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The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” John 11:36

We’ve all seen the pictures:

A young woman in a bridal gown laying across the grave of a fallen soldier, her husband.

A little boy in salute to the grave of his father.

The flowers, crosses and candles that materialize overnight after some horrific accident.

The heart wrenching cry of a mother, father, sister, brother, friend after a mass shooting.

We feel the agony. Some of us may even tear up ourselves. We know life will go on. We know death happens. We know…but that doesn’t stop the pain.

Jesus stood at the tomb of one of his closest friends and wept. Even though he was the Son of God…God himself in the flesh, God among us, Emmanuel … he wept at the thought of life without Lazarus.

As we approach Resurrection Sunday, as we mourn the death and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, let us never forget his love for mankind. Even as he mourned his friends death there were those who questioned his lateness. Today many malign him and question the scientific and historical facts of his existence. Few have ever questioned his love.

Fast forward a few days. Another crowd is gathered where Jesus is. This time, it is them that are crying as they watch their friend, brother, teacher suffering the most painful and cruel kinds of death – death on the cross.

It was the same love the brought tears to Jesus’ eyes that brought him to the cross. It was the same love that drove him to endure the pain of death so you could have victory over death. At the tomb of Lazarus Jesus hung his head and cried. On the cross, he hung his head and died. At the tomb Jesus held up his hands and ordered the dead to live again. On the cross he spread out his hands and gave eternal life to the living.

Never look at the cross of Christ without seeing the empty tomb. Regardless of where you are in life, or where you have been. No matter how you have been hurt, or how you have hurt others. Jesus cried for you and died for you.

The scene at Lazarus’ tomb reminds us of how much Jesus loved. Let the cross remind you of how much he loves you.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, some things go beyond words. Help me today to see your love for me in a whole new way. Empower me to share that love with someone who needs your touch. I love you Jesus. Amen.

Luke 17:11, 14-Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

He didn’t have to go that way. Pure and simple. While the path Jesus took towards Jerusalem was the quickest, it was also the way less traveled by self-respecting Jews. First of all, staying as far away from Samaria was always preferred. They were ‘half-breeds’, arrogant and, well, they not only had a sin problem, they worshiped God in the wrong way. Along with that, the path leading along the border of Samaria and Galilee was a robbery waiting to happen. Thieves and other scoundrels lurked along the way in wait of prey.

Still, he went and scripture implies that he went slowly, visiting each town and village along the way and healing people as usual. Most Jews hurried through the small country of Samaria, not Jesus. As he approached on small village a group of lepers called out to Him. Again, he could have ignored their calls. Lepers were by nature smelly, grotesque looking people and to come near one would make you at best ceremonially unclean. At worst you could ‘catch the disease and be worse off.

He didn’t have to respond. Lepers were outcasts of society. Tradition taught, at that time, that leprosy came upon a person as a punishment for sin. There was nothing physically, emotionally or spiritually appealing the group of ten men that approached Jesus that day. Nothing that would have moved the average person to intervene. But Jesus was no average person!

What was it that moved Him to act? Maybe it was the realization of the emotional trauma these men were in. Maybe it was the prayers their families had offered up on their behalf. Maybe he was looking for some way to show his power over leprosy. Or maybe it was love. It was the compassionate cry of broken people that drove him that day to heal those men.

That’s why I’m expressing gratitude today. I’ve never had leprosy, but I know what it’s like to be rejected. I’ve never been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, but I was born with a birth defect that will eventually kill me, I’m human.

I’m fortunate this Thanksgiving Season to have family and friends that love me and encourage me on the way, some of whom have stood by me through some pretty dark years, as a matter of fact. While I am thankful for those people, the person I’m most thankful for is Jesus Christ. Jesus saw me at my worst, but still believed in me enough to search me out and forgive me.  Like the lepers, Jesus sought me out when I was beaten, bruised and rejected.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, may I never weary of praising you for the many blessings you have bestowed on me. Thank you for reaching out to me when I was at my worst and giving me your best. Your love has freed me from the restraints that kept me in bondage and I praise you. Amen.

“When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35 (CEV)

During the Great Depression the United States Government instituted a plan which was designed to help those in desperate straights get back on their feet. Depending on your political views, it was a defining moment in our history as it gave jobs to the jobless, food to the hungry, homes to the homeless and hope (physically anyway) to the hopeless.

But there is something that welfare, or any government help program will never be able to do. Government, no matter how compassionate will never be able to meet the need of the soul. It may provide health care, but it will never heal the wound of the heart. It may provide food, but will never fill the hunger of the heart.

Even within the body of Christ there are many fine, worthy, shining examples of people reaching out to meet the needs of the world through a variety of outreach endeavors abroad and at home. Many have not only had their physical needs met through these programs, their spiritual and emotional needs have been met as well. These endeavors are blessed by God and a blessing to the Father as well.

You may look at some of the great things being accomplished and wonder, “What can I do? I’m struggling right now to make it myself. Your home may be in foreclosure or your finances a mess. You may be battling relational difficulties of your own or struggling with addiction. A common lie the enemy will use in cases like that is to say something like, “You’re into your own issues too deep to help much.”

It’s not the mighty things that will change your world, but the little things, the simple gestures that make a difference.  Those small gestures, given in Jesus name will accomplish far more than any program will. Our personal gestures of good will can go deeper to meet not only the physical, but the spiritual and emotional needs of those around us. God doesn’t expect great things from us, he takes the little things we do and make them great!

Offer a kind word and smile to someone today. It may just be the ‘cup of cool water’ they need at that moment. Go out of your way to help someone with a small task. That may be just the meal their soul seeks. Be a friend to someone in prison, a senior citizen in a nursing home, or the person at the office no one will sit with.

Is God honored by the big missions and outreach programs? I think he is. But he is equally blessed by the simple things we do on a daily basis to reach the hearts of those in need around us. That’s the welfare Jesus seeks.

PRAYER: Lord help me see someone today who needs your simple, loving and graceful touch. Help me share the simple things others need for healing today. Amen.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:36-38

One of my favorite things to do, when I have time, is to people watch. I watch parents interacting with children, couples walking together hand in hand, and groups of friends enjoying each other’s company. Some are happy, some look sad or angry, some look tired or overwhelmed… It’s almost comical in a way how most people look anything but joyful during the ‘holiday shopping season’!

As I look at the variety of people passing my vantage point I wonder what their story is. For some, it seems pretty obvious that life is tough at that point; others seem happy and engaged in the lives of others. Of course, I can’t really know what’s going on and I’m certainly wise enough not to go and ask. There have been times though that I’ve even prayed for them. Even though I don’t know them, and they don’t know me or that I’ve said a prayer, God loves them and knows their deepest most intimate thoughts.

Jesus people watched too. The Matthew passage says he watched the crowd. He saw those who were tired, those who felt like life was much more than they could bear, those who were ready to give up. The advantage He had of course is that He could look on the inside. His observations, unlike mine, were based on fact, not opinion.

If Jesus were to go to a store, rather than seeing a crabby clerk, He’d see a mom whose small child is home sick. She’d much rather be home with him but bills have to be paid. When His server at the restaurant was giving Him lousy service, He didn’t see ineptness, He saw someone who was struggling with a broken relationship. He didn’t see an angry, weirdly dressed teenager; He saw a pearl in the making who was just trying to say “Will someone notice me for who I am?”

Jesus didn’t just see people. Jesus saw souls who, right or wrong, were doing what they could to survive in a world that seemed stacked against them. I wonder how our communities would be different if we saw people the way Jesus does? How impatient would we be with those who cut us off on the highway, seem rude to us in the shops we visit or act out in ways that are offensive to us.

We don’t have the advantage of looking inside a person to see why they are the way they are. We do have the opportunity to show them the love and compassion Jesus expressed that day. We can show patience and understanding. We can encourage physically and emotionally. We can do many small things to show the immensity of Christ’s love to others. Start today. Start at home, while you are shopping, working or at play. Wherever you are, where ever you go, there are hurting people who need to know Jesus loves and forgives.

PRAYER: Father, there are so many times I go about my day without noticing or being affected by the pain of those around me. I ask that you would forgive me for my lack of compassion. Help me to see others as you would and show them Your love and compassion so that they can be encouraged along the way. I ask this not only for myself, but for Your church as well. May we make a difference in our own corner of the world today. In Your name I pray, Amen.

If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Matthew 5:41

During the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth, Roman soldiers were on nearly every corner. These mighty warriors would travel from town to own bearing heavy armor and keeping order in the country. According to Roman law a soldier could randomly choose anyone to carry his shield and other equipment for one mile. Penalty for refusal to do so was death.

Today, we use this phrase in an almost heroic fashion. “Be a good person. Reach out to those who are down. Give them an extra smile or an extra tip. Let them in front of you in traffic, etc. However, in Bible days ‘going that extra mile’ had a far greater meaning. The Jewish people hated the Romans for occupying their country. They were considered the lowest of the low and for good reason. Roman soldiers weren’t known for good morals, honesty or kindness. Being forced to carry their luggage for even one mile was humiliating, time consuming and sometimes painful.

When Jesus asks us to ‘go that extra mile’ He is asking us to step completely out of our comfort zone and do something unheard of for someone who is completely undeserving and most likely ungrateful. Those who went that extra mile were rarely thanked by the Romans and most likely taunted by Jewish countrymen.

Here are some tips for ‘going that extra mile’ in our lives today:

Þ    Have a firm grasp of who you are. When you do something that others may see as humiliating and you have a firm grasp of who you are in Christ, going that extra mile becomes ministry and not drudgery. You are a child of the Living God! Nothing anyone can do to you will change your status in Him.

Þ    Minutes Not Hours. Going the extra mile is based on the needs of those around us, not on what is convenient for you. Jewish citizens had no choice but to drop everything to accommodate the Roman Soldiers. Make the needs of others around you so important that whatever you are doing can wait.

Þ    Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. The people who need us the most are not usually the wealthy, well-respected citizens in town. They are the abusers, the addicts, and the irresponsible people of questionable character. Are you willing to sit down for a cup of coffee with the person in town with the worst reputation? Jesus did…and would.

Þ    It’s not necessarily a two-way street. On occasion, if you go the extra mile, you will win over a new friend, but that isn’t likely. Reaching out to people in need can often be completely expected, ignored or unappreciated.

Jesus message is the same regardless. Reach out to those in need. Go above and beyond what is expected. Christ-followers must be willing to be inconvenienced and take the risk of being taken advantage of. Be more concerned about what you are doing in Jesus name than how you look to others. Be willing to go the extra mile in Jesus name.

PRAYER: Father God, I ask that today you would show me people in my life who need your touch. Help me to look past the exterior, unpleasantness of their situation to see a heart in need of your love. Empower me with wisdom, strength and confidence to put their needs first so that I can show them the love of Jesus in action. I thank you in advance for Your blessing. Amen.

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