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Jesus, I Love You

i love you illustration
 
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”   John 21:15-17
 
A story is told of an elderly couple who had been married for many years. One night while watching TV together, the woman said to her husband with sadness in her voice, “Why don’t you tell me that you love me anymore?” Perplexed by the question, because the man loved his wife deeply, he responded by saying, “I told you when we got married that I loved you. If that changes, I’ll let you know.”
 
While the man loved his wife, he failed to understand her need to have that love affirmed. It is unlikely that she truly doubted his love, but there is something very meaningful about love expressed.
 
In John 21, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. Coming from the Son of God who is all knowing this may seem especially odd. Surely Jesus knows the answer. So why ask? Might it be more for Peter’s sake than for Jesus’?
 
Just before Jesus was sent to the cross, Peter had betrayed Jesus by denying that he even knew Him, denying Him so adamantly that he even cursed. It was not so much that Jesus needed to be reminded of His love for Peter or even Peter’s love for Him, but rather Peter needed to express his love and be healed. And that is exactly what Jesus does. Through Peter’s expression of love, Jesus restores him and commissions him to be one of the great proclaimers of the Gospel.
 
When was the last time that you told Jesus how much you love Him? Not just in a casual, “I love you” way, but in a deep and sincere expression that flows from experiencing His love for you. Jesus knows that you love Him, but love expressed brings joy to Him and can truly transform you.
 
Jesus, I love You. Your love for me has changed my life and I can’t thank you enough. Help me to express my love for You today and every day of my life. May my love for You become contagious to those around me that they too have share in this joy. I love You, Jesus. Amen.

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Stability

The Nativity figurine closeup photography
 
The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” [Jeremiah 29:3-7]

One thing people are craving right now is stability. We used to feel so safe, right? Everything worked just like it had for a long time. But this year has thrown so much off-kilter. People feel unsafe, unstable, and unprepared for tomorrow. We crave words and actions which will re-establish a sense of normalcy, and it seems like we are willing to sacrifice almost anything to make it happen. 

I imagine this must be like the Exiles in the Old Testament experienced. They were taken away from everything they knew: family, homeland, property, customs, the religious structure of the temple. They must have craved stability of some sort. And there were “prophets” ready to give it to them. “God will bring us back very soon!” “Be ready to leave!” “Don’t worry, listen to us!” All these voices arose, trying to speak stability into the lives of these people who were forced out of Israel. 

But exile was a test. Exile was a test from God, trying to get his people to find their stability not in land or possessions or religious practices or idolatry or kings, but rather to find it in God. No matter earthly circumstances, God’s people will have in him. “Build houses… plant gardens… get married… seek the welfare of the city…” In other words, do the normal things that people do when they have stability. God commanded his people through Jeremiah to find their stability in the promise of God. The promise of restoration and hope. 

Really, it is the same promise to which we cling. God has made us stable, through a baby born in a stable. Two newlyweds, traveling to Bethlehem, forced to have their first child in a stable, forced to flee because Herod wants to murder their son. What stability was there for them? Only the promise- this Child will be King forever. 

Indeed, our stability is rooted in the promise of Jesus, that he will bring us to himself, that his Kingdom will come, that God’s will will be done. No matter what the world throws at us, no matter our situation or circumstance, no matter chaos that swirls around us, we have permanent stability in Jesus. 

Like the exiles so long ago, let God’s stability guide you in your earthly life, too. 

Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, we thank you that have given us solid ground at the foot of the cross, promising us eternal life in Jesus. Let us live in your stability, even when our world is so chaotic and unpredictable. Empower us to make decisions based on your truth and not the feelings of hopelessness coming from our instability in the present moment. Thank you for the Holy Spirit, who guides us now and forever! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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The Lord’s My Shepherd

woman in blue and white bikini set illustration
 
From Psalms 23, the first verse reads, “The Lord is my Shephard, I shall not [be in] want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.” The Lord is our ultimate guide. All of our trust should be in Him just as the sheep get lost when they think otherwise. We are dependent on our Lord to lead, carry, and protect. Whenever you find a moment that seems too great to bear, that is when you most need a reminder of what is more important: you will be granted a life that is eternal. The prayer of the stressed, the Lord will hear, and he enjoys conversations with you. Psalms 4:1 states “Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.” The shepherd takes full joy intending to his precious flock. When the shepherd hears the sheep’s prayer, he rejoices. He knows each sheep by name, and they know His voice. The voice of Jesus is where He promises to be, even to the end of the age: in His Word. The life He lived, He lived for you and me. He lived to protect us, even with His own body and blood. The Promise of a Savior from Genesis continues to you and I today, He protects and guides us.

The Psalm continues, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Here Jesus gives His Promise again to be with you and me. The rod and the staff would be used to fight off a snake or serpent protecting the flock. Sheep wander as they have been known to do, but not every time, we will be protected from the threat of a serpent. The slither of a snake would be enough to scare a sheep into wild directions, but the ones who hear the Shepherd’s call will be called back into the flock. This is our comfort in times of peace and in times of stress.
           
Prayer: Lord God, Heavenly Father, Thank you for the gift of the Psalms, to teach and guide us on our journey. Thank you for being our Good Shepherd through times when even we struggle to see you. By Your Love, You bring us back to the fold, You tend to our prayers, You call us by name, and You give us Your Word. Give us patience as we walk through the shadow of death, i.e. this world, until we rejoice in the House of the Lord forever. Strengthen and preserve us until the incomparable and unimaginable dawn of glory breaks upon us. Help of the Helpless, Lord abide with us. In Jesus Christ, in Whom we rest, Amen.

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The Advent Wreath

 
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  1 John 4:9-10
 
It’s almost here. Only a few days to go. The excitement is building.
 
Yes, Christmas is right around the corner. Hopefully, all of your shopping and decorating is complete and you can enjoy the days ahead as a time to experience what Advent is meant to be, a time of reflection and preparation for Christ’s coming, past, present, and future.
 
During this season, you will find an Advent wreath in many Christian churches. The wreath, with its four candles around the ring, has come to serve as a reminder of some of God’s gifts to us. The candles traditionally represent hope, love, joy, and peace (though the order varies among churches).
 
While we might each have our favorite of these four candles, mine has always been love. While the bible is filled with expressions of God’s love, perhaps no single writer captures it better than the apostle John. Sometimes called the “Apostle of Love” because of his attention to God’s love in Christ, John brings the Gospel to life through his inspired writing.
 
John points us to an important truth today as we consider the words from 1 John 4:9-10, especially “not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son.” In these few short words, John reminds us that the source of love is God. Any relationship that we have with God does not start with us but rather began long ago with God. He is love itself and demonstrates love in the most tangible way possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
 
As the recipients of God’s love in Christ, we are freed from the burden of sin and the fear of the future. The Father has wrapped us in His love that we can now express to others. So now today, let us pause to first give thanks to Him for sending His Son and loving us enough to call us as His own. His love gives us the true reason to celebrate this Advent season.
 
God of love, You did not spare Your own Son but sent Him into this world to save us. Grant us today faith-filled hearts that more fully experience Your love and can then express it to others. Prepare us this day for the return of Christ our Lord in whose name we pray. Amen.
 

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel

shallow focus photo of the Nativity figurine
 
The Christmas carol known as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was written by an unknown author in Latin, but the tune itself has by sung in monasteries since the 8th century. It was translated by John Neale and Henry Coffin in 1861.

In that little town of Bethlehem nearly 2,000 years ago, there was an event that changed history known as the Christmas story. “O come, O come, Emmanuel” highlights the significance of a Savior born for us. The first line says, “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here Until the Son of God appears.” The author shows urgency in his prayer with the words, Come, Come, and the word Emmanuel means God with us. Emmanuel refers to the Lord of Life who is so humble and so gracious to enter our corrupted and selfish world and be born in a 300 person town. The hymn continues, “and ransom captive Israel who mourns in lowly exile here.” This imagery refers to the Israelites of the O.T. and the current Israelites, you and I.  To ransom essentially means to redeem by a payment. 

It might be a little alarming to be told that we are held captive to something, but this is what Jesus Himself says in John 8:34, “Truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” We all are in slavery to sin, and we can only be released by a perfect payment. John 8 continues with, “the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” We, the slaves, in order to be set free need the door to be opened and a plan to sustain life. These are found in our Savior, Jesus Christ, and His payment upon a wooden cross.  For releasing us who deserved condemnation for sins, the Son of God had to be punished by the Father. The hymn tells us that we must be ransomed from our slavery, and only by the Son of God appearing in human form we are able to be ransomed.  Therefore, “rejoice! Rejoice, [the] Emmanuel shall come to thee, Israel.”

Additionally, the third stanza reads, “O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree Free them from Satan’s tyranny that trust they mighty power to save, and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.”  The tree of Jesse, David’s father, refers to the old Jewish lineage of kings. Yet, from David’s bloodline, Jesus was born, and through Him is the new branch (or vine) of Life. Jesse was the father of King David of Israel, and so, the is called Jesse’s because the father ought to have responsibility for his children. By the branch of wood which Jesus had to carry to His death, we find freedom from Satan’s tyranny and forgiveness and life. Through His Resurrection, we receive victory over the grave.
 
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for loving our sin-filled humanity more than your glorious Heaven. Thank you for being born for us, for redeeming us, and for rising triumph over the grave for us. We thank and appreciate your gift of hymns and their special teaching power based on Your Holy Word. We pray you would bless our Christmas this year and protect us wherever we travel. Please be with us and strengthen, support, motivate, and propel us.  Lastly, we ask we would remember to bear our neighbor’s burdens as our burdens, just as You assumed humanity for us. In Your Precious and Holy Name we pray, Amen.

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