In Jesus’ Words: The Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) –

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?

Jesus answered the man, who was an expert in the law, by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and most important commandment.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40)

This is one of the few questions Jesus answers directly and succinctly.  It’s pretty clear, and not many can argue with its validity.  Why then is it one of the hardest for us to follow?  We define many types and names for love, argue over it in our court systems, write endless poetry and songs about it, and divorce it when it is no longer convenient.

We don’t need more definitions and rules about love.  Instead, here are some beautiful thoughts on what it means to show God’s love and greatest commandment.  This is the one time I say we should not try to over-think it.

“Gift from the Sea”, Anne Morrow Lindbergh –
“How does one learn this technique of the dance, the joy of living in the moment?  Why is it so difficult?  What makes us hesitate and stumble?  It is fear, I think, that makes one cling to the last moment or clutch greedily to the next.  It can only be replaced by love.  When the heart is flooded with love, there is no room in it for fear, doubt, or hesitation.  Living in the present ebb and flow of the tides – not owning or possessing or demanding, but freely, not looking back or forward in dread, but the present.”

“Crazy Love”, Francis Chan –
“Love sets us free from hate, guilt and fear.  When we focus on Christ, this seems more natural.  Love is the only thing that can defeat all.”

St. Augustine of Hippo, Christian theologian and philosopher –
“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”

Love is the reason God created us, why God cares for us, why we are free to choose, why Christ died for us, and why we can receive eternal life.  Love explains everything.

Happy Easter!  It is the greatest love story of all time.

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The old man by the sea

20160713_134614I found him… the old man by the sea.  He really does exist.  But let me back up a little.  I just returned from a trip to Canada’s northeast corner, Nova Scotia.  My roaming imagination was full of ideas about Nova Scotia – ship wrecks (remember Titanic), superstitions, stories of Anne of Green Gables and old Victorian tales, and old churches and lighthouses covering the rugged sea coast.  And my imagination was not disappointed!  Whenever I travel, it’s more than just sightseeing for me.  I like to see the people who live there, hear their stories, and learn what they can teach us about their part of our world.  During these uncertain and sometimes fearful times that we live in, the old man by the sea taught me a lot.

Our tour bus unloaded on a small jutted island near Halifax, Nova Scotia just long enough for us to stop and take a picture of the scenery.  There were a few fishing boats, a small café, some old houses and a picturesque lighthouse.  As we walked up to the lighthouse with our cameras, there was an old man sitting on the front porch of his house that sat at the corner of the lighthouse.  We had to cross his yard to get to the lighthouse.

“Come on up!” he greeted everyone in a rusty old seaman’s voice.  He waved and smiled.  “Take as many pictures as you like.  You can walk in my yard.  Come on up and talk.”

And so we did.  Mr. Cutler was his name and he was 92 years old.  The row of small yellow houses next to the lighthouse has been in his family for generations.  With his long white beard and weathered face of an old sea captain, he sat in his chair at the helm of his front porch.  Whenever the tour buses rolled in, he would hang up a few handmade bags to sale, sit outside and greet the visitors to his island.  (My picture here doesn’t do him justice, but he is sitting in the white chair behind the pole with a homemade bag hanging on it, and the lighthouse in the background.)

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Mr. Cutler taught me a very important lesson that day.  He could have been bitter about all the loud and unruly tourists coming to his quiet island and stomping through his yard.  But instead, he embraced it and wanted to share what he had.  He knew he had something special.

Embrace Life.  It is to be shared.

For the rest of my trip through Nova Scotia and Quebec, I was quite amazed at all the churches I passed – old ones, elaborate ones, historical ones.  In earlier times, the people of northern Canada often had a hard life with harsh winters, but their faith and hope in God was very evident in a landscape dotted with churches.  It was said that the people never went more than ten miles without building a church so the families never had to travel more than five miles in either direction to get to church.  Here are some of my favorite ones that I saw along the way.

1-Halifax

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The star constellation in the blue background of this church is confirmed to be the exact constellation on the day Jesus Christ was born.

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5-Prince Edward Island (2)

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This church with the round dome is the 3rd largest church in the world, from Montreal.

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No matter where you go, if you stop and look, you can always find evidence of
God’s Hope in the world.

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In Jesus’ Words: Why do you doubt? (Matthew 14:23-33)

Peter-on-waterI heard the words so clearly in my mind on that sunny day a couple of years ago.
“Why do you worry, Sue?  I’ve already taken care of it.”  It caught me so off guard that I stopped right there in the middle of my lunchtime run to catch my breath.  With all the noise and traffic around me, I wondered, Who called me by my name?

I had been worrying though.  My company was about to go through more layoffs and change, and even though I would probably be compensated for my many years with the company, I began to worry about the uncertainty.  What should I do.. how will it affect my son’s last year of school.. should I roll over my 401k.. should I take another job?  All of this was running through my mind while I was running that day.  It took my focus away from peace and filled it with unnecessary worry, especially since the decision about my job was not mine to make anyway.

And that’s when I heard this internal voice, gentle but very clear and distinct, say to me in caring way, “Why do you worry, Sue?”  It felt personal.  At that moment I felt Jesus telling me that He knew the details of my situation, and not only was it in His control, it was already taken care of.  The future was already known, so why worry about it.  I picked up my running pace again, looking ahead to the curve in the road where I was about to turn.  I knew that I could not see what was around the corner, but Jesus could and He was already there waiting for me.

I headed back to the office after that, but I no longer worried.  Over the next few weeks, my co-workers noticed a difference.  “Aren’t you worried?” they would sometimes ask.  “No,” I said, “I’m ok with whatever happens.”

~ Matthew 14:23-33  Jesus walks on water ~

Jesus went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone. The boat with the disciples was already over a mile from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. Around three in the morning, He came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear.

Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.”

“Come!” He said.

And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”

I imagine Peter no longer looked at things the same way either after Jesus asked him,“Why do you doubt?”  And as for my job, it was eliminated soon after, but I was rehired in a similar job within the same department.  I was finally able to tell my son a couple of months later (just a few days before the deadline) that I got the new job and wouldn’t be out of work after all.  He seemed surprised.  “I thought you already had the new job,” he said, “you didn’t look worried.”

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In Jesus’ Words: Wheat and Weeds (Matthew 13:1-2,18-30)

Jesus could have easily been talking about the fair-weathered or pretend Christians of today when he was telling the parable of the Wheat and Weeds.  Hardly a week goes by where we do not hear the surprising and shocking news of someone who is not the person they had pretended to be.  Jesus never asked us to be perfect (for He is the only perfect one), but he did ask us to be authentic.

It reminds me of a time earlier this summer when I attended a small seaside church near the beach.  The sights and sounds of the ocean always bring to my mind images of Jesus’ ministry – the fisherman disciples, their boats and fishing nets, shipwrecks and storms, and Jesus cooking breakfast on the beach for his disciples.  So as I sat in church on that Sunday morning, listening to the music and pondering my thoughts, I saw a man walk in late just as the music had finished and the preaching started.  The man shuffled his way through the row of people and took the empty seat next to me.  He was nicely dressed – perhaps a little too nice for a seaside church where sandals are more the norm; and he smelled nice too – of expensive cologne and wearing an impressive watch.  As the preacher began his sermon, the man opened his Bible, took out his notebook and fancy pen, and shouted a few loud “Amen’s” here and there, nodding to the preacher.  I saw that he wrote down the title of the sermon in his notebook, while saying a few more “Amen’s”.  I was impressed for a few minutes.  But then he never wrote another word in his notebook.  At the end of the sermon, when the music started back and the preacher gave an invitation for anyone who wanted to follow Jesus, the man packed up his things, climbed over all the people again, and left.

I don’t think Jesus was impressed with his show.  Jesus would rather see someone come to the church in their wrinkled and disheveled clothes, worn out from the stresses and burdens this world can sometimes bring, falling down on their knees, pouring out their heart to Jesus and asking for His help.  Authentic and Repentful.

The reason some people were angry with Jesus during his ministry on earth and chose not to follow him was because Jesus was not impressed with their wealth or status.  How aggravating that must have been for them!

Jesus used ordinary people – fisherman, tent-makers, tax collectors and sinners, a prostitute, and a murderer (Paul) – and He made them extraordinary.  Now that is impressive.

~ Matthew 13:1-2, 18-30  Parable of The Sower, and The Wheat and Weeds ~

On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat down, while the whole crowd stood on the shore.

“You, then, listen to the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path. And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. Yet he has no root in himself, but is short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. But the one sown on the good ground—this is one who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some 30 times what was sown.”

He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left. When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. The landowner’s slaves came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this!’ he told them. ‘So, do you want us to go and gather them up?’ the slaves asked him.

‘No,’ he said. ‘When you gather up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but store the wheat in my barn.’”

feet with waves croppedFor more on images of Jesus and the sea… Breakfast cooking on the beach

Sea Glass

I wouldn’t have seen it this morning if I had not ventured out for a run.  I would have missed a lot of things.  The sun was shining bright and warm, calling me outside, but I had lots to do today.  I need to do some cleaning and catch up on emails, I thought.  Sounds silly now.  Life can pass us by while we’re busy doing stuff, and not just in a big way but in the small simple ways.  Following my new year’s promise to myself, I had decided that I will try to enjoy and experience life with every possible minute this year, and to do the most good with all those “lost opportunities” that come across my way.

What if….

What if we each took this one year and tried to make the very best of it, no matter what.  One year of our lives, given to the very best we can do.  To resolve to smile and laugh more, even during those stiff business meetings or tough times; to resolve not to spread hate no matter what the principal may be; and to resolve to help our fellow human beings more.  It really wouldn’t take that much effort.  It might even make things easier.  And it would change the world.

So I stopped what I was doing this morning, none of which will matter for very long anyway, and I went down to the beach for a run.  The tide was high after the storm and the only part of the sand not covered by water was still too soft for running, so I settled into a walk instead.  As I slowed down my pace, I began to look at the sea shells beneath my feet and caught the glimpse of something glistening, sticking out above the sand.  I reached down to pick it up and could not believe what I held in my hand.  It was a piece of milky white frosted glass, perfectly polished and smoothed around its edges from the friction and waves of the sea.  My first sea glass find!  I have always enjoyed reading about these elusive treasures from the sea, studying their colors and origins, and following the stories of those who collect them.  But as much as I have searched, I have never found any genuine shards of my own.  I wondered what far-off shore or boat this had come from.  It was a small treasure indeed!  And I would have missed it if I had not taken the chance to venture out on this day. 

(Today is Day 16 out of 365 God-given opportunities this year)

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“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” – Marianne Williamson

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