January 2014


Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God,

1 John 4: 7

 

On the surface of it this sounds like a rather simple idea for in the church we certainly do love each other. We are nice, pleasant, polite, and accepting of others. We are agreeable and let past wrongs be in the past, too. Yet, much of this nicety is located on the very outermost layer of skin that is truly on the surface. It has nothing to do with our hearts and our minds. While smiling and shaking hands in fellowship, frequently we are running a sort of continuous loop recording of our animosity, fear, distrust, and distaste for the very person we are embracing.

 

In fact, it seems to me that love is not polite. Love does not seek to charm and to ingratiate. Love does not let the sleeping dogs of hurts tendered and received just lie there sleeping. For, as we look at God’s approach to loving people, we can not help but see engagement. God is so involved with us that He came to live among us even after we had rebelled against that close relationship during its formative days. Jesus deliberately stepped into the middle of our world’s chaos and our personal messiness, and He brought truth, grace, mercy, and love to this world. Then, even as we murdered the Son of God, the Father granted us His continuing presence in the person of Christ’s Spirit. In all of this there is nothing but deep, real, and engaged love.

 

That is what the Apostle John is bringing to our attention. The ability to love from deep within while not compromising righteousness and truth comes from God. This is a love that does not hold onto the past but rather submits those hurts, pain, and fears to God and that seeks His wisdom in resolving them. This from of love is genuine. It honors our emotional responses to life as a gift from God while not allowing emotion to rule us and to disrupt our relationships. Loving as Christ does is risky in that it requires us to fully surrender ourselves to God and to submit to His will in areas of greatest personal vulnerability. Yet, it is genuine, deep-seated love that binds us together in the eternal family that is the Body of Christ.

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I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in the blessings.

1 Corinthians 9: 23

 

Sharing is one of the hardest things for young children to learn. The basic nature that people are born with wants to acquire and does not want to let go. There is something in us that seems to believe that we will never have enough, and this thought is fueled by the sense that if we don’t keep everything to ourselves, we will somehow be diminished. One of the marks of growing, of maturing, and of becoming more outwardly, thus other, focused is the ability to share.

 

In this verse, Paul is speaking from a very mature perspective. He has grown enormously in the few years that he has known Jesus as the Lord has changed Paul’s orientation and focus entirely. He has turned around from serving a self-determined and human-devised concept of God that set Paul up as the center of his universe to one of serving Christ, thus, he was now serving the true needs of the souls of people.

 

One of the most beautiful aspects of God is that He is selfless. He sacrificed Himself for our sakes, and He completely gives Himself to us despite the ways that we treat Him back. Our highest calling as people who know Christ is to do the same. There is, in fact, an element of selfishness mixed with fear and lack of trust that causes Christians to hold onto the knowledge of the love of God and to not willingly share this life altering truth with others. Our calling, in Christ, is to live lovingly, love openly, and to do it all so that the people in our circle of contact have an opportunity to come to know the One who truly changes people’s lives. In Christ, maturity is not measured so much in years; it is demonstrated by an openness to trust God to work through us.

 

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all of your conduct.

1 Peter 1: 14, 15

 

Reflecting on this passage requires a confession to be made. So here goes, I can be very childish, and trust me on this, it is not a good thing for me to be this way. There are times, even days when I demand my rights, my way, that my idea or viewpoint be accepted. I put my foot down and throw some sort of epic tantrum in response to what I perceive as slights from others or when things don’t go as I would prefer for them to go. This is not a pretty sight for others to view, and it is humbling and frustrating to experience, too.

 

Peter is talking about these literal loss-of-control moments, but even more so he is speaking to the way that I and most of us fail to honor Christ by aspects of the manner that we live and by the words that we say. There are many ways that this failure to honor Christ is expressed. It can be found in coarse and demeaning language, it is stated in narrow and bigoted ideas, or we can be exclusionary when Christ would have entered into another’s life. Also, Christ in us is not on view when we seek power and dominance over others, as we bow down to our culture in fear of losing status or position, and when our momentary wants and desires are placed above God’s truth.

 

Still, in all things, Christ calls upon us to be like children, just not childish. There is a very real difference. The obedient children here are ones who know and accept the fact that they need to humbly submit to the superior wisdom and understanding that comes from God through His Word and by His Spirit. There is no need for us to be ignorant of God’s will or to act out of our immature passions. For, as Christ is in us, we are holy. We are set apart from this world and from its influential control over us. Yet, as Christ empowers us, we can live fully in this world and bring Christ’s righteous love to every corner of it while growing in our own maturity as holy children of God.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence.

2 Peter 1: 3

 

God is remarkably open-handed. He holds back nothing from His people. It seems that this is true as God has no need to conserve or to portion out or to withhold any of His gifts. The Lord truly has all of the power and every bit of the resource that might ever be required to engage with life in this world. There is nothing that is beyond His capability, and no aspect of our lives is outside of God’s interest. For what God created, He cares about and takes care of.

 

As God does these acts of care He does not focus on changing the situation that we are in or the nature of the world where we live. Rather, He actually calls His people out of the world where we were born and into a new place of dwelling. Christ lifts us out of a state of perpetual servitude to sin and calls us into residency in God’s kingdom of glory. Christ works in His people to bring about fundamental change in the way that we view life, and He grants to us the ability, through His grace and strength, to overcome everything that binds us to the past.

 

For most of us embracing this change is a process. We become new beings in Christ in that remarkable and mystical moment of repentance and acceptance, but much of who we are continues to cling to the old life with its subordination to the world. Peter is sharing with us a great truth that he learned through difficult and painful experience. For, like with Peter, Christ relentlessly and continually calls to us; yet, it is up to each of us to respond. Christ makes God visible and known to us; however, we need to listen and to accept the learning. Our Lord calls to us to surrender more and more of ourselves to His truth, and as we do this we can settle more fully into the Kingdom of God with its complete and glorious peace.

 

You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.

Deuteronomy 4: 29

 

Where do I find you, God?

What does your face look like?

If I call will you answer, or will you tell me to go away and never bother you again?

The days can be filled with questions; the hours cluttered with the act of seeking answers; and a lifetime can be consumed in the pursuit.

 

I find God in all the usual places; in church buildings and in prayer groups, in books written about Him and in the books of the Bible, in friends and family, and in the beauty of the created world. God speaks and reveals Himself through every imaginable means. He also appears in the strangest of locations; in the face of a poor child from the slums of Manila, in the actions of characters portrayed by openly non-Christian actors working in truly secular films, in the simple love expressed by a friend or a spouse that remains strong despite my unloveliness, and through the response of my heart to hurt and disappointment in life.

 

The Lord is in everything, and He is involved with all that we do. Whether I am touched by traditional hymns or by the power of rock music, God can be found in its harmonics and resonance. If I am with people who are gathered in a cathedral crafted from massive stone or sitting on the floor in a suburban home or in a coffee shop or a farm field, God’s face is looking on those who are there.

 

Location and time of day are of no consequence to Him. The only real reason that I struggle to find Him is found in me; the only thing that God requires from me in order that He show Himself to me is my attitude in the search. If I turn my heart and my soul toward Him, He will be there, for as I open myself to God’s truth, my heart and my soul become receptive to His love that is already living there.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

James 1:5

 

One of the most common jokes in our society involves men and asking for directions. The reason that it is so common and also the reason that it is so funny is that almost everyone can relate an actual event when one of us men managed to get hopelessly lost while we were literally surrounded by potential direction givers. Every teacher and every seminar leader knows that they will need to implore their audiences to ask questions, it doesn’t matter whether the listener’s grade depends on the understanding or whether they have paid handsomely for the knowledge. We people are arrogantly stubborn, and this is especially true when our egos are on the line.

 

When James says, “If”, he is posing a rhetorical question, for there is no person who does not lack wisdom. Wisdom, the very essence of wisdom, starts with God, and it resides with God. This understanding of how to live life, these life-success skills, are not held tightly; for, the Lord tells us that He desires with his parent’s heart to share them totally. Yet, God does not waste wisdom on deaf ears. He wants us to realize our need, to focus our request, and to ask Him specifically for the skills and the understanding that we require. This is where the relationship with our Lord is very special, for He not only possesses all the wisdom that we need, but, unlike an encyclopedia, Wikipedia, or even a really good How-To-Do-It book, God will enter into life with us. When we seek wisdom from God, we get a partner in the implementation of what we learn. We also get all of the updates, add-ons, new versions and enhancements. We are in a relationship with the One who will make every twist and turn in life work out for our good.

 

Back to human nature. If we consider the benefit that we derive from asking God for the wisdom that we all need to live well each day, why don’t we do it, why don’t we consistently and passionately pursue His wisdom throughout every day? The answer is probably the same as the reasons that we don’t ask for directions or pose other needed questions, we are stubborn and our egos are both over sized and very fragile. This is why James directs us to two of God’s attributes. He is a very generous giver, and He never tells us that our requests are dumb or silly. In fact, God’s heart is warmed, He is delighted, by our turning to Him; for, when we realize our need for wisdom, we are not showing weakness; rather, we are demonstrating maturity.

Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise.

1 Corinthians 3: 18

 

Self deception is one of the great enemies of clear thinking. The problem is often one of thinking that I have it all figured out, and that the topic at hand is one that I really understand. This sort of confidence in my own ability to handle life and to solve my own problems has been trained and conditioned in through a lifetime. This is how our society teaches us to behave; this is the type of activity that gets us praise and recognition. The ability to think and to make independent decisions can be a perfectly worthy attribute in many areas of life, but it can create a huge problem when it is carried over into the most important one. When we start to believe that we can devise our own concept of rightness, then we are heading for trouble.

 

Most of us don’t deliberately set out to change the basic truths of living that God has established for us; we simply start to interpret their meaning. We don’t intentionally make decisions that are contrary to God’s desire for our behavior; we just listen to the counsel of the world around us and clarify our understanding of what is right by incorporating this culturally current thinking into our decision making. Yet, there is a serious problem with this approach. All moral and ethical concepts need to be founded upon everlasting principles; these values are not culturally changeable and they are not relative to our current environment. In fact, moral and ethical values have a spiritual foundation. These are an essential underpinning of healthy living as designed from Creation by God.

 

In our world they have been corrupted; for, they have been made relative by the deceptive influence of Satan. The voice that cries out to us saying that there is a better, a modern way to act in this time and in this place is cruelly deceptive and intent upon enticing people away from spiritually sound living. Evil’s voice is everywhere; we need to stop listening. If our values are God’s values, it doesn’t matter what others say. If our decisions are loving, just, and respectful; they are honoring to God; therefore, they are eternally wise. God has granted us His Word, and Christ has given us His Spirit to guide our hearts and our minds into the presence of righteousness. So, when we are viewed as foolish in light of this world’s standards, we are entering into the eternal wisdom of the ages.

 

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