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Love is Patient and Kind

An article from Pastor's Times of Refreshing blog:

It’s wedding and anniversary season – or at least in a “normal” year it would be!

The top Scripture passage read at weddings is 1 Corinthians 13.  However, this passage says nothing about weddings or marriage.  Instead, it’s a summary of Christ-like love and what such love would look like if we practiced it in our daily actions and attitudes in the Church and in all our relationships.

Beginning with this post, I plan to share a series of devotions based on 1 Corinthians 13, reflecting on how these timeless words describe Christ’s love for us, as well as our love for one another, even through these tough times.

 

Jesus warned that, in the last days, “the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12b). Paul warned later in his ministry that love will increasingly become twisted and misplaced, loving pleasure, self, money, and other pursuits rather than loving the Lord of life (2 Timothy 3:1-5).  May it not be so among Christ’s faithful people!

Because love is so much more than a passing emotion (something you’re “in”), it takes practicepersistence, and, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13:4, patience and kindness. Christ-like love definitely doesn’t come naturally to us, but Christ’s patience with people is staggering!

I believe Paul’s words in this chapter first describe Christ’s deep and patient love with His people.  I don’t think we can fully grasp just how much the Lord puts up with each of us as we disobey and distance ourselves from Him … Yet, He “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9b).

 

How’ve you been doing in the patience and kindness department?  Speaking for myself, I know that my sense of patience and my acts of kindness have been running thin lately.  The many effects of the pandemic are taking a toll on all of us.  It’s all too easy these days to be short-tempered and snippy, even with those we love the most!  It’s hard enough to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, but it’s even harder when we’re afraid or overwhelmed or just drained by everything that’s happening.

My own willpower isn’t going to make be be more patient and kind – at least not for very long. Just like our patience and kindness, our willpower also has its limits.

The Good News is that Jesus’ love knows no limits!  His patience and kindness toward you is beyond description!  He’s ready – right now – for you and me to turn to Him, repent of the coldness of our love, be loved by Him once again, and be filled with His surpassing love for us. And as Jesus’ Word returns us to Him and the true love of God, that love will begin to flow through us.

 

Your family members, coworkers, and neighbors all need more patience and kindness in their lives.  Let Jesus’ love for you be your starting place.  He loves you patiently and unconditionally so that you can love others in His name.

For your prayers:  Jesus, bring me back to Your great and saving love for me. Help me to love others in my life by being more patient with … and by showing kindness to …

Outcomes from this Pandemic

An article from Times of Refreshing:

COVID-19 marches on.  Millions of people have now battled this virus and hundreds of thousands have died from it around the world.

And yet, the next chapter of life is starting to come into clearer focus. More businesses are reopening – at least partially.  More people are feeling comfortable getting out and about – while wearing their masks and social distancing. More plans for the summer and beyond are being made – or re-made.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not quite sure what life will be like when we come out on the other side.

As I see it, there are two major outcomes. I hope and pray that both will be the case for you.

Outcome One:  You remain healthy. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, you make a full recovery, and, with time, return to normal life.  You keep your job, or you get your job back when the economy regenerates.  You maintain your positive outlook.  Your loved ones stay relatively healthy, keep their jobs, and recover from this outcome.

Those outcomes will not be the case for everyone. Hopefully, all of these things will work out for you. If they do, thank the Lord for preserving you and providing for you and those you care about.

However, as important as those physical outcomes are to each of us, I believe there’s a more important and lasting outcome that could come out of this pandemic.

Outcome Two:  You may or may not remain healthy.  You may or may not come out of this economically stable.  Your loved ones may or may not be okay.

This pandemic has been a glaring reminder that we are not in control of life.  Even the experts and the powerful and influential leaders of our world have been at a loss some of the time.

What if there’s something better than just being okay?  What if there’s something more important than being in control or stable or healthy?

I truly do hope and pray that we all come out of this safe and healthy.  But of far greater importance is whether we trust Jesus in the midst of it all. 

Times of affliction are often the greatest opportunities for growth, both in our daily lives and in our life of faith.

Jesus is inviting you to call on Him for your daily bread.  Jesus is beckoning you to listen to Him in Scripture and speak with Him in prayer.  Jesus is sending you to serve your neighbor – whether over the phone or computer or in-person or under your own roof.

This morning in Bible study, we considered Philippians chapter 1, one of the Apostle Paul’s last correspondences.  Paul would not have grown to become the man of faith that he was by the time he wrote Philippians if not for all that he suffered for the name of Jesus (Acts 9:16).  Having seen so much affliction over decades of ministry, his concern is no longer whether he’s free or imprisoned, or even whether he lives or dies.

Paul knows that the best outcome, no matter what else happens, is that the Good News of Jesus continues to be made known, both near and far (Philippians 1:12-18).

A great (temporary) outcome in this pandemic will be for your to live and thrive and return to “normal”, but the best outcome will be for you to grow in Christ, even during the peak of this outbreak,  or for you to begin trusting Him, or for you to return to Him, as God’s Spirit works in your heart through the message of Christ.

That’s an outcome that will make a difference for all eternity!

Once again, I hope and pray that God will continue working in your heart and life during these difficult days, both preserving you and your loved ones, and most importantly, drawing you closer to Himself and His everlasting love for you!

A closing prayer – known as the Prayer of Good Courage:

Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,  by paths as yet untrodden,  through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage,  not knowing where we go,  but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Merry Easter! Now What?

An article from Pastor's Blog (timesofrefreshing.blog): 

Easter Sunday in Wisconsin was blustery, rainy, and then, snowy!  I’ve heard a number of people wishing each other a “Merry Easter!” this year.  I have a lot of Christmas song titles bouncing around my head: “I’m Dreaming of a White Easter”,  “Frosty the Easter Bunny” …

I do hope you had a Merry Easter!  However, I think we are all aware that this Easter did not feel so merry to many people.  For many who are grieving, isolated, ill, unemployed, or facing other serious hardships, this was probably one of the toughest Easters they’ve experienced.

If you are going through such hardships this Spring, I hope and pray that you can lean on Jesus as He shepherds you through this valley.

Easter follows the somber season of Lent. For me as a pastor, Lent is usually a very “full” time, especially with preparing for additional midweek services and for Holy Week. Feeling a little worn out, my Easter Sunday included a nap on the couch as my kids watched The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. (Faun Tumnus’ music lulled me off to sleep.)

Part of me feels like I “made it through Easter” – as if Easter is just a holiday which is now over and done!  But what if Easter has only just begun?

For starters, Easter is not only a day but a season. Easter season continues until the end of May this year when the season of Pentecost begins.  And as I shared last week,  every Sunday is a “mini Easter celebration.”  For nearly 2,000 years, Christians have gathered on the first day of every week, worshipping our risen Jesus, hearing His voice, and responding to Him with both joyful praises and also the prayers and concerns of our hearts and lives.

But the impact of Easter goes far beyond a season or a day of the week!  Easter is your future, your eternity in Christ!

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared;  but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

You shall be like the Risen Jesus!  Easter is just getting started for all who trust Jesus. Through your Brother, Jesus, you are God’s child – right now!  And when Jesus reappears and resurrects the dead and restores all things on the Last Day,  you shall be like Him – raised in an imperishable, immortal way, as Jesus was at dawn on the third day.

“We shall bear the image of the Man of Heaven” says St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:49. The image of God will be fully restored in all of Christ’s people. Both physically and spiritually, your whole being will be changed in the twinkling of an eye! (1 Cor. 15:51-52) In short, you have God’s own promise that you will be like His risen Son!

That’s great for the future,  but what about now?  St. Paul closes his Resurrection Chapter with this shot of confidence for all Christ’s Easter People:  “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord,  because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58 NIV)

We live and labor for Jesus today in the sure and certain expectation of an eternal Easter with Him and those we love who have died in Christ.

Because Jesus lives, “you also will live”!  (John 14:19)

Merry Easter indeed!

How Long, O Lord?

An article from Pastor's Blog (timesofrefreshing.blog):

How long, O Lord, will we and billions of our neighbors around the world be sheltering in place?  How long will the “curve” of the coronavirus continue to rise?  How long will medical professionals, cashiers, food suppliers and so many others be fighting this daily battle?  How long will we be putting off important occasions – weddings and funerals and all other get togethers?  How long will parks and playgrounds and sports be off limits?  How long will we be nervous about a simple outing to the supermarket or pharmacy or hardware store?

Do any of these cries of “How long?” echo your concerns and prayers this week?

“How long?” questions are nothing new.  People have been asking themselves, one another, and God Himself, “How long?” for millennia.  Around 3,000 years ago, the plaintive words of Psalm 13 were penned by Israel’s King David:

1 “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

David was having more than a bad day.  He was experiencing some sort of intense suffering, at the hands of deadly enemies.  He feels as if God has forgotten Him, as if God has hidden Himself.  David worried that, unless the Lord would intervene, he might end up dead. David was shaken, but he continued to trust the Lord as his Rock and Salvation.

Four times in this brief Psalm,  David asked,  “How long?”  He pleaded with the Lord, “consider and answer me” as he poured out his soul to God.  But David has more to say.  Out of the depths of his anguish and worry, David trusts and rejoices and sings!

David would have to wait for God’s response to all his questions. In the meantime, David didn’t give up.  The Lord’s steadfast love, His certain salvation, and His gracious bounty anchored David in his emotional storm.

What can we learn from Psalms of Lament, such as Psalm 13?  It’s okay to give the Lord a piece of your mind!  He can handle it.  He’s heard it all.  Just read the other 149 Psalms!  It’s far better for our souls to lament to the Lord – to turn to Him in trouble – than to turn away from Him.

But the Lord has also given us a piece of His mind – much more than that, really.  He has given us His written Word, and He has given us His Living Word, His Son Jesus.

God doesn’t promise to answer all our “How long?” questions on our timing. However, through His Word He does promise us so much more than we deserve. He promises His presence. He promises His protection. He promises us the gift His Holy Spirit. He promises His peace. He promises His provision. He promises His healing, both the temporary healing we experience here and the eternal healing that is ours in Christ.

If “How long???” expresses how you’re feeling this week, then tell God about it!  But don’t stop there.  Listen to Him as well.  Read and ponder His promises in Scripture.  Share a Gospel Word with your loved ones and social media contacts.  Take a page out of David’s book – trust the Lord,  rejoice in Him,  and sing & speak to Him of both your sorrows and your joys.

“But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalm 13:5-6)

Opportunities in this Pandemic

An article from Pastor's Blog (timesofrefreshing.blog):

Each day the news seems to become more serious and the cases and deaths from COVID-19 continue to mount. I don’t want to take away from the gravity of this situation. Even if things aren’t so bad in your neck of the woods, this pandemic is probably affecting people whom you know and love.

With that being said, this pandemic might also be presenting us with some opportunities. Here are a few that I’m thinking about:

The opportunity to pray – it seems the majority of Americans are rarely on the same page about anything. However, surveys in recent days indicate that the majority of Americans are praying for a solution to the pandemic. If you have more time on your hands right now, spend some of that time in prayer with Jesus! Even if you don’t have more time on your hands right now, you can still pray amid your daily labors.

The opportunity to embrace life under your roof – American life is characterized by busyness at all ages,  but not right now. Nurture the relationships within your own home. Be patient with one another. Be careful to not take your stress out on those closest to you. Find a creative outlet. Enjoy the spring weather in your own backyard, or, if you can safely do so, on a neighborhood walk. Declutter and organize your basement or garage. But most importantly, make your home or apartment a place of faith formation in Jesus!

The opportunity to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving – We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” which refers to everything we need to support our lives and our families. If you have your basic necessities right now, give thanks to God. If you have more than enough, look for ways to give back to those who are having a hard time. When was the last time you sent a donation to your local food bank or similar non-profit? These helping agencies are going to be more important than ever in the weeks to come.

The opportunity to fulfill your duty – I saw a New York paramedic who said on the news that it is only a matter of time until he becomes infected with COVID-19, but that won’t stop him from doing his job. He described the sense of duty he feels toward his community, motivating him to keep working, despite the risks. Some are fulfilling their neighborly duty “on the front lines.” Others are doing so by staying healthy at home. Either way, we all have God-given duties to fulfill in our daily callings.

The opportunity to make sacrifices – I’ve heard it said that society has not had to make such collective sacrifices since World War II. We’re (temporarily) sacrificing our freedom of movement, of assembly, of the pursuit of happiness (at least what we can pursue out and about). But let’s remember that making even little sacrifices out of love for others can reflect the great sacrifice of our Savior for us.

The opportunity to be a neighbor – Does your neighbor need you to go grocery shopping for her? Does another neighbor need his lawn cleaned up for spring? Could another neighbor use an encouraging phone call or an old-fashioned letter in the mail? Does your neighbor need you to wear a protective mask and say “hello” from a distance? God’s Word teaches us, “In humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Colossians 2:3). Fred Rogers encouraged kids to look for helpers in tough times. It’s a great time to be a neighbor and be a helper.

The opportunity to care for yourself – Now isn’t a great time to learn parkour or clean gutters on a rickety old ladder. I don’t want to go the the ER right now unless it’s absolutely necessary!  To whatever extent possible, let’s keep taking good, preventative care of ourselves and our loved ones so that our medical professionals can concentrate their energies on this pandemic.

The opportunity to be resourceful and try new things – I’ve learned a LOT about technology in recent days, now that I’m suddenly leading worship services via live stream on Facebook. How about you? Now is a great time to learn a new skill, study some history, cook some different recipes … Even if you’re stuck at home, you can still keep your mind and body active.

The opportunity, as with every day, to rely on the love and grace of Jesus!  Maybe you feel like there isn’t much you can do right now. There aren’t many places you can go. That’s okay, because this is a good time for trusting, not just doing and going.

We entrust our lives, our health, our loved ones, our communities and country into the hands of our Savior. We belong to Him. All things are in His pierced hands. By faith, we trust that in His way and in His time, God will work all things out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

And finally, we know that the Lord will see His baptized, believing people safely through this valley of coronavirus and sheltering at home to better days ahead, and, ultimately, to the refuge of the house of the Lord forever.

The Lord bless and keep you during these stressful, bewildering days, and may the joy of our Lord Himself always be your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

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