Showing Love

[Jesus said:] “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
John 14:15

Our family has a pet beagle named Sox. We love Sox.

And if you were to come to our house, here’s how you would know that we love Sox:

We say we love Sox, of course,

But we also feed him every day. We give him water every day. We take him for a walk every day. We give him a bath every week. We take him to the doctor for a checkup every year.

We cuddle with him, we provide a soft warm bed. We have a collar and leash so that he won’t run into traffic chasing a squirrel or a rabbit.

I say I love my dog. I also show that I love my dog.

I say I love Jesus, too.

So how can I show that I love Jesus?

Jesus says that if I love him, I will keep his commandments.

Here are a few ways that I do this:

I love others (see John 13).

I worship him alone (see the Temptation of Jesus in Luke 4).

I tell others about him (see Acts 1).

I talk to him daily in prayer (see Matthew 26).

I read his word (see Psalm 119).

I forgive others as he has forgiven us (see Matthew 6).

All Christians say they love Jesus.

But what does love mean?

It is helpful for me to remember that love is:

A feeling. I can feel love for something or someone and even feel love for Jesus, although not all the time. So I’m grateful that love is not only a feeling.

Love is a choice. I choose to love my wife every day. Happy and successful marriages are those that know that love is a daily choice and not only a feeling that can be fleeting or fluctuate.

I choose to love Jesus. I am given the power to choose to love Jesus by the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace (God’s Word and Sacraments).

Love is action. I love through the things that I do. I think of others first, especially those I love. True love is a selfless act!

Of upmost importance is to remember that we love Jesus because he first loved us (see 1 John 4).

Jesus loved us first – while we were still lost in our sins, Christ died on the cross to forgive those sins (see Romans 5).

We are called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to proclaim his love for us. We do this by saying we love Jesus and we do this by showing we love Jesus by loving God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength and by loving our neighbor as ourselves.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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A Result of Love

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit … Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Acts 7:59, 60

The first sermon I preached as a pastor was on the Old Testament text of 2 Samuel 11 & 12.

I remember it well. The Bible story is about David’s sin with Bathsheba. He broke the Sixth Commandment then he broke the Fifth Commandment. Two people end up dying – Uriah, the husband of the woman that David has an affair with and impregnates and the child of David and Uriah’s wife.

That may sound like a rather odd choice for a first sermon in a new parish and as a newly ordained pastor.

But it was part of the assigned readings for that weekend and I saw in this text an important lesson on the consequences of sin, repentance, and forgiveness.

I also remember that the sermon when 45 minutes – the first and last time I ever preached that long!

Still, my congregation was patient with me and encouraged me. I got better at preaching and, more importantly, more efficient with time and content!

My first sermon certainly went better than Stephen’s first sermon.

Stephen’s first sermon – recorded in Acts 7 – was also his last. It certainly had a lasting impression, to be sure!

Stephen laid down the Law on his hearers. He told them, and I’m paraphrasing here (you can read the entire story in Acts 7), that all the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Twelve sons of Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Then Stephen told them that they killed Jesus, just as their forefathers had rejected the prophets of God in the past.

They didn’t like to hear this, so they grabbed Stephen and dragged him out of the city. They threw him down on the ground, picked up large stones, and started throwing these stones onto Stephen.

They wouldn’t stop until Stephen was dead.

That’s quite a reaction to a first sermon! But it is Stephen’s last words that are the most wonderful!

“Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

You know what this is?

It is a confession of faith.

It is loving God with all heart, soul, mind and strength.

It is loving neighbors (even enemies) as self.

The Bible doesn’t mention that Stephen met Jesus or was one of the extended number of disciples. But he was certainly well acquainted with Jesus’ teachings.

He took seriously his calling to be a Deacon that would be the hands of Jesus in distributing food to widows and others (see Acts 6).

He didn’t just distribute food, however. He also shared his faith in Jesus and was not shy about proclaiming both Law and Gospel.

His courage calls to us to have the same courage to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

I pray the Holy Spirit will encourage me to never be afraid to tell others the Truth of Jesus Christ and to never stop loving God or my neighbor (even enemies).

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Cyril and Methodius

Image result for cyril and methodiusCyril (826-69) and Methodius (c. 815-85) were brothers who came from a Greek family in Thessalonica. The younger brother took the name “Cyril” when he became a monk in 868. After ordination, Cyril became librarian at the church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople. In 862 the brothers were sent by the emperor as missionaries to what is now the Czech republic, where they taught in the native Slavic tongue. Cyril invented the alphabet today know today as “Cyrillic,” which provided a written language for the liturgy and Scriptures for the Slavic peoples. This use of the vernacular established an important principle for evangelical missions.

Imitators

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit….”
1 Thessalonians 1:6

The vision was still vivid in his mind’s eye. A man standing with the sea behind him, beckoning to him.

Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

And so Paul, Silas and Timothy had set sail from Troas and headed west.

They had met Lydia in the city of Philippi.

They had been jailed soon after for exercising a demon from a slave girl.

They then were miraculously released from jail and shared the Gospel with their jailer.

They made their way to Thessalonica and preached the Gospel there for about a month.

They headed to Berea and did the same. But Paul continued on his own to Athens.

Timothy headed back to Thessalonica and the new Christian church there. He caught up with Paul in Athens and gave him a report.

Paul responded to this report by writing a letter to the church back in Thessalonica.

We know this letter today as 1 Thessalonians.

This letter is bursting with encouragement for us as much as it was for the 1st Century Thessalonians!

They heard the Gospel from Paul. They then put that Gospel into practice.

Paul says they “imitated” him and Silas and Timothy.

They pray. They display the power of the Holy Spirit, which is showing love for all people.

Love that was first displayed by Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection to save all sinners.

They also were persecuted for their faith. Paul says that they “received the word in much affliction.”

But for someone who knows the love of Christ in their heart and soul, persecution and affliction do not matter!

They still love their fellow townsmen. They still pray for them. They live the new life they have in Christ Jesus.

This life isn’t easy or soft. It is a hard life because the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature declare unrestricted warfare on us when the Holy Spirit converts us to faith in Jesus Christ!

But Christ is stronger than all three combined! And victory is ours through Jesus Christ!

As Paul encourages the Thessalonians, so we are encouraged to be imitators of Christ and his faithful followers.

We love one another and never shy away from proclaiming the love of Christ to the people around us.

When you do this, don’t be surprised that it makes the news!

Paul lets the Thessalonians know that news of their love and life has spread throughout Greece!

This will be used by the Holy Spirit to bring more people to us to love and pray for and share the Gospel with!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Walking Alongside

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
Matthew 5:1

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been large.

In the 7th grade I played basketball for the Gavin Central Tigers. I was the tallest kid on the team. I played center. I was so big that I wasn’t able to wear the same warm-up pullovers that the rest of team wore. So, I was given a dark green wool warm-up jacket that today could be used as a prop for the movie “Hoosiers.”

Throughout high school I was always a little bigger than the majority of my classmates. Couple that with an uncanny gift for sarcasm and snarkiness and I was a target of some of the other big kids and upperclassmen.

When I started my degree in pastoral ministry I gravitated toward youth ministry but found that I was a bit intimidating to younger kids.

And as a pastor I’ve often been told that I’m somewhat scary, especially to younger children. That comes with being 6’4” and weighing around 300 pounds.

For a while I made matters worse by growing a beard.

I had to find a way to not be so scary to people.

I found that one way that worked, especially for children, was to “go down to their level.” I would sit in a chair or even on the floor to teach or talk to them.

I also found that it helped to speak softly and with a smile on my face.

That got me to thinking about how Jesus was so successful in speaking and teaching to people during his earthly ministry.

One clue to Jesus’ success is found in both Matthew 5 and Luke 6.

sermon-on-the-mountIn Matthew 5 begins what is called Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.”

Matthew’s introduction tells us that Jesus “went up on the mountain.”

I get the picture that people had to look up to Jesus to hear his teaching.

To look up to a person to one way of saying that this person is an authority figure. Jesus certainly was that!

As an authority figure, Jesus could tell his audience things that they could and should take to heart. He expounded on the Ten Commandments, encouraged his followers to live a salt-filled and light-filled life of righteousness, and he gave them the Good News that he had come to fulfill the Law.

sermon-on-the-plainIn Luke 6 Jesus again teaches, but this time we’re told that Jesus “came down with them [the 12 Apostles] and stood on a level place.

Jesus “lowers” himself to his disciple’s level in order to teach them much the same things as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.

This has taught me – and continues to teach me – a lot about teaching and preaching to people.

With children, I need to get down on the ground with them – both physically as well as with the words that I use.

With some adults, I need to proceed from the position of the authority given me by the Holy Spirit through my call in order to be recognized as someone worth listening to.

With others, I need to walk alongside them during their life and circumstances.

Jesus did this and set the standard for all those who would follow in his footsteps of proclaiming his Gospel.

Jesus walked with us. His feet got dirty as ours do. There was grime under his fingernails just like we get. He traveled a path of sorrow, pain, and even death – just like we do.

I can never shy away from that model of sharing the Good News.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

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Reflections

As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man. Proverbs 27:19

As I look at my phone, before I hit the home button and turn it on, I see a reflection of me.

It is dark but recognizable. Not the same as my reflection in the mirror but I can still see it is me looking back at me.

attachment-1If I turn the phone on and take a “selfie” – a picture of myself – I see a better reflection of me.

I do this many times a day without even thinking about it. But now that I am thinking about it, I’m not comfortable thinking about just how many times a day I actually do this!

Every day we are faced with our reflections in many different places and in many different ways.

I wake up in the morning and I pour myself a cup of coffee. If I don’t put any creamer in it, I can see my reflection in the surface of the black coffee as I bring that first delicious sip of hot caffeine to my lips.

As I amble into the bathroom for my morning ablutions I look in the mirror and see an accurate – if not somewhat scary – reflection of myself.

And then every time I take my phone out but before I hit the home button, I see a darkened reflection of myself in the screen of the phone.

I also see reflections of myself at other times and in other ways.

I can see a reflection of myself in the reactions of other drivers while I am driving on the road.

I see a reflection of myself in the faces looking back at me during Bible class or when I am preaching or leading worship.

Pictures-Important-March-16-2009-024_thumb.jpgBut the most important reflection of myself that I see and look for is in my wife and sons.

I was at a breakfast at church the other day and one person commented to me that my youngest son looks just like me! I think the phrase they used was “splitting image!”

I don’t see it myself. After all, I’m just about 52. He’s 16. I have receding gray hear, he has strawberry blond hair – and a head full of it. And he weighs about 150 pounds less that I do.

But I understand what this person was trying to tell me. All three of my sons are reflections of me. Children are always a reflection of their parents in some way or another.

Children learn about life initially from their parents. Their lives reflect how they learned about life, how to interact with others, what manners (or lack thereof) they have, how they handle disappointment, joy, and all other aspects of life.

But the most important aspect of this reflection is their relationship with God. While no Christian is “born” a Christian – that is, they are not Christians simply because their parents were Christians – a person’s first exposure to God is through their parents.

This lays an incredible responsibility on a Christian parent’s shoulders. But it is also an incredible joy to be able to share Christ with our children.

Having said that, however, I want to be very clear that I am not saying that if a child grows up to reject Jesus Christ that it is somehow their parent’s fault. No one can believe – have faith – for someone else.

But when God blesses a couple with children, I believe that part of that blessing is to be able to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with their children.

And God-willing these children will reflect our love for God in their own lives.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

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Mentors II

I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music. Psalm 101:1

Radio station KFUO in St. Louis had the largest classical music library west of the Mississippi River in the United States. I was an announcer at KFUO in the late 1980’s and early ‘90’s.

Working the overnight shift – midnight to 6am – I had a lot of time to peruse th largest classical music library!

It was here that I first came across the music of Richard Souther. The album/disc was “Cross Currents” and while the music was not strictly classical, I was able to incorporate some of the music into my show.

I also listened to his music during my day, it was – and is – that good. “Cross Currents” would eventually reach No. 9 on Billboard’s Top New Age Albums chart. He would also produce and arrange “Vision: The Music Of Hildegard von Bingen”, which reached the top of Billboard’s Classical Crossover chart.

When I started my Christian music show on the internet in the late 1990’s, I contacted Richard via email. We talked back and forth through email and when Facebook came around in the early 2000’s we were able to instant message each other.

We’ve become quite good friends – even though we’ve never actually met each other face to face.

the-prayer-closet300Richard’s music is inspired and inspiring. He has graciously allowed me to use his music for my podcast. I especially like to use his “Prayer Closet” recordings for my personal devotion and prayer time.

I count Richard as one of my mentors in that he has taught me to never give up on my dreams or in using the gifts the Lord Christ has given me.

Richard uses his talents to share the love of Christ. Not only is he an outstanding musician but also as gifted photographer.

Another way that Richard has mentored me was when he was critical ill a few years ago. An accidental illness left it very difficult for him to compose and play music. But he would never give up. Through the prayers and encouragement of his friends and especially his wife, Cyndi, Richard was able to overcome this challenge and continues to make music for people to enjoy and to give all glory to God.

Through the music Richard worships God and helps others worship God. This has been an incredible lesson for me – to be able to use the talents God has given to worship him.

I’ve passed this on to my own sons. They are not musicians, but they are athletes and love sports. And they have been gifted uniquely by God in this area. I’ve been teaching them that they can use their athletic gifts to worship God.

And like Richard, they also can help others see God in them and their gifts. We often pray together that God will use their athletic gifts in order to bring others to Jesus.

If you would like to know more about Richard Souther, go to his website http://richardsouther.com/

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

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