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“Now remain in my love…

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Greater love has no one than this:

to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”

(John 15:9-13).

He grinds his jaw as his blistered soles pound the trail. His gear weighs as much as a man’s corpse, and the load drives an ache through his spine and knees. Perspiration stings his eyes. His lungs heave in a steamy breath. Five more miles before the downhill slope. Must. Press. On.

“Let’s go, soldier!”

Ears clogged, he can’t tell if the raspy command comes from behind or ahead of him. But he knows that voice.

The crack of gunfire shatters the air. An explosion rattles through the earth into his weary bones. He stumbles in the plume of smoke, but does not fall. Adrenaline pulses to steady his gait. Chaos dulls his pain and drowns the officer’s words. But he knows his mission. Heart bearing the worth of his people, the soldier plunges headlong into the deadly fray.

Soldiers. Willing to lay down their lives for our people, they represent the utmost fulfillment of Christ’s call to all of us. This Memorial Day, many of us will offer our respect to the soldiers who have offered the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. Active duty service men and women also deserve our thanks, for they lay aside peace and comfort most of us take for granted. Many in our military face unimaginable horrors in battle, continuing years afterward to fight for emotional survival.

We owe them thanks in many ways.. Verbal gratitude, assistance, and favor provide a good start. Tangible appreciation must never be neglected or diminished one iota. There remains an even more significant means of honoring our troops–join them in answering the call.

Christ commissions all of us to lay down our lives in love for one another. If we rise to follow His example, setting aside our comfort to plunge forth in the fight against evil, we adopt the soldier’s mission. Carrying out acts of love despite hardship will honor the soldier, for we rise to a value more worthy of his or her sacrifice. More worthy, though it remains difficult to imagine we’ll deserve what our fallen troops have offered.

We’ll never deserve the sacrifice Jesus offered for us. No manner of thanks, no acts of service can make us worthy. Grace cannot be earned. Yet our grateful hearts prompt us to follow His example and love others. Like these noble soldiers, we, too, can grow selflessly loving hearts. Far away from perfection, long before we reach our destination, God awards us, both spiritual and tactical soldiers, an amazing distinction. He calls us friends.

This Memorial Day, join me in the ongoing practice of thanking God’s friends. And becoming one of them.

Blessings to all who have offered service to our country and our King.

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“Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Genocide ravages our eastern neighbors. Oppression torments those to our south. At home, rioters crawl in under the shadows of corruption to raze cities. Power-crazed leaders clamor to bathe in the spotlight, spurring world citizens with rallies to “do something” against injustice. Armed with fresh rage, the masses rise to wreak destruction.

Thus humanity declares enmity with itself. War spreads like a cancer. In its wake, monuments erected by our creative souls lie in ruins. The earth reddens, awash in the blood of our brothers and sisters.

From the surface, many declare us a planet of incompatible nations and divergent races. Unique cultural shimmers harden into blade-like divisions. We reject a blend of spices which could enhance nourishment, and instead burn one another’s food.

All people hunger. Regardless of our native continents, we thirst. In our many-faceted ways, we yearn to reflect the Creator’s nature. And we all need togetherness. We are, in fact, more alike than different.

Fundamental sameness resounds in our design. First and foremost, we belong to the human race. All nations rest under the authority of One King. God’s authority isn’t dependent upon acknowledgement.

Christ rebuked division, yet stood against injustice with His Father’s perfect resolution. He responded to poverty, imprisonment, and affliction with loving service. He declared war against evil and forged a path of mercy for people. Without His deliverance, we all remain in the clutches of darkness and death. Our true battle must be as His, against the enemy behind all this destruction and not waged against one another. Jesus’ ministry rejected rioting in favor of healing, provision, and liberating souls. The King of Kings vanquished evil and remains Prince of Peace for humanity.

Let us follow in Christ’s footsteps, viewing our brothers and sisters as precious to our Father. Let us strive to celebrate our divinely sculpted variety while embracing the unity of God’s design. Will you join me in prayers and efforts toward peaceful healing? We cannot conquer the world’s darkness on our own, but each of us can act as a candle to dispense a circle of it with His light.

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

“With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.” – Dr. Seuss

“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-46).

On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus knew each detail of the unprecedented suffering awaiting Him. Jeering pagans would scourge him until near death. The priests who claimed His Father as God would insist they strip and kill Him. He would drag a beam through the dusty streets, as those He suffered to rescue spat upon His battered body. His raw flesh nailed to rough wood, He would hang to suffocate in the blistering sun. And that wasn’t the worst of it. He would also bear the immeasurable weight of every sin from the advent of time until the distant end of all days. Incomparable physical, emotional, and spiritual agony.

Jesus foresaw all this as He poured the Passover wine. Three years of cherished moments with these men culminated in this final message.He ripped the bread and explained its secret meaning to blank stares. In conclusion, He handed the elements to the dear friends who would soon abandon Him.

The scent of roast lamb floated through the streets. Jesus led them beyond the hard-packed roads until the murmurings faded and lush grasses eased their steps. With the steep incline, His legs strained under the added weight of His coming journey. They settled under a favorite cluster of trees in the garden. Gentle breezes lulled His full-bellied companions into repose. Jesus offered a vital exhortation to his too-comfortable students.

“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

He surrendered Himself in a crucial prayer. Angels responded to strengthen Him. Christ continued His fervent interaction with the Father. Until—

Every nerve and hair prickled as He recognized this moment. The time had come.

Jesus returned to wake his dozing supporters. Yes, He realized their frailty. But He must impress the concept of crucial prayer. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Christ’s insistence upon prayer at this moment renders it a crucial matter. The word ‘crucial’ derives its significance from its parent term, crucifixion. Though comprehension eluded the disciples until after the resurrection, we now benefit from Christ’s magnificent teaching delivered on Maundy Thursday. He

  • Forgiveness. He fulfilled the secret meaning of Passover as the Messiah Lamb Who redeems us from the consequences of sin. Despite impending betrayals and our continued undeserving nature, He demonstrated ultimate grace.
  • Service. He modeled the nature of a servant, explaining an additional impact of His coming sacrifice as providing inspiration for selfless living.
  • Submission. He surrendered Himself in prayer to the Father, Who strengthened Him to face unimaginable agony. During His crucial prayer, the Lord sent angelic support.
  • Crucial Prayer. He exhorted His followers to pray against temptation. He knew the trials awaiting them in the coming season. He knows prayer is our essential resource to fortify and equip us foll all that lies ahead.

This Maundy Thursday, as you reflect upon Jesus’ message to the disciples at the Last Supper and Gethsemane, will you join me in committing to a discipline of crucial prayer?

I prayed about whether to attend the conference.

A dream rolled a motorcycle to my porch. The director rapped on the front door. “We’ve got work to do.”

Along the winding road to the summit, I anticipated a supportive role during the conference. I woke with a chuckle about the motorcycle ride, but continued to pray about attending the conference for the next few weeks. The Lord impressed His desire for me to go, but also underscored the serious part of my dream–keeping a servant’s heart.

I arrived a day early, searching for an opportunity to serve. An extra trip to pick up a stranded conferee seemed like a small way to help. I enjoyed the company too much to consider it sacrificial.

The next morning, I battled through the fugue of insufficient sleep and visited a local church. The message centered on Jesus’ call for us to imitate Him as He washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. Ways to deepen my willingness to serve grew clearer by the moment.

Numerous opportunities sprang up around me. I realized these needs existed in plain sight each day. In busy-mindedness, my tendency would trend toward missing the chances to emulate Christ. Had the Lord not instructed me to focus on serving, I would have retained my gaze on the next agenda item for each day.

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:13-17).

Each moment I took to encourage a first-timer, help a new writer, or pray with someone, it blessed me. Time could have passed in shallow, watch-checking minutes if I had ignored those opportunities. I’m thankful Christ shifted my focus away from what I could get out of the conference. Instead, my patient Shepherd used the week to teach me how to follow in His steps.

Despite the wealth of information in its classes, the most valuable thing I learned didn’t come from a lecture or workshop but from the Servant’s lesson. I pray He will continue His patient teaching as long as I have time left to walk this earth.

I opened the door to greet the brilliant morning. Fair weather clouds glistened in the sunlight. Sparrows twittered overhead. An unfamiliar odor tainted the spring breeze. As I ventured onto the porch, my sandal crunched on the welcome mat. I gasped and retracted my foot from the wingtip of a dead parakeet.

Silly Cat poked his striped head around the bush and mewed. A purr underscored his stride toward me. He raised his head, as if expecting affection for the offering he pilfered from the neighbor’s child.

Yeah, not so much.

I scowled at the rancid corpse and covered my nose. Silly Cat’s ‘gift’ entailed a nasty cleanup job. Ugh.

As I consider the season of Lent, I feel compelled to examine my own offering.  I’m searching my heart and spirit for a fragrant blessing to present. I don’t want to create stench in the Lord’s nostrils or cost Him a nasty cleanup in the wake of my halfhearted devotion. Will I honor the Lord’s sacrifice, or steal some convenient token?

Traditional Lenten celebrations include fasts. For some, the discipline of fasting cultivates honor and submission. Others choose to add a spiritual discipline to their daily routine. The fasts and service done by my neighbors might sing with their hearts. Rather than stealing a random songbird, I must determine which offering best reflects a sacrifice from my heart. 

I must also ensure that I honor Lent in a way that increases my submission to God and love for my neighbors. A sacrifice that detracts from God’s calling or injures others will stink to high heaven. I’m good at sticking to my list, so it would be all too easy to hyper-focus on my personal laws and shrug off the needs of His precious children, saying, “I can’t…because I’m doing this for Lent.” I don’t want to cause Him to drag out the divine shovel to fix my mess.

My prayers today will revolve around Ephesians 5:1-3, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” I trust the Lord to inspire a fresh and pleasing way for me to worship Him this season.

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