Staying Out of the Web

The Boeing 737 made a perfect touchdown on the seven-thousand-foot runway at the Oakland, California, International Airport, completing its one-hour-thirty-minute flight from San Diego. Once the aircraft arrived at its assigned terminal, its passengers, including nineteen weary but satisfied adults and teens, disembarked and made their way through the airport to collect their bags.

After a short wait in the baggage claim area, the giant chrome baggage carousel came to life, and one by one, individual pieces of luggage begin to spew from the baggage chute onto the now slowly turning carousel. The exhausted team joined other anxious travelers as they bunched up near the big machine, pulling their bags off the carousel.

After all the bags had been retrieved, the group made their way to the parking garage. There they were greeted by several volunteers that had arrived from their church to pick them up for the final forty-mile drive North towards home.

I was out shopping when my son called to let me know that they had landed safety and were on the road from the airport to our church parking lot. I arrived at our church  after an uneventful fifteen-minute drive from our home.

As I pulled in, I spotted my son standing near his grey suitcase, tanned, wearing a handsome wool poncho that he must have purchased while in Mexico. On top of his head was his ever-present sombrero, now marked with an additional stripe of paint on the brim, making it four colorful stripes on the hat. Each paint stripe signified yet another successful mission to Mexico, where this amazing team spent the past five days showing the love of Jesus in a tangible way, by building a deserving family a modest home.

The family that would occupy the new home would move from a leaking shack assembled from cardboard, old tarps, and scraps of wood, to a much-improved shelter. Family members had reported that during the seasonal rain storms, their old “home” rained inside as much as it did outside. There were as many as five family members that slept in a single eight foot by ten-foot room.

Their new home, built by our church team, would probably not be considered much more than a high-end shed in our country, but it had electricity, a real roof, a slab floor, windows, it was even furnished with curtains, beds with mattresses, complete with sheets and blankets, and even dishes on their new kitchen table. The family would stay dry during the rainy season, and this house boasted several rooms, enough to provide for much improved sleeping arrangements.

During our drive home, my son and I were reflecting on his experiences while he was in Mexico. One of the first observations he shared, was that despite the desperately poor conditions, many people loved the Lord and felt comfortable expressing their faith causally in everyday conversation. In general, he described the atmosphere as that of a culture of respect for Christ and God in general. People who spoke about Christ did so with no inhibition on this topic.

He found this to be in remarkable contrast to the United States, a country that boasts so often about freedom of expression and freedom of religion. A country that once securely aligned its foundation and cultural identity with God and the Scriptures. And yet today, it seems that the typical Christ follower can almost expect to be shunned and shutdown in the social media and academic settings, places where one would expect a free exchange of views.

As we conversed, we concluded that it was almost as though the great blessings, wealth, and protection that God has provided our country has allowed its people to forget our roots and the Author of our blessings. In many ways, we’ve become an ungrateful nation. We seemed to have forgotten that we too were once a nation on edge, struggling to survive. Somewhere along the way we seemed to have lost our gratefulness, forgotten God, and replaced our faith with trust in ourselves.

Job expressed himself on the topic of forgetting God:

“Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider’s web.” (Job 8:13–14, NIV)

To lose touch with our God is to lose hope, it’s the precursor to losing our love and compassion for others, it prevents us from standing up for God’s best in our lives while engaging in our counterculture world. In the process we run the risk of replacing the love of Christ with the easy to reach traits of cynicism, disengagement, and anger, all directed towards those around us that we encounter daily, often the very people that need to hear the hopeful message of the Gospel. Much like Job’s spiderweb, it’s often hard to see until we too become trapped and tangled in its many strands.

We should be encouraged though, because God has given us the Scriptures in which to offer us insights as to how Jesus responded to the world at large in his day. While our technology has changed since his days of His ministry on Earth, the fundamental human being and the challenges we face have remained remarkably similar.

There are at least three things we can do right now to help remind us of God’s blessings and to preserve within us a heart of genuine gratefulness:

  1. We should strive to live our lives with daily compassion towards others.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, NIV)

In this passage, Matthew recounted his observations of Jesus as he was traveling from town to town, sharing the Gospel of salvation and healing many from physical and emotional illnesses. Matthew could not help but notice the deep compassion that Jesus had for others.

Sometimes we go through our day and fail to “see” the hurt around us. Jesus was active in his compassion towards others, it was built into who he was and is today. We ought to model that type of compassion in our lives as he did.

Take a moment when you spot a family member, a friend, co-worker, etc. that seems like they need a listening ear, and be a compassionate listener. Often, we are powerless to solve their actual problem or take away their pain, but just as often, they can be encouraged by our presence as we offer ourselves up to listen. In doing so, we help move them from being a helpless harassed victim to being strengthened and encouraged to carry on through their current situation. In time, our efforts at listening may allow us to share with them how they might have lasting encouragement through a relationship with Christ.

  1. Love the unlovable

“ ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.’” (Luke 6:32–33, NIV)

I once had a pastor who always seemed to love the unlovable. Once during a potluck at our church, I saw him with a plate of food looking for a table to sit at. Any table would have loved to have him join them; but he chose the table occupied by several people that were kind of “special,” as our society would politely call them.

They lacked social graces, and probably didn’t score too many points in the personal hygiene department either. Essentially, they were outcasts, even within Christian circles. Nonetheless, that’s who our pastor had dinner with that night. He loved on them like any other person in our church family. He made those folks feel like they were the center of his world.

The world is full of those that aren’t the most lovable. Jesus made a good point that if our motive to love others is predicated on the return of such love, then our hearts have missed the entire point of what real love is.

Thankfully He loved me first, when I was a lost outcast, without any expectation that I would return His love. I’m so grateful for His unconditional love.

  1. Be generous with our mercy

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36, NIV)

Mercy is the idea of being generous, forgiving of others, and having compassion, reaching out and identifying with a person at an emotional level. It also captures the idea of providing help and encouragement, particularly where others fail to do so.

When we extend our mercy to another, our actions often permit a person to have a fresh start. Our actions can often release them from some personal indebtedness that might have arisen from some past offense. To be free of such a debt is a gift by itself.

Mercy is one of God’s most fundamental qualities. Without which, none of us would ever be able to engage with God in a personal relationship.

Interestingly, when we see the quote from Jesus on the topic of mercy, he describes what our state should be, even before he speaks of what we should specifically be doing to show mercy towards others. We need to live out our lives with this mindset of mercy. Mercy is not something that can be made a duty, it must come from our hearts.

Ultimately, to guard our hearts and to keep us from adopting the easy negative virtues that are so common today, we must actively engage Jesus everyday through the scriptures, prayer, song, and in the way, we live out our lives each day. If we can connect our hearts of compassion and mercy to our actions, our hearts will be guarded because of the transformative power made available to us through our living relationship with Christ.

Released from the Prison of Our Past

Known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”, The United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum( ADX), is prison just outside of Florence, Colorado. It was built in 1994 at a cost of $60 million dollars. ADX was designed to house the worst of the worst offenders. Most prisoners enter ADX with multiple life sentences. They’re the kind of people that even other high security prisons don’t want to be responsible for.(1)

The prison itself exists in a desolate geographic area, designed such that once inside, a person loses all sense of direction. There are no windows, except a few small openings facing the sky directly above. Inmates spend their days in 12-by-7-foot cells with thick concrete walls. Each cell comes equipped with a set of double solid steel doors, thus preventing inmates from seeing or communicating with one another. Inmates are permitted solo workout sessions in an indoor “gym”, a windowless concrete cell with a single pull-up bar for up to one hour per day. (2)

All meals are provided via a slot built into the interior door, visible only after a guard opens the exterior door. Inmates sleep on concrete slabs covered by a thin mattress. The exterior of the prison is surrounded by a series of twelve-foot fences festooned with coils of deadly sharp razor wire. The facilities and grounds are covered with thousands of motion detectors, cameras, and pressure-sensitive sensors. This is not a place anyone would ever wish to end up in. It was once described by former warden Robert Hood, as a “clean version of Hell.” To date, no serious escape effort has ever been attempted much less succeeded.(3)

The future is bleak for those incarcerated in ADX. A hopeless place to spend the balance of one’s life. The only way an inmate leaves ADX is after they’re dead. They will never again taste the freedom that was once theirs.

There are different kinds of prisons in this life. Some are tangible like ADX, while others are virtual and personal. Often these virtual prisons are built from the artifacts of one’s own past.

For many, our pasts can lock us out of the present. In effect, we become a prisoner, securely locked from the present, prevented from experiencing a life filled with true freedom in the present. As is often the case, many have pasts filled with hurt and disappointment. In some cases, our pasts include some form of physical or emotional trauma.

At times we can believe that we’ve conquered the hurt from our early life experiences, only to discover later, that despite our best efforts, there exists of an ember of our past which has remained alive and unquenched.

For these situations, it only takes the right set of circumstances to fan this ember into the flames of disappointment and hurt, to relive the pain experienced over a lifetime of trauma. It’s here that the abused sometimes becomes the abuser, becoming the very person they had most despised. For some, a sense of real peace about their past is often just out of reach.

The scriptures remind us of this generational cycle of hurt that so easily is passed from parents to children, often through multiple generations. God warns about such a possibility when he expressed caution to those that chose to reject and hate him. He said; “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” (Exodus 20:5, NIV)

The “punishment,” or practical consequences of a parent’s choice to hate God, impacts their children, but not all children, only those children that become adults and continue to actively model their parent’s hatred towards God.(4) But when children in subsequent generations are able to break the cycle of hatred, then the effect is to experience God’s love for many generations to come:

“but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:6, NIV)

If you judge yourself to be held captive by some sort of trauma in your past life, and if you seek to genuinely be the one to break the cycle, then the logical question to ask is: “How does one proceed? “

In the very first step, we must surrender our lives totally and completely to God. We need to become followers of Jesus. It’s only from this relational perspective that we have the beginnings of real change available to us.

We then need to understand and apply the principles and power of forgiveness that the scriptures teach, followed by the establishment of healthy boundaries in all our relationships.

One of the most powerful tools we can use to break the cycle of hurt and to free us from our past, is found in the principles of forgiveness that scriptures call us to seek out.

Peter once explored this topic of forgiveness with Jesus, as captured by Matthew in the Gospels:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)

In Peter’s day, there was a rabbinic perspective that one need only to forgive another three times, and then afterword’s, no more forgiveness should be offered up. (5)

At the time he was asking these questions around the topic of forgiveness, Peter was in the process of growing in his relationship with Jesus. He had observed that Jesus often approached faith in a non-legalistic way. Jesus consistently approached life from the perspective of God’s grace and love. In a way, Peter was attempting to seek out the rules around the boundaries for forgiveness. Peter clearly felt it pretty good to suggest that he might consider more than doubling the number of times one might offer forgiveness, from three to seven times!

He was likely surprised by Jesus’ response, when Jesus said “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In this expression, Jesus was communicating that there are no practical limits to forgiveness. In fact, living out forgiveness was one way that the followers of Jesus conducted their lives. It’s a distinctive of the Christian faith. The backdrop of course, is found in the ultimate reality that each of us have been forgiven by God with his unlimited grace. Thankfully, God hasn’t limited the number of times he has forgiven me.

The Apostle Paul further helps us make that connection between our forgiveness to others and Christ’s forgiveness towards ourselves when he wrote:

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13, NIV)

You see, when we fail to forgive, in a way we’ve taken on the weight of the offense in our own lives. Ultimately, such a choice can’t help but become expressed in our behaviors. It impacts our hearts and our minds. Sadly, such unresolved offenses can end up driving us to becoming the person we’ve most dreaded.

God reminds us that harboring our feelings in this way is not healthy, and in the end, the offense is not ours to carry. Ours is to release it to him and to allow God to deal with the offender. Paul further shared:

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, NIV)

Our part in this life is to act on God’s desires through faith, to prayerfully ask for his grace in our lives to forgive others, thus allowing us to be released from our past.

In all of this, we must be prepared that our release of forgiveness towards others may not result in a reciprocal response from the offender. Even as we forgive the offender, the offender may not respond in kind or even acknowledge the offense perpetrated against us.

We furthermore must accept that only God can change their hearts, and therefore their ways of living. (Just as he changed our hearts which has lead us to change our lives and enabled us to offer forgiveness to others.) Even as we have forgiven them, they may remain the person they are, and they may in some ways continue to offend us. The Apostle Paul recognized that this was possible. His counsel was to not worry about how the other person might or might not respond. The point is, you have done in faith as your Lord has asked, having forgiven the offender and having turned the matter over to the Lord for final resolution. Paul shared:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV)

The second key step is to establish healthy boundaries in all of our relationships, but particularly with those that have or continue to offend towards us, even after we have forgiven them, perhaps multiple times.

It’s not practically possible in this allotted space to expand on this very important topic of relational boundaries. For those of you who are interested, I highly recommend the following resource:

“Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of your life.” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, published by Zondervan, 2017.

Cloud and Townsend explore this topic in depth, and I believe that this topic, coupled with the application of forgiveness towards those that have offended or harmed us in our past, offer a great start towards freeing our present from the prison of our past.

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(1) “Five Most Inescapable Prisons in the World,” Google,accessed August 18, 2018, -https://www.mazim.com/maxim-man/5-most-inescapable-prisons-world.html
(2) “Inside Americas Toughest Federal Prison,” NY Times, accessed August 18, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/3015/03/29/magazine/inside-americas-toughest-federal-prison.html
(3)“Fast Facts Supermax Prison,” FoxNews, accessed August 18, 2018, https//www.foxnews.com/story/2006/05/04/fast-facts-supermax-prison.html

(4) Walter C. Kaiser, Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, Manfred T, Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible, (Downers Grove:InterVarsity Press, 1996), Deuteronomy 24:16.
(5) Gary M Burge, Jesus The Middle Eastern Storyteller,(Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2009),p.72

Continue reading “Released from the Prison of Our Past”

Restored From Loneliness

I read a news story posted on the WebMD website about a survey on loneliness in the United States. It concluded that our nation faces:

“widespread loneliness, with nearly half of Americans reporting they feel alone, isolated, or left out at least some of the time. The nation’s 75 million Millennial’s (ages 23-27) and Generation Z adults (18-22) are lonelier than any other U.S. demographic.

In addition, of the 20,000 people sampled, 54% of respondents said they feel no one knows them well, and four in 10 reported they ‘lack companionship,’ their ‘relationships aren’t meaningful’ and they ‘are isolated from others.’ Douglas Nemecek, MD, Cigna’s chief medical officer for behavioral health, said the findings of the study suggest that the problem has reached ‘epidemic’ proportions…’. Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity,…’(1)

Initially, I was somewhat surprised to see such results, particularly in the younger generations that seem so “connected” via phones, tablets, computers, and other tools that grant them access to a myriad of social media sites.

One would think that our newfound capacity to communicate would have reduced our sense of loneliness. In fact, the average person in the U.S. is more connected than anytime in our country’s history. Statistically, a typical American today comes into contact with more people in a single year than most did over an entire lifetime 100 years ago. (2)

Data from just one social media company, Facebook, illustrates the degree by which we have adopted our connected lifestyles. In the U.S., 156 million unique monthly visitors access Facebook each month.(3) A disproportionate number of these are younger people, presumably the most connected of all in our society. 48 million users or 88% of all 18–29 year old’s, and another 52 million users or 84% of all 30–49 year old’s are among those that connect regularly with Facebook.(4) (5) And that’s just one social platform among many where such connections occur.

In the presence of this data, how is it possible for our country to be facing an “epidemic” of loneliness along with its accompanying health consequences?

All of this caused me to ponder what loneliness really is. One of the more common clinical definitions I found in several resources described loneliness as a condition …marked by painful feelings of sadness and longing and almost always by the absence of, yet felt desire for, relationship with others” (6)

Bottom line: Without meaningful relationships we’ll quickly find ourselves living in a state of misery.

Social media often gives us the appearance of meaningful relationships, but in reality, social media “relationships” are a far cry from the depth and quality of real-life relationships. We as human beings are living, breathing, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual beings. We’re fundamentally designed to live in relationship and community. We have a basic built-in need to interact with one another in real-time. To live outside of this reality is to promote isolation, and isolation fosters loneliness and stress.

To illustrate the stress of isolation on the human mind; many years ago an English doctor built an experimental room to test its effects. This soundproof room was more akin to a large box suspended by a series of nylon ropes. Volunteer subjects were all given padded gloves and translucent goggles to eliminate the sense of sound and sight. All meals were eaten in the isolation chamber and the volunteers were observed via a one-way screen. Volunteers were allowed to exit the experiment at anytime. In the end, most could not tolerate more than five hours of isolation. In fact, even after as little as an hour, with the knowledge that they could exit at any time, most volunteers had increasing feelings of panic and anxiety.(7)

No doubt, numerous factors contribute to the high level of loneliness being experienced by our society today, yet I couldn’t help but notice that the very same demographic experiencing the highest levels of loneliness, are coincidentally the same groups that are increasingly distancing themselves from God’s offer of a loving, meaningful, and personal relationship with their creator.

About a third of older Millennials (adults currently in their late 20s and early 30s) now say they have no religion, up nine percentage points among this cohort since 2007, when the same group was between ages 18 and 26. Nearly a quarter of Generation Xers now say they have no particular religion, or they describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, up four points in seven years. (8)

The religiously unaffiliated population – including all of its constituent subgroups – have grown rapidly as a share of the overall U.S. population. The share of self-identified atheists has nearly doubled in size since 2007, from 1.6% to 3.1%. Agnostics have grown from 2.4% to 4.0%. And those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” have swelled from 12.1% to 15.8% of the adult population since 2007. Overall, the religious “nones” have grown from 16.1% to 22.8% of the population.(9)

To be sure, there are many drivers that no doubt contribute towards a society plagued with loneliness. However, we can be rest assured that loneliness was never part of God’s original plan for us.

A few examples:

1. God desires to partner with us in carrying the burdens of this life:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”-(Matthew 11:28)

The rest implied here isn’t like a vacation, rather it’s a type of rest that gives us room to breath and strength to continue, it allows us to manage through the challenges of life that often weigh upon us. Jesus has access to the Father and the resources of the Father, His invitation is extended to everyone that recognizes their spiritual need for a relationship with Christ. Our access to Christ, means our access to the Father and his resources. Christ equates the Christian life with spiritual rest which does not allow us to escape the hard life, rather to experience rest and refreshment in its midst. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

2. God is committed to walking beside us through all of time.

“…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mathew 28:20b)

One of the great hallmarks of a meaningful relationship is when one chooses to come along side another over a lifetime. I know of several friends and married couples that have successfully navigated the challenges of their lifetimes through loving mutual support found in their relationships. Yet even this level of dedication to one another, pales compared to the promises of Christ. Christ promises to not only walk with us through this finite human life, but to remain with us through all of time and eternity.

3. God loves us with a deep sacrificial love that goes beyond any human capacity to love.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

God loves you and I in the ultimate sense of the word. His love for us is sacrificial in nature. It has no bounds in terms of his sacrifice, which has afforded us the opportunity for an eternal relationship that starts the moment we say “yes” to his offer of forgiveness and reconciliation.

4. God’s love for us is perfect.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

God is capable of loving us more perfectly than any human being could love another. This is so, because only God can know our hearts and minds with absolute completeness. No human relationship can claim that level of relationship. Only God can know our heart in its totality, capturing and understanding all of our true motives and feelings.

5. God has demonstrated his love and desire for us to be in relationship, even when we were living outside of relationship with him

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

God desires a relationship with us entirely on the basis of grace, our relationship is not founded on how good a person might be, or how many good things I’ve done in this life. It’s founded entirely on his grace. This is evidenced by his intentional love for you and I, even in the face of our rejection of him.

6. God enables us to grow and fulfill our God given purposes in life whenever we choose to walk in relationship with him. In so doing, we are connected to him in a deep and powerful way.

“I am the vine, you are the branches, if you remain in me and I in you will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)

No other relationship in the world can enable us more than our personal relationship with God. When we are close to God and surrendered to him in our personal relationship, his character will be expressed and lived out in our lives. The Apostle Paul included in his list of qualities that God values, such things as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (See Galatians 5:22-23)

Among these qualities, the one held the highest is love, but not in an emotional sense, rather in an outgoing and self-giving series of actions sense.

Are you one of the lonely?

I encourage you to look deep into to your heart and be totally honest with yourself.

If you find that you are lonely, feeling disconnected and living out your life without deep and true purpose, then the first step is to move towards total surrender of yourself to Jesus, for he loves us without condition or pretense.

If you already have a relationship with Christ, but perhaps have grown distant, then take a moment and pray, ask God to help you drop your guard and allow him full reign in your life. Let no aspect of your life be off-limits to God, put it all before the cross. He can’t fix our hearts until we allow him in to do so. Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart as we speak, don’t ignore him, don’t turn aside, he loves you and desires more than anything in this world to welcome you into an abiding eternal relationship with him.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

If you have never followed Christ, and you sense the desire to do so, then pray and ask God to receive you into his family. Commit your life and surrender it totally and completely to Christ, trusting in faith that the work Christ did on the cross for you will be sufficient to save you for eternity.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

You can talk to God by praying, using your own words. There are no special formulas. Just pray from your heart to God, and He will save you. If you feel lost and just don’t know what to pray, here’s a prayer of salvation that you can pray:

“Dear Lord,

I admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself. I am sorry and I repent. I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you died on the cross for me, to save me. You did what I could not do for myself. I come to you now and ask you to take control of my life, I give it to you. Help me to live every day in a way that pleases you. I love you, Lord, and I thank you that I will spend all eternity with you. -Amen”

Because we know that we are designed to be a people in relationship, if you prayed this prayer, or if you have recommitted your life to Christ, you need to find a Bible believing church that you can join in your area. Perhaps where you live there are no formal churches to attend, (Often this is the case for those living in countries where Christianity is feared by the authorities and has been banned.) if so, ask God through prayer to find a way for you to connect with other believers. He will honor your prayers.

Once you find either a church or a group to fellowship and pray with, commit to meeting regularly and supporting one another. Study the scriptures and allow God’s word to grow within you as he grows in relationship with you.

Only through the power of Christ will you be released and restored from the grip of loneliness.

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(1) Tate, Nick. “Loneliness Rivals Obesity, Smoking as Health Risk.” WebMD, WebMD, 4 May 2018, http://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20180504/loneliness-rivals-obesity-smoking-as-health-risk.
(2) ibid, 754
(6) S. A. Cappa, “Loneliness,” ed. David G. Benner and Peter C. Hill, Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 698.
(7) Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 753.Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 753.
(9) ibid

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.