DEMONSTRATING LOVE, ACCEPTANCE, AND FORGIVENESS

1 Timothy 1:15-16 – It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.  Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

The Kingdom of God is all about love, acceptance, and forgiveness. In the kingdom of God, we first love, and then move into acquaintance. This is different than the world’s perspective where we get acquainted then we move toward love. Usually people have many acquaintances; they have some friends, but are in need of real love and acceptance.

The love of God is not based on what I do or what I feel. His love is rooted in the Lord Jesus Christ who died freely before anyone sought Him out. God’s love is commitment and is independent of feelings or knowledge of what another has or has not done. By God’s grace, we should be able to love and accept people before we really know them. Once we come to know a person, God wants to supply the necessary grace to love and accept them in spite of what we have come to learn about them. This is not by human effort, but through the grace that God supplies.

Consider how the Lord Jesus spent His time. He hung out with the outcasts of His society. He ate with sinners who had robbed their own people to become rich. He ministered to prostitutes and tax collectors. He was known as a friend of sinners.

Today, the church is filled with broken people, people who need to be loved and accepted. Some of these believers have come from heavily damaged pasts. Some have had a life of trauma beginning in their childhood. Others have had marriages that produced severe wounds and have left many scars. Others brought injuries upon themselves through addictions and poor choices relating to sexual involvements. Each person is precious in the Lord’s sight. The blood of Jesus is more than sufficient to cleanse and heal broken lives. The other healing factor is people, who themselves have experienced God’s grace in their life, reaching out in the spirit of love, acceptance, and forgiveness to those in need.

The Christmas season is the ideal time to express love. It is that special time of the year to demonstrate real acceptance. Examine your heart and see if there is anyone you have failed to forgive from your heart this past year. If so, choose to forgive that one now. If appropriate, let them know how you have chosen to forgive and accept them in your heart as one you love and care about. Ask them how you can pray for them in the New Year.

Father, I ask You to help me to be a person that lives in Your power to love, accept, and forgive with my whole heart. Fill me with the Holy Spirit to demonstrate Your power by extending my life to serve another who is in need.  

KEEP ME FROM PERSONAL FAVORITISM

James 2:1 – My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.

Favoritism was a problem in the early church, especially as it related to social class. It is a basic human problem that has followed man down through the centuries. As a pastor, one of the complaints I would hear from individuals is that people in the congregation are “cliquish.” As believers, we must guard ourselves from isolating others. We are called to be a family built together in community. Jesus told His disciples, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

It is not wrong to have some people you count as favorite friends. There is a difference between “favorite” and “favoritism.” Favorite could relate to an individual’s personality, their upbeat attitude, and general likability. Favoritism addresses paying more attention to one person over another where there should be equality. Paul experienced this with Peter as recorded in Galatians 2. Peter knew that the Lord had accepted the Gentiles as equal to the Jews. Peter was fellowshipping with a number of Gentiles until a group of Jewish believers arrived from Jerusalem. Peter separated himself from the Gentiles to gain favor with the Jewish brothers. Paul, observing this, rebuked Peter openly for his hypocrisy.

Part of our development as followers of Christ is to learn how to accept others in spite of personality oddities or even distasteful language. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness are goals for each believer. The Lord wants to equip His church to be truly Christian in a non-Christian world. Many attitudes held by church-going people are counter to the attitude of Christ who “so loved the world that He laid down His life for the most offensive among us.  

In this Christmas season, let us not only remember the babe in a manger, but the risen Christ who desires all men be saved. “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Make sure, when you are out in the world shopping or just enjoying the season, that your life gives witness of the risen Christ.

Father, I pray to be filled with the love of Christ during this Christmas season. Especially help me in regard to those who are not filled with Your love. Help me grow toward others in a way that is pleasing to You. I pray for the Holy Spirit to remove all manner of favoritism from my life. Help me be respectful toward all, even those who do not respect me.

BEING QUICK AND SLOW AT THE SAME TIME

James 1:19 – You know this, my beloved brethren. Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

What a great word from James, the brother of Jesus! Every believer should know this principle of truth, but at the same time we all need to be reminded. The principle of quick hearing and slow speaking is especially needed this season of the year. Most will spend time with close friends and family members as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whenever we spend close time with others, sharing responsibilities and conversation, there is opportunity for misunderstandings to occur.

The saying, “think before you speak” is especially helpful in preserving peace. Listening carefully to another not only provides one with information about their reasoning or opinion, but an opportunity to keep one’s emotions under control. It is important to respond to differing views with respect and as few words as possible. Well thought out responses can provide for interesting and stimulating conversation. I have determined not to be pulled into emotionally driven political talk. If the discussion is not supported by an educated view, I am not interested in plunging into heated emotional opinions.

When I first began secular work, I realized I would see my follow workers daily. I did not need to reveal everything I thought at one setting. I prayed daily for the Holy Spirit to guide me in my conversation with my fellow employees. I can testify that God was faithful. Over the years, I had opportunity to lead some to Christ. Others were interested in what I had to offer and would seek me out in conversation; there are always those who reject your views no matter how you approach the conversation. 

As believers, we need to give a listening ear for the voice of the Holy Spirit. He knows both how to nudge us forward and to hold us back from quick responses that could lead to anger. It takes discipline to stop and pay attention to His impressions. I have found more times than not, the Holy Spirit will have us listen a great deal more than having us speak. Early in my ministry life as I began to relate with pastors from many different streams and traditions, I practiced being the last one to speak. I wanted to hear what the others had to say and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit to instruct me in what I should bring to the conversation. It was a difficult challenge, but it proved to be helpful.

As we celebrate the Prince of Peace and His birth, let us take the lead in peaceful conversation and helpful participation in activities of the day. As James instructs, “Be slow to speak and slow to anger,” celebrating, not only Christ, but others and their life in relationship with you. You are Christ’s servant and a representative of His kingdom.

Father, I thank You for this season of the year. I ask for this to be the most peaceful and enjoyable Christmas my family has ever known. I pray for the Holy Spirit to be my constant guide and helper as I relate with others in this season. I pray for Your presence in all my holiday activities, all for Your glory.

A FOOT LAMP TO GUIDE ME

Psalm 119:105 – Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

I have some solar foot lamps to guide along a path in my yard. Each lamp only puts out enough light for a few steps. The Word of God is like the foot lamps. We need light for each step we take. This is why it is important to be in God’s Word regularly. The Word of God profits us more than anything else in life. It is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction.

The Scriptures give us the principles of the kingdom of God. They teach us about God’s design of how to live successfully. The Scriptures teach us how we must rightly relate to authority. We learn of various areas of responsibility God has assigned to us. We are responsible for our words, our actions, our thoughts, and our attitudes. The Scriptures teach us about ownership, motivations, freedom, and success.  

The word of God is profitable for reproof in areas of our key relationships such as relating to God, self, family, friends, and preparing for the future. It is especially helpful for a young person in learning how to relate to the opposite sex. Reproof is not negative unless we choose to respond negatively. The wise person loves reproof. “Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline, but he who regards reproof will be honored” (Proverbs 13:18).

The word of God teaches responsible steps of action in our relationship toward God and others. An example would be, “making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). A responsible “action” would be to budget time as one ought to do with money. How much free time do I have? How do I presently use my time? What could be eliminated, what is of the utmost importance? Another example would be speaking “kind words.” “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:3-4). The insight is to not let kindness become separated from you. The action would be to keep kindness in your thoughts and habits.

Finally, God’s word is profitable for instruction. Deepen your commitment to God’s word as your means of instruction in righteousness. Pray, asking for “specific instructions” from the Lord on applying biblical principles in your daily walk. As the Lord helps you to grow in spiritual maturity, share what you have learned with others.

Father, help me increase in basic steps of spiritual maturity. I pray for Your word to illuminate steps along the pathway of my walk. Help increase my love of teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction.

BE EQUIPPED IN EVERY GOOD WORK

Hebrews 13:20-21 – Now the God of peace equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight.

The Scripture above is part of the benediction the writer of Hebrews gives as he brings his letter to an end. The benedictions of the Apostles emphasize “peace.” True peace can only be found in “the God of peace.” Men have sought to establish peace in the earth, but it has been a peace on their terms. True peace can only become reality when the “Prince of Peace” is received. The true peace of God was brought about when He raised Jesus from the dead. He is the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant.

Jesus equips His saints in every good thing to do His will. By the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we are given the mind of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ was equipped in His life and ministry to do the Father’s will. He now is equipping His followers to do the same. Through gratitude and thanksgiving, we should pursue the Father’s will to do what is pleasing in His sight. This is a great conclusion as we approach the end of one year and prepare for the new.

Equipping implies training. Training begins with personal responsibility and discipline. Throughout the year we have examined numerous disciplines that should be in every believer’s life. As a believer, we have been called to the fellowship of prayer with our heavenly Father. As we open our hearts to Father God through the pattern of prayer Jesus gave us in Matthew 6:9-15, we are continuously brought to the Throne of Grace. As we develop the discipline of reading the Word of God, including memorizing scripture, meditating upon truths, and writing down what the Lord shows us, we prepare ourselves for “every good thing.”

As we develop our relationship with Father God, we become prepared to relate the Good News of the Gospel to others that come across our paths. This happens mostly by how we live our lives, but also by taking every opportunity to share God’s love. Every day, ask the heavenly Father “what is pleasing in Your sight”?  Ask to be filled each day afresh and anew with the Holy Spirit so you can do the will of God.

Father, thank You for the peace You have made possible through Jesus Christ. Thank You for the blood of the eternal covenant making it possible for Jesus Christ to equip me in every good thing to do Your will. Strengthen me in the disciplines of the faith so I might bear witness of Your love to others. Fill me today with Your Holy Spirit to be empowered as Your witness. 

THE CHANGELESS CHRIST

Hebrews 13:5 – I will never leave you, nor will I ever forsake you.

With confidence we can say the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. We are living in questionable times. Many of the certainties we have known in the past have disappeared. More and more uncertainty grips the hearts of people. As we have considered before, God is shaking everything. Only the unchangeableness of Christ cannot be moved. It is in His promises every believer can depend. We must draw near to the Lord through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to receive the confidence necessary in these challenging days.

As we move toward the Christmas season, it is vital that we seek the wisdom of God regarding finances. The world will be working hard to draw people into debt. The world will play on our emotions, both through guilt and greed. The Scriptures state, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5a). Perhaps this is a time for simplicity rather than extravagance in terms of material things. During this season, I want to seek the Lord for a greater simplicity in my lifestyle and an increase of extravagance in terms of consideration and love of others. Would you join me in greater expressions of gratitude to our heavenly Father for His blessings and increased expressions of love toward others?

The Lord desires to draw closer and closer to us. The willingness of our heart to give the reigns of our life to Him is what draws the Holy Spirit into increased intimacy with us. He is waiting for our invitation for Him to draw near. There are times when it feels like the Spirit of God has taken leave. He really has not, for He promised to never leave us nor forsake us. He waits for us to be desperate for His presence. It is a prepared heart that the Lord desires, not a need for a momentary fix.

As we prepare for the Christmas season, be reminded how the Lord spoke through the prophets of old concerning the day He would dwell among His people. He looked forward to the time He would be among those who named the name of the Lord. His desire has not changed. He sent His Holy Spirit to indwell our lives, filling us with the presence of the Lord. He so desires to draw close during this time of remembrance of His birth long ago. Let us first remember to seek Him and invite His presence among us. Next, let’s remember others above ourselves. Finally, let us reach out to those less fortunate, even as the Lord reached out to us.

Father, again I give thanks to You for all Your multiplied blessings in my life. Your love to me is so undeserved, but I receive it with gratitude. Work deeply in me that I might communicate Your love to others. I stand in the knowledge that You will never leave me nor forsake me.