the viewer, I was pulled all the way in and not able to understand initially why Indy didn’t just plummet to his death. But it’s when the camera shifted to the right that the viewer suddenly sees a bridge across the deep canyon in which the walking surface has been perfectly painted to match the opposite side of the canyon wall, thus from the perspective of the walker, the bridge was invisible. It’s only when the perspective changed that the carefully camouflaged bridge became evident.

Often God is about changing my perspective on many things in life. There was a time where I struggled with experiencing the intimacy of prayer that Jesus experienced with His Father. Today that experience is no longer a mystery, it is an intricate element in my walk with God.

Oswald Chambers once said; “It is not so true that ‘Prayer changes things’ as that prayer changes me,…”

How often it is that I have gone to the Lord in prayer asking Him to change a circumstance in my life, or to soften the heart of a person that needed to hear the Gospel, or to show another person that they are loved by Him.

Yet it was me that needed to change to be available for Him.  It’s been through the intimacy of prayer that I have allowed my Lord to mold and shape my heart to serve Him. God equips us to do good works (2 Tim 3:17) and He gives us the tools to do so (Romans 12:6). It is His desire that we experience ministry to others, that we become more like Him because of our encounter the Living God.

God is all-powerful, He could easily “do” for us, but that’s not how God works. He loves us, he wants to develop in each of us our personal and unique character. We each have a place in His Kingdom.

Jesus has gone to the Father, He will return one day, and when He does, we will want to hear these precious words; “Well done, good and faithful servant!” But to hear those words will require that I have allowed the hands of Jesus to mold my heart His way, to guide me in a shift of perspective and see life through His eyes with a completely surrendered spirit.

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 FullLifeWord

Picking The Teams

It might have been September or early October, I can’t remember for sure, far too many years have transpired by now for me to be exactly confident of the date, I just know it was the Fall shortly after school started and I was in the fourth grade.

It was hot, the fields around the elementary school were dry, the grass on the hills devoid of any sign of green, save that of a few hearty Oak trees. I squinted as the sun beat down on me and my twenty or so classmates as we stood noisily in a row out on the blacktop. An occasional flash of yellow could be seen as the wings of a grasshopper would momentarily appear when the shadow of a child frightened it into flight.

Two boys, the most athletic of the class, were standing in front of us, carefully evaluating the pool of potential kickball teammates.

I hated this part.

The part where one after the other the kids would all be picked. Each Team Captain would take turns, back and forth, pointing to one of us to join their team. Soon there would only be one left.

Mostly that was me.

Just when I thought the experience would be over, the real dread and humiliation phase would begin. The conversation would typically shift from picking teammates to a negotiation between captains as to which team would be stuck with me.

This was worse than simply being last. I knew I was nothing but the kid with the crooked teeth, kinda gangly, and holding no appreciable athletic skills. I wasn’t particularly very good at anything, even academics. Eventually the teacher, against the visible and at times audible protest of one or both of the team captains, would put me on one of the teams.

Years later, I learned that unlike my elementary school team captains, when God is the team captain, He doesn’t  look at abilities or talents (Something that comes from God anyway), or how one outwardly appears. Rather he looks with great compassion at the heart.

Many examples of God’s choices are illustrated in the Scriptures. By any standards other than God’s, none of these individuals would have made the cut given the assignment that God had in mind for them. In one instance, God chose a young boy that was nothing but a simple shepherd, yet he grew up to become a great king (2 Samuel 2:1-7), God also chose a guy named Moses, who never led anything but sheep in a pasture, to lead God’s people out of captivity from the Egyptians. (Exodus 3) Later, God trusted a prostitute by the name of Rahab, who probably spent a lifetime never trusting anyone, to protect Joshua and his men from certain capture. (Joshua 2)

God continued to choose in like manner, when he came to us as Jesus. He chose lowly fishermen (Matthew 4:18-20), a disrespected tax collector (Mark 2:14), and others that society generally held in very low regard to serve as His early disciples. These twelve and ultimately countless others would serve as the engine that propelled the gospel of Christ into virtually every part of the world; the message of God’s gift of eternal life ultimately bridged virtually all social and economic barriers.

When I was sixteen, I finally figured out that I didn’t need to worry about abilities, talents, or good looks when it came to having a relationship with Jesus. In fact, there was nothing I had in my life that I could offer to God except myself and a willing heart.

I realized then, that Jesus had already picked me to join His team, He had all along. He had been knocking on the door of my heart (Revelation 3:20) and asking me to open that door and allow Him to enter my life. I had simply not opened the door. One evening I made the intentional choice to respond to His gentle knock, his open arms, and accepted the fullest expression of His love for me through his death and resurrection.

That evening, I prayed and surrendered my life to Jesus. I trusted that the work He did on the cross was sufficient, and in that moment I officially joined His team.

I’ve never looked back. It was and remains the best decision I’ve ever made. My eyes became open to the world in ways I had never thought possible. It was very much like having transitioned from seeing the world in black and white, to seeing the world from God’s perspective, in full color with a greater understanding. God has since done things in my life that I could never have done on my own; He has blessed me in more ways than I could count. And best of all, I have the assurance that I will get to experience Him for eternity!! Death and the fear of death no longer have mastery over my life.

Jesus said that he came to give us life and help us live it to the full. This is how God intended us to live our lives out.(John 10:10) Sure we’ll still face difficulties, troubles, heartaches, and all that comes with life, Jesus told us we would, but we’ll never be alone for He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

In the final analysis, I came to realize that I was picked by an eternal team captain that leads His team to victory through his boundless love, compassion, and sacrifice of self.