Greater Love Hath No Man…

One hundred four years ago today, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month or 1918, the warring nations of Europe and the World fell silent as an Armistice was signed ending the “Great War” (later known as World War I). The War had been devastating in its scope and violence. Millions of people lost their lives; millions more were wounded and permanently scarred by the fighting. Entire cities had been leveled; farms and villages had been ravaged, and economies would take decades to recover.

“The War to End All Wars” did not. It was a failure in almost every regard. Bitterness built up in the decades between 1918 and 1938, spilling into another devastating war. All the noble efforts to promote peace and unity broke down. All those lives sacrificed in the hope of bringing lasting peace were lost, seemingly in vain. And for the soldier who survived, there was continued hardship, struggle, and often, life-long pain and suffering.

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Today, we honor those who have risked their lives to serve their county/countries. Soldiers, medics, chaplains, and innocent civilians who risk their lives do so for a reason. Often, we lose sight of the reasons after so many years, but the primary reason for most soldiers is the protection of loved ones back home and fellow soldiers in the fight. Many of us live lives of comfort and safety, little knowing the dangers of war, famine, and extreme hardship. But soldiers know a life of privation, courage in the face of fear, and the searing loss of violent death. And most of them know this life as a voluntary sacrifice. They willingly lay down their lives, both figuratively and sometimes literally, to save, protect, and improve the lives of others. It is fitting and right to honor such commitment and sacrifice.

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Jesus, when speaking to His disciples at the Last Supper, said,  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-14 ESV) After all these years, many of us look at these verses as a moral principle, but not as a commandment. Jesus did not say, “I would really like it if you would love each other sacrificially,” or “I would prefer if you treated each other the way I treated you.” He gave it as a command that we love as Jesus loved.

So that begs the question, “How did Jesus love His disciples?” Ultimately, He DID lay down His life, paying for their sins (and ours) through His death on the cross. There has never been a greater sacrifice, not on the battlefield, not in public service, nowhere in Heaven or on Earth. But Jesus also gave us several examples of “sacrifice” in His life with the disciples. He served. He forgave. He loved. He nurtured and taught. He listened.

It used to be popular to compare Christians to soldiers– to promote service, sacrifice, and discipline in the Christian walk. This has largely fallen out of fashion, as society has diminished the role of the soldier, and the respect it used to give them. But the Apostle Paul used the comparison often, even listing the Christian’s “armor” in Ephesians 6:10-18. We should put on the belt of Truth, the breastplate of Righteousness, the shoes of the Gospel of Peace, the shield of Faith, the helmet of Salvation, and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Of course, we are not commanded to kill, main, or promote warfare and destruction. But we ARE called to be prepared to die for– and LIVE for– the cause of Christ. We are to train, prepare, and stand firm in the Faith. More that that, we are commanded to serve– even sacrificially– our brothers and sisters; we are to be willing to lay down our lives for others.

Today, as we reflect on the sacrifices made in the past, let us renew our commitment to love like Jesus, to serve like soldiers, and to stand firm in our commitment to the One who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us. And, especially in a world that does not know peace, let us pray for those who are touched by war, famine, hardship, violence, and loss. Let us work to bring peace, forgiveness, and practical help to those around us who suffer.

Spiritual Distancing

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:13

For over a year now, we’ve been hearing the term “social distancing” in relation to COVID-19. Social distancing generally refers to keeping a “safe” distance from others in public, to reduce the spread of the virus (normally about 6 feet). It may also refer to using a mask whenever you are in a public building, or whenever you interact with someone who is 6 feet away or closer– especially at stores, doctor’s offices, church, school, etc.

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Most people accept that social distancing is a temporary measure and meant to help keep you from getting (or giving) the disease. It is not a normal social practice, but one we choose to adopt for the good of everyone around us. However, there are many questions as to the effectiveness of social distancing after more than a year– what about those who have already had COVID, and should have antibodies? Should they be required to wear masks and keep their distance? What about those who refuse to practice social distancing? What about those who practice social distancing to the best of their ability who STILL get COVID?

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These are all valid questions. But I want to look at the contrast between social distancing and “spiritual” distancing. We don’t want to “catch” COVID, but how vigilant are we in avoiding the contamination of sin? How often do we distance ourselves from those who claim to be “healthy” Christians while continuing with sinful practices? How often do we remain in situations rife with temptation, or compromise on “little things” in our own lives?

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I’m not talking about walking around in a spiritual “bubble,” refusing to interact with anyone who has a sinful past, or with lost souls who need to hear the Good News of Salvation. Nor should we deny and cover up our own faults and failures. But if our lives are supposed to reflect the ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ; if we REALLY want to live the kind of lives that honor Him and lead others to want to honor Him, shouldn’t we be every bit as careful about sin as we are about COVID?

We are instructed multiple times throughout Scripture to “resist” the devil, to “flee” from temptation, to invite the Holy Spirit to “guard” our hearts and minds, and to “do battle” with spiritual foes. We are quick to put on masks before we enter the grocery– are we putting on the Armor of God at the same time?

Social distancing is public, and very visible. We can see who is practicing and who is not. We can judge others just by seeing if they are wearing a mask or keeping their distance. Spiritual distancing is private and largely invisible to the public. But God still sees and knows. I confess, I have been guilty of walking into situations and relationships without “wearing a mask” or putting on my spiritual armor.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6:10-18 NIV via biblegateway.com (emphasis added).
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We should keep our distance from sin and temptation whenever possible, but we must also be ready to “stand firm” and protected by God’s armor, which includes persistently pursuing prayer! We wouldn’t walk into a situation where we knew we would be exposed to COVID without taking any precautions. Why would we deliberately expose ourselves to sinful practices? Why do we make excuses for compromising in our listening and viewing habits? Why do we get involved in fruitless arguments or gossip? Worse, why would we tempt others to be complacent about sin? Why do we stay silent as we watch other Christians struggling? Why aren’t we standing firm, suiting up, and praying “on all occasions?”

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Just like with COVID, we can practice spiritual distancing and still fall into the “sickness” of sin. But God makes a two-fold promise–through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the “virus” of sin is defeated and its effects neutralized. Even though we will face a physical death, we can have new and eternal spiritual life through faith by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; John 11:25, others..) But we also have the forgiveness of sins– the knowledge that God will heal us and redeem the effects of our individual sinful choices when we confess and repent of them.

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COVID is not a joke; nor is it harmless. I know from experience. Both my husband and I had it earlier this year. My husband was in the hospital for a week, and is still struggling to regain full health. I still have a diminished sense of smell, and other problems as a result of my illness. But Sin if a far greater threat than COVID. COVID has claimed many lives, but Sin has claimed billions of souls, and robbed them of life and hope.

Let’s keep our distance, wear our armor, and let’s get praying!

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