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Loving the Neighbor You Can’t Stand

23 Feb

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

—Matthew 22:36-40 NIV

 

In John’s Gospel, Jesus uses a metaphor that rings true for anyone with a green thumb. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener,” He says. “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Jesus goes on to explain that we are His branches. If we want a fruit-producing life, we must stay connected to the vine.

In the Bible, the concept of fruitfulness carries the connotation of becoming more like Christ in both our attitudes and actions. If you want grapevines to produce their maximum amount of grapes, they must be drastically cut back and pruned each year. If we are going to grow to be spiritually mature, we, like the grapevine, must also endure seasons of pruning—times of trials and difficulties.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as though God’s favorite “pruning shears” are people.

Can I get a witness?

I received an email recently from a young working professional. We’ll call her Shelley. Shelley wants so much to be an influencer for Jesus in her office, but Shelley works with what I like to call a “sandpaper person.” You know the type. They rub you the wrong way every time you bump into them. (more…)

Teaching Kids to Love the Lord With Their Strength

19 Feb

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

—Mark 12:28-31 ESV

Each Saturday evening after church, our family of four piles into the car and heads to dinner. While the restaurant may differ from week to week, the routine does not.

“So how was church, kids?”

“Good.”

“What did you do today?”

This typically prompts a discussion on songs they sang, games they played, and Bible verses they discussed. Not long ago, the lesson was on the greatest commandments: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

As one who grew up going to church, I have known these verses for as long as I can remember. I have thought deeply about what it means to love the Lord with all my heart. To the Jews in the ancient near east, the heart was the seat of the will. To love the Lord with all our hearts means to make a decision to choose His way.

In Preaching That Speaks to Women, Alice Mathews states that “While biblical writers sometimes used heart and soul in overlapping ways, loving God with all our souls implies loving God with the vital psychological part of our being.”[i]

Bible teacher and author Jen Wilkin often says that “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” If we are to love God with our minds, we must actively seek to grow in the knowledge of Him. We do this by studying the Bible, engaging with the text; listening to sermons and thinking about what the preacher said.

But how do we love God with our strength? Much has been written on the former; less ink spilled on the latter. (more…)

A “Mary” Little Christmas

14 Dec

Flikr. Used with permission. Not for commercial use.

Flikr. Used with permission. Not for commercial use.

But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.”

The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.

—Luke 10:40-42 HCSB

Each year around the holidays I usually receive a few invitations to share at various women’s ministry events; invitations I accept eagerly and with deep gratitude.

I just love to talk about Jesus.

Honestly, He’s my absolute favorite.

I start praying for the event well in advance, and those prayers usually go something like this:

So what do you want to talk about, Lord? Clock’s ticking. Sure could use some insight.

There are the usual passages of Scripture preachers like to teach on around Christmas, like Isaiah 9:6, which states “For unto us a child is born, unto is a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders, and He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

The Lukan narrative of Jesus’ birth is another popular place to go, but this year, I couldn’t tear myself away from the story of Mary and Martha.

The story is small, buried deep in the heart of the book of Luke, in the middle of our Savior’s journey to Jerusalem, but it carries big implications for us that we can apply year-round.

Luke’s Gospel divides neatly into four sections, comprised of Jesus’ birth and baptism (1:1—4:13), His ministry in Galilee (4:14—9:50), the journey to Jerusalem (9:51—19:44), and the Passion week leading to His crucifixion and resurrection (19:45—24:53). Each section has a theme, and the theme of the Jerusalem journey is this:

~ Jesus Offers a New Way ~

What is the new way? God the Father told Peter, James, and John when they were alone with Jesus on a mountaintop. “This is My Son, the Chosen One. Listen to Him.”

~ Listen to Him ~

What God did in that simple statement was to turn the old way on its head—upside down and inside out. Backward front and frontwards back. A completely new way of approaching the God of Israel.

You see, the old way was about the “do.”

It was about the “thou shalls” and “shall nots,” the “cans” and “cannots,” the “do’s” and “do nots.” It was about an ever-ascending ladder of laws that no man could hope to fulfill.

Ah, but that was the whole point.

The commands, the “thou shalls” and the “do’s” were never meant to save the poor Israelites. They were intended to show them how far they were from holiness, how great was their capacity to sin, and how likely they were to stray without the safeguard of the law.

The “do” was put in place to point us to a “Who.”

~ The old way was about the Do. The new way is about the Who. ~

Martha learned that first hand, late one afternoon when a scraggly band of brothers came knocking at her door. They weren’t strangers, far from it. Scripture indicates that Martha, her sister, Mary, and her brother, Lazarus, were dear friends of the Rabbi they called the Christ. In Biblical times it was a great honor to offer your home to travelers and hospitality was expected.

Still, can we all just agree that Jesus and His disciples pulled a total pop-in? (more…)

The Birthday Party

29 Nov

‘So go into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ And those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all they found, both bad and good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

—Matthew 22:9-10 NETgifts

Every year at Thanksgiving, it’s customary (and right) to reflect on what we’re thankful for.

I am thankful for Monica Grider.

If it weren’t for Monica, I might not know any of my neighbors.

We had lived in our neighborhood for less than a year when one sunny Sunday afternoon we heard a knock at our door. At least, my husband did. I was vacuuming.

Mike called me to our entryway, and there, in the door, stood Monica.

At the time I had been working at a different radio station. Just a few days earlier, the show’s hosts had been having some fun at my expense.

I had told them off the air how lonely I was. I had lived in Flower Mound for five years and still didn’t have any close girlfriends.

It’s not that I didn’t want to meet people. My schedule just made it tough. I couldn’t do any of my church’s Bible studies or other activities because I was at work during the daytime studies and getting ready for bed during the evening studies. The girlfriends I did have lived in other cities (the DFW metroplex is massive), and because they worked during the day, I spent most of my time with my two babies.

As I shared this with my co-workers, one of them asked me why I hadn’t made an effort to make friends.

“I have,” I exclaimed, and proceeded to tell them how I would walk my kids to the park in the stroller and try to insert myself into other moms’ conversations. Pathetic, I know. And highly ineffective.

At this, they howled with laughter and then told hundreds of thousands of our closest friends the next time we turned on the microphones.

Monica Grider was listening and, through mutual acquaintances, knew I lived around the corner.

Monica is also one of the kindest, most sincere, gracious, and inclusive people you will ever meet.

I suppose that’s why she invited us to the birthday party.

Not her birthday party. Karra’s daughter Kaitlyn’s fifth birthday party.

Did you catch that?

Monica invited me and my family to the party of one of the neighbor’s daughters.

Without telling them.

It gets better. (more…)

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