Valentine’s Day or Ash Wednesday, which one are you thinking about this week? Both should have a place in our, uhm, “hearts.” Both Valentine’s and Ash Wednesday call us to be contemplative about the very big subject of love.

HeartOn St. Valentine’s Day we celebrate our love for one another. Its all about eros, romantic love or, perhaps, philia, brotherly/sisterly love among family or friends. We swap cards, sticky candy, flowers and other playful gifts as expressions of our love.

Ash Wednesday, however, is a time we remember God’s love for us. Ash Wednesday may lack the cuteness-quotient of Valentine’s Day, but if we mark the occasion with thoughtful prayer or worship, it should draw us just a little closer to God and God’s selfless love for us. We celebrate the fact that God, through Jesus, forgives us our sins, failures and shortcomings in spite of ourselves through agape love: love which freely loses itself for another.

Jesus said that there is no greater love than when we willing lay our lives down for one another. And that’s precisely what he did. As odd as it may seem to us, the Apostle Paul said that God demonstrated true love most clearly to us this way: “yet while we were still sinning, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

You might say that Jesus was the greatest Valentine’s gift ever. God’s beautiful expression of love for the world and everyone in it.

With Love and Affection,
– RMG

Ash Wednesday Thoughts: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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How did the apostle letterPaul deal with conflict in his church? He wrote the members a letter. Paul’s letter to the Colossians reminded faithful members that they had been baptized and, therefore, had died to all their old ways and needed to clothe themselves in “bowels of mercies” – aka compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience . . . and above all, needed to clothe themselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect maturity.

Read Colossians 3:1-17 and then check out Great Bowels of Mercy preached on “Baptism of Jesus” Sunday 2018.

With love, Mark.

DEATH AND LIFE ARE IN THE POWER OF YOUR TONGUE, says the old Proverb (18:21). Are you using your words to build up or tear down? Tongue

I’m preaching on Colossians 3:1-17 at two different services this week. Clearly, one of Paul’s concerns is how people are using their words. He issues an imperative to the good folks of Colossi about their misuse of their words: “You must get rid of  . . . abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another” (Col 3:8). It makes you sort of wonder what was going on in his church doesn’t it?

Jesus said something similar but even more direct: “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (Matthew 15:11). What comes out of our mouths, after all, originates in our hearts.

Paul shows the church at Colossi and us a way to get our hearts right. It’s a kind of first century version of behavior modification – change the behavior and the heart will follow. First, he reminds us of who we truly are, not children of this world but God’s “holy and beloved” (Col 3:12). Then Paul issues this beautiful new directive:

“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful” (Col 3:12-15).

Use your words thoughtfully, use your words lovingly, and you’ll have the power to use your words for good. And may the peace of Christ rule in your heart today and forever!

With love, Mark.

BONUS: For Small Group, Sunday School and Youth Group Leaders, Self Study or Family dinner table reflections, check out this helpful 2 minute video: the Power of Words (part 1 and 2).

You don’t have to go to seminary be a minister of encouragement! Practice these 5 skills today!

encourage 2-3

“Encourage one another and build up each other.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Build-up without tearing down.
Those who are discouraged need thoughtful words of assurance not judgement. Instead of a critique, why not offer them a reminder that they are loved, they get second chances, and that God has not abandoned them may be enough. Read: Romans 8:38-39.

Listen without answering.
Often the best encouragement comes when people know that they’ve been heard. Ministers of encouragement don’t have to have all the answers, just the special ability to be still and listen. Read: Psalm 18:6.

Console without fixing.
This especially hard for us Type A personalities who want to move from problem to solution without first offering a little balm to those who are hurting. Read: Matthew 5:4

Identify without owning. It’s helpful if you can search your own experiences to remember times you may have felt similar to the one needing encouragement. It’s not helpful if the conversation or the issue becomes all about you, what you did, or how you resolved it. Read Galatians 6:2

Encourage without praising. 
Sometimes a trophy just for showing-up isn’t nearly as important a pat on the back, time spent together, and offering some pointers to help out for next time. Other times, we simply may need to hold-up others so they can complete the very thing to which God has called them. Read Exodus 17:12

To do this week: 
This week, remember those who have encouraged you throughout your lifetime, or those who have encouraged you lately. Who are your ministers of encouragement? How have you been encouraged by them? Tell us who has impacted your life with encouragement, and how!

God bless you all as you encourage one another!
– R. Mark Giuliano

For more check-out Need Love, Hope? Let’s Build a House! or my sermon, A Ministry of Encouragementpreached at the historic Old Stone Church in downtown Cleveland, Ohio.

LIFE AS A HOUSE: A MINISTRY OF ENCOURAGEMENT

Have ever seen the old Kevin Kline/Hayden Christensen movie, Life as a House? Beth and

House

When Paul told the church in Thessaloniki to encourage one another and build-up each other, he used a word that literally translates, “build a home.”

I watched it the other night on Netflix. In the story, Kevin Kline plays the father of a dysfunctional family. He’s divorced from his wife. She’s unhappily remarried. Their son (Christensen) is angry, lonely and abusing drugs. The teen has even considered selling himself into prostitution to feed his drug habit.

 

After losing his job, and almost simultaneously being diagnosed with a terminal cancer, Kline, an architect in the movie, decides that he’s going to spend his few remaining months fulfilling his life-long dream: building a house overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He forces his estranged son to come and live with him and together they build a house.

The miracle of the story (spoiler alert!) is that as they build the house together, the boy discovers hope and healing for his sadness and rage, and love is restored to the family as a whole.

It’s fascinating to me that when the Apostle Paul told the church at Thessalonica to “encourage one another and build-up each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), he used the word, “oikodomeo” which literally translates, “to build a home.” In other words, as a church, we are called to build a home for God, for faith, and for love within our church. As we do, there is the promise for healing within ourselves and our church family as a whole.

Instead of grumbles, gossip or complaints about one another, or even turning a cold-shoulder of indifference toward each other, we should encourage each other by laying a foundation of truth, building-up walls of faith, and nailing down a roof of safety and protection. And don’t forget to open some doors and windows and let love in!

Who needs encouragement in your family, among your friends or in your church? I pray that you might join me in a ministry of encouragement. Let’s make a home for love in every heart by our words and actions of encouragement.

God Bless You Today and Forever,

Mark

On November 26th, I preached a sermon called A Ministry of Encouragement. Watch it here!

In the next post, I’ll give you some tools for being a minister of encouragement!

A member of my congregation shared this beautiful little story with me. Thought it might be a great way to start your week. I hope your days are filled with blessings better than biscuits! – RMG

Biscuits

A visiting Pastor was attending a men’s breakfast in farm country. He asked one of the impressive older farmers in attendance to say grace that morning. After all were seated, the older farmer began . . .

“Lord, I hate buttermilk.”

The Pastor opened one eye and wondered to himself where this was
going. Then the farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate lard.”

Now the Pastor was worried. However, without missing a beat, the farmer prayed on, “And Lord, you know I don’t care much for raw white flour.”

Just as the Pastor thought he should stand up and stop everything, the farmer continued, “But Lord, when you mix ’em all together and bake ’em up, I do love fresh biscuits.

So, Lord, when things come up we don’t like, when life gets hard, when we just don’t understand what you are sayin’ to us, we just need to relax and wait ’till You are done mixin’, and probably it will be somethin’ even better than biscuits.

Amen.”

May God Bless You Today and Forever!

Mark

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. – Jeremiah 29:11

 

You know why you’re thankful, but do you know how to show it?

Expressions of Thanksgiving

Some people express gratitude with hearts and hands. How do you show your thanks?

“Have you seen those sour-pusses in the choir?” One of our church teens was grumbling at me as if he had proof that Christianity was a lark.  Another teen came to my rescue in a way that cracked me up. She said, “If your heart feels like smiling, why not inform your face!”

I was thinking about that teenager’s humorous comment and the state of our hearts today while reflecting on Thanksgiving. Sometimes our heart is filled with gratitude but we don’t always express it well. Sure, once a year we sit big-bellied around the awesome fruits of a bountiful fall harvest and name the reasons why we’re thankful. But how do we let our thankful hearts inform our daily living? How do we say “thank you” with our hands as well as our voices?

Some people volunteer or make donations to special causes. Others express their gratitude by signing-up for a special walk or run to bring attention to a good cause. Still, others channel their gratitude into opportunities to extend forgiveness to others. It’s been said, after all, that “thanks is for giving.”

I’d like to hear from you. Please offer a comment and share with others how you let your thankful heart inform your life and your actions?

Thanksgiving Blessings!

Mark

Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise! – Psalm 95:2