Sunday, August 29, 2010

The mark that distinguishes

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
John 13:35 (NIV)

During a recent dinner party, I had the opportunity to socialize with quite a few people I'd not previously met. Conversations flowed, social etiquette was practiced, and for the most part guests shied away from the more delicate topics of politics and religion. Overhearing various conversations that took place around me, however, I realized that the belief systems in the room were almost as varied as the number of people in attendance.

The next morning as I mulled over the evening's event during my quiet time, I wondered if any of the people I met knew about my love for Jesus. For that matter, was it important that they knew. After all, it was a business engagement and not a faith-based affair.

Opening my Bible to the morning's devotional reading, I had a personal sense of some insight into my questions. "A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35 NIV).

While I'm inclined to dig into God's Word to gain greater understanding, I'm pretty sensitive that I not tear apart every single word or phrase in a passage looking for meaning that doesn't belong. With that said, the "By this all men will know that you are my disciples" portion of the Scripture verse touched my heart.

The Greek word used in this passage is agape--unconditional love. C.S. Lewis (The Four Loves) describes agape, or charity, as love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstances or personal flaws. It describes God's love. The apostle Paul describes what true Christian love is like in his first letter to the Corinthians. He points out that the true measure of spiritual worth lies in self-giving love, no matter what great knowledge or gifts a Christian possesses.

The command is clear. God Himself is love and is the source and measure of all love. I do care that others know about that love. Consequently, if all men are to know that I am Jesus' disciple and if they are to come to this realization through my expression of charity, inherent in the command is that I am concerned for how I show that love.

God's Word provides wonderful illustrations of how Jesus expressed this love during His daily walk on earth. He was generous with His time and accepted what we would perceive to be interruptions in His day (Luke 9:11). Jesus took a keen interest in the people around Him, gave them His full attention, and actively listened to their needs (John 5:6, Luke 21:1-4). He always spoke truth (John 3:1-21,Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 6:9-15). He demonstrated compassion (Matthew 14:13-14, Mark 10:17-23), provided comfort (John 11:17-37), and extended forgiveness (John 21:15-19).

Dear friend, the mark that distinguishes is love. What if each person we meet could actually recognize that we are followers of Jesus by the way we "love one another"?

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Life goes on

Best friends
Bonnie Schulte and Joanne Sampl

Dear friend, I hope you will indulge me as this post is a bit of a departure from my typical blog. This week marks the first year anniversary of my dearest girlfriend's death.

One of the blessings of the friendship that Joanne Sampl and I shared is that we fully recognized it was a gift from God. With that said, I don't know that either of us ever intentionally planned "I want to be Bonnie's/Joanne's friend." Yet, as the years progressed and our camaraderie grew, we took steps to actively nurture our relationship.

Our conversations ranged from business issues--What in the world is a brand's essence, and more importantly, why do I care? To spiritual matters--How do you think Abraham handled that long three-day walk to the mountains of Moriah (Genesis 22). To family life--Aaarrgghh. We're moving again. Joanne knew how to be a friend. She always made time for me. She incited me to seek truth, encouraged me to laugh out loud, and taught me how to back off and listen.

Since her death on August 19, 2009, the world has continued on, in general, and I have moved on, in specific. I've been having the time of my life in my new job at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. My husband marked two years with his job and he has a list of "rip-it-up/fix-it-up" projects that could last him two lifetimes, much less one. Our son's girlfriend recently accepted his proposal of marriage and our daughter was granted acceptance into her university's doctor of physical therapy program.

The world has experienced approximately 129 million births, a gunman opening fire on and destroying innocent lives at Ft. Hood, Texas, and a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thousands of gallons of crude oil have flowed into the Gulf of Mexico changing the area's landscape forever and the world's economy is all but turned on its head. Ah, yes. Life goes on.

In complete faith, I know that I know that Joanne's soul rests with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The pain surrounding her premature death, however, is still extremely raw. I can't say her name without stopping to collect my emotions before continuing to speak. If I dwell too long on a memory, tears inevitably pool in the corners of my eyes and unavoidably pour down my cheeks.

I firmly believe the last words I said to her. Days before she died, her loving husband, Michael, placed a telephone next to her ear allowing me to call out across the 775 miles separating us, "I love you, Joanne. Thanks for being my best-est friend. I'll see you again one day on the other side."

Whoever said death is a natural part of life was wrong! When God created the world, all was good. In fact, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Death was not part of the plan. Because man chose to take matters into his own hands, however, sin entered the world. With it came the pain and suffering of death. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus that the story doesn't end there. Through the life, suffering, death and resurrection of His One and Only Son, we have eternal life through Him (1 Corinthians 15:54-58). Amen and amen!

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God!
He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (NIV)

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
James 1:13-15 (NKJV)

Wilson! Come back! Adrift at sea, Wilson is carried father and father out into the cerulean waters by the relentless rocking waves. Eventually, he is lost in the wide expanse where briny deep and spacious sky appear to blend as one.

The emotional scene from the 2000 adventure film Cast Away is an interesting illustration of the caution the New Testament writer James issues in the book by the same name.

After his plane crashes on a flight over the South Pacific, fictional FedEx employee Chuck Noland is stranded on an uninhabited island. In his first attempt to make fire, he receives a deep wound to his hand. In agonizing pain, Chuck throws several objects, including a Wilson Sporting Goods volleyball from one of the packages that had washed up on shore. A short time later, Noland draws a face in the bloody hand print left on the ball and names it "Wilson."

Fast forward four years. With Wilson in tow, Chuck is able to construct a life raft and sail over the powerful surf, enabling the now companions to finally escape the island. Soon, however, an intense ocean storm all but destroys the raft. The tethers binding Wilson to the craft loosen and the ball falls into the water. As Chuck cries out "W-I-L-S-O-N!" in gut-wrenching agony, the ball is drawn farther and farther out of his reach and is lost at sea.

In his practical letter that encourages living a vibrant faith, James addresses outward trials and inward temptations. The former must be endured, the latter resisted. He writes that each of us is tempted when we are drawn away by our own desires and enticed. Drawn away from what?

The Old Testament book of Psalm 1 helps answer that question. As you consider this piece of Godly wisdom, take special note of the progression: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).

As a child of God each of us is marked with the blood of the Lamb. His nail-pierced hand is imprinted on our hearts. By the power of the Holy Spirit, dear friend, bind yourself securely to the Truth of God's Word. As we resolutely turn our backs on evil and set our hearts and minds on doing what He wants, we please God (Colossians 1:9-12).

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Cast Away, directed by Robert Zemeckis, 2000

Sunday, August 1, 2010

It is what it is

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
John 14:6 (NIV)

After seven houses, you would think I'd have a pretty good grasp on what it takes to buy a new property. Not so. With each house in a different state, I've had the opportunity to learn something new about the world of real estate with each purchase. One theme seems to runs consistently through what I've learned, however--what is claimed isn't always what is real.

While a "rebuilt" grinder pump implies "like new," it may, in fact, indicate the septic unit will need replacement six months after moving into the house. A "refaced" fireplace hearth most certainly provides an up-to-date look to a living room. Unfortunately, the rusty, neglected 50-year-old firebox behind the facade may require that the fireplace, remodeled hearth and all, be gutted and replaced before it can be used. A property claiming "homestead" status could result in an additional $3,600 in annual taxes if it is identified inaccurately on state tax rolls.

Thank goodness this isn't so with the claims of Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament book of John, the Gospel writer gives a portrait of Jesus as the Son of God who came to earth to reveal the Father and to bring eternal life to all who believe in Him. John 14:6 records one of seven self-revelations Jesus made: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Jesus emphatically states that presently and eternally He alone is
the way to God the Father. He is not a way among others from which to choose or a possible option to consider. Nor does He say "I show the way..." Jesus is the exclusive path to God open to all who believe in Him.

How can Jesus make such a claim? He is God. He is the image of the invisible Him all things were created...He is before all Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:15-20). He and the Father are one (John 14:9).

Christ is Himself the vital link between heaven and earth. Apart from His teaching (the truth) and His work (the life) there is no salvation. What Jesus
is cannot be separated from what He does; consequently, believing or not believing His claim makes the revelation no less true. It is what it is.

If you're questioning His claim, dear friend, take some time to get to know Jesus in the pages of His Word. As the writer James instructs us, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God" (James 1:5). Our heavenly Father is ready and willing to show us the way through Jesus.

Blessings, dear friend.

Faithfully Following