Oxygen MaskFor the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14


It’s a time-worn image for those of us who travel by air: the flight attendant droning on about what to do in case of emergency. Exits are pointed out, flotation devices are identified, and then there’s the explanation about placing the oxygen mask on yourself before you assist those next to you who may need help. The instructions seem backwards; we want to come to the aid of those we love, placing them first in all we do. Many—maybe even most—of us think it is selfish to go about making sure we ourselves are “okay” before we tend to the needs of our children, spouses, aging parents, and others less fortunate.


The Oxygen Mask Principle applies in everyday life, and in fact is quite biblical. Jesus asks us to “Love your neighbors as you love yourselves” (Matthew 22:39). He lists this commandment as second in importance only to the command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (v. 37). So how can we do both: keep ourselves well-oxygenated, spiritually speaking, and yet serve others with a heart turned toward our Lord?


The sticking point for many of us is in learning to love ourselves enough to keep our own machinery running smoothly in spite of the chaos around us. When we give in to the boss who demands we answer office email well into the night, or the recovering spouse who has a “slip” and insists we are “overreacting,” or the child who says she’ll surely die without the latest expensive electronic device, we are really telling ourselves our health and well-being doesn’t matter. It is when we realize our value in the eyes of God that we “work our own program,” take care of our own “stuff,” and stand firm in our own convictions. Then, and only then—with God by our side—can we truly begin to interact with God’s other beloved children without sinking into despair ourselves. Loving our neighbor as ourselves means first realizing the priceless gift we have in God’s grace, and carrying our own “lovability” forward to love those around us.


Gracious Lord, teach us that we can only love because You first loved us. Amen


PaparazziKeeping a close watch on Him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something He said, so that they might hand Him over to the power and authority of the governor.       Luke 20:20


Paparazzi are independent photographers who doggedly pursue celebrities everywhere they go, attempting to catch photos of them to sell to disreputable publications. The term came into popular usage after the release of the1960 Italian comedy-drama  La Dolce Vita directed and co-written by Frederico Fellini. In the film, Walter Santesso plays an overzealous news photographer named Paparazzo (singular Italian word usage). Today, this character, Paparazzo, lives on in the modern practice of reporters doing anything they can to get a story. Many paparazzi consistently try to cast famous people in a bad light, invading their privacy and causing great disruption to their lives. Compromising photos sell for big bucks. In 1970, Jaqueline Kennedy Onasis ordered her Secret Service agents to destroy the camera of one paparazzi. More recently, actor Alec Baldwin seems to be in constant battle with these enterprising reporters, with violent outbursts attributed to both actor and reporters.


Jesus dealt with a kind of “biblical paparazzi,” otherwise known as the Pharisees, Sadducees and Sanhedren. These distinct groups of Jews were, in Bible times, political parties, social movements, and schools of thought, usually from the upper social and economic persuasions. The Sanhedren were also court officials. All these men were charged with keeping the Law of Moses and most viewed Jesus of Nazareth as a threat to their very way of life. But these Jewish leaders had strayed from what God wanted for His people. Throughout the Gospels, we see these men relentlessly questioning every word that came out of Jesus’ mouth. Odd behavior because, well, Jesus is the Word.  Christ rebuked these falsely pious leaders in many colorful ways. He called them a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7); “a wicked and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:38); and “full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). His words were well-chosen because Christ saw the hypocrisy in their actions.


Thankfully, our Lord was able to answer every demand of the Jewish leaders perfectly—sometimes by not answering them at all! As believers, we may not “hear” everything Jesus is telling us clearly all the time. But we know that He deserves our awe and worship because He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).


Lord, cause us to doggedly pursue Your loving grace and forgiveness. Amen


Sick ComputerLord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. Psalm 143:1


Recently, my desktop computer was acting strangely so I contacted the software maintenance company with which we have an annual contract. After several unsuccessful tries online and then what seemed like eons holding on the phone, someone actually answered and came to my aid. I was connected with a remote repair person. While I went about the rest of my day—until after nine o’clock that night—a guy several states away “captured” my computer and fixed it. Later, he sent me a message saying my computer was back to its former working state. Well, almost. I lost my email address book, calendar, and some other insignificant data, but considering my computer had “thousands of infections” when I contacted the service, I was pleased with the outcome.


We don’t need a contract to keep God on call. James says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). All it takes to access God’s “remote repair service” is that we believe He will answer. Psalm 139:2 tells us God knows “when I sit and when I rise; (He perceives) my thoughts from afar.” It’s easy for God to “capture” our whole being so He can work things out for His good (Romans 8:28). God hears our lament instantly. Psalm 139:4 states, “Before a word is on my tongue, You, Lord, know it completely.” Our Lord cares about each of the hairs on our heads (Matthew 12:7). Whether I come to Him with “thousands of infections” or one seemingly insignificant concern, His response is the same: instant knowledge of the issue, total ability to solve our problems, and the divined wisdom to know the best way to proceed.


Next time your computer is on the fritz, you might try calling on God to fix it; He can even do that if it is His will. But more importantly, He can be with us during failures of the electronic kind as well as our own very human malfunctions. God delivers, every second of every day, with no charge to us since His Son paid the ultimate price so we can live lives abundantly through Him.


Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. (Psalm 31:2) Amen


The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890

The Sermon on the Mount
Carl Bloch, 1890

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Mark 16:15


“I love to tell the story, ‘Twill be my theme in glory, To tell the old, old story Of Jesus and His love.” Thus goes the well-known and loved hymn, “I Love to Tell the Story.” This song was played at the funeral of an old friend. It touched me then, and it touches me now, because it speaks of our great and wonderful duty to “tell the story” of Jesus’ redeeming grace to all those who cross our paths.


The lyrics to the hymn were originally part of a poem written by a wealthy young British woman named Kathryn (Kate) Hankey while she was convalescing from a long and debilitating illness. The music was composed by William G. Fischer, first published in 1869. Kate says she loves the story “Because I know ’tis true; It satisfies my longings as nothing else [can] do.” Humbly, Kate declares, “It did so much for me,” making me wonder how she came to know Christ herself. Did she, like me, spend much of her earlier life in denial and disbelief, not giving much thought to the existence of God or His Son? Or was she grateful for a life lived fully, walking with Christ at every step? She says she wants to keep telling the story “for some have never heard.” But in the next stanza, she proclaims that “those who know it best/Seem hungering and thirsting/To hear it like the rest.” How we long to continue hearing that tale, letting God’s marvelous words surround us and fall on us like a soft, warm blanket! No wonder Kate says “Twill be my theme in glory!” I’ll bet she’s up there in heaven right now, telling “the old, old story” to all of the saints assembled.


Who needs to hear the story from you? Can you shout it from the ramparts, or could you show it by your quiet way of living, following in Christ’s footsteps? Can you pass on some kindness or share your talents in a unique way? Or do you need to read the story to yourself again, this time with feeling, alone in the presence of God?


Your story is always new, Jesus! Let it overflow in my life and cover everyone I encounter! Amen