Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Loving Yourself, Loving Others

There is the idea that loving one's self, although not explicitly commanded in Scripture, is implied and expected. "Jesus said to love others as I love myself, therefore love for myself is implied." I have met individuals who hate themselves--often a result of shame, sometimes guilt--but perhaps we have misinterpreted "love." After reading about Jesus' on the night He was arrested, I would propose that love (or acceptance) of myself and love for others is a factor of trust and love for God. It has little to nothing to do with the object of my affection (myself or others); it has everything to do with my belief in who God is.

That said, if I believe God created me for a holy purpose--in wisdom, for a Divine calling--I see my body, ability, vocation, and location as a gift to be stewarded. This is not my idea. But I cannot see myself in that light if I have not recognized my sin and confessed my need for forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Once Jesus has cleansed me and I am indwelt by His Spirit, I have the ability to see the Truth of Scripture applied to my entire being--and I am His. I am not my own; I have been bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). That negates self love. It erases self loathing. It is, in essence, an absence of self. For that reason, Scripture does not imply love of self but the opposite, death to self.

My natural, unregenerate mind loves my self. Even in self-loathing, the focus is "self." Stuart Scott does a fabulous job of walking step-by-step through the fascination we have with ourselves in his book, From Pride to Humility. And, as Timothy Keller writes, "Humility is not thinking less of one's self. It is thinking of one's self less. (The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy)

So as I read this morning, "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself." (John 13:3-4).

Because He knew He had power over all things--He knew who He was. He would not be destroyed or condemned. His was a divine, holy, blessed mission. He couldn't lose. Jesus also knew He had come from God. He belonged to His Father. And He knew He would return to His Father. He believed--He knew--the outcome. For those reasons, and because of love for His disciples, (John 13:1), He served.

You and I, when we no longer belong to ourselves or have a deep concern for our appearance, reputation, other's praise or rejection can let go of so many things that deter us, and we can love others the way God loves us. Do you know that the Father has given you every spiritual blessing? That you are redeemed and forgiven? That you have a mission that cannot, will not fail? And that you are going back to God? That is what God says about who He is and who you are.

It's not about looking out for number one. It's about Number One looking out for you. And, knowing He does, you can love others lavishly, with no strings attached or expectation of return. In doing so, dying to yourself (not loving yourself), you will experience the presence and undergirding of Almighty God: the power of His resurrection, the  fellowship of His suffering, and conformity to His death that comes through His righteousness and empowering Spirit (Philippians 3:9-10).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Live Today...

Recently, a friend shared her vision and dreams for the future, asking what she could do now to work toward them.  While setting goals and dreaming big are important, I was reminded of this passage from the book of James that says we must guard against failing to live well today.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:13-17 ESV)

James, being James, didn't waste words. That's part of living for the dream--be yourself. God made you, you, so do it to the best of your ability.

More than that, he says don't make plans without consulting and incorporating God. Humility, dependence on God, is the bigger part of moving forward. "I'd like to do this or that, but only God knows" is very different than declaring, "I'm going to be this person and reach this goal."

And have you noticed that sometimes people with grandiose dreams get little done? They are so busy waiting for the right conditions that they fail to move forward or complete everyday tasks. Instead, God says (through James), if there's something you ought to do, git er done. Make your bed, read your Bible, pray--for yourself and others, be thankful, generous, and useful. Do what you can do. If you only have today, what will you do? How will you live it to God's glory given the resources, abilities, responsibilities, and opportunities God has placed in your life? All you have is this moment. Now. Today.

Based on God's principle of sowing and reaping, of giving much to those who have been faithful with little, it is doubtful that building the ark was Noah's first command. He practiced obedience, based on God's interaction with Adam and Eve, that continued generation after generation. He offered sacrifices, put God first in his daily life, and acknowledged His sovereignty--all of which led to distinct choices. A godly life, a blessed life, is the result of small, repeated, daily decisions that move us toward an unknown future. It may not look like "going to another town, spending a year there, buying, selling and making a profit, " but it will be a life that honors God, is unpredictable, rich, and blessed.

In this, I am reminded of Demrie Bratt, who lived an extraordinary, though short, life to the glory of her Savior. The passage below is a picture of her life these last months as she battled cancer to the glory of God. Read here about her "Extraordinary Life." Friends and family are celebrating even as I write... Demrie said it well: God gives just enough grace... for today. It's what we've got.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

Monday, August 13, 2018

When Jesus Wants Your Donkey

How often do we sense that God's calling is "now and forever?" We (or maybe just I) tend to think that if I agree to give up this or do that, I have to be really serious because it's a permanent decision. That kind of thinking keeps us from obedience and joy. When God removes something we love, we often fight and flail. (I realize there are incredible losses we face--the death of a spouse, child, or loved one. That is not what this entry is referring to.) It might be an opportunity, job, object, or idea we're particularly attached to. Have you ever told God, "No," because you're not willing to part with some temporary, earthly object? I have.

I wondered about that as I read this passage this morning:

As they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ you say, ‘The Lord has need of it’; and immediately he will send it back here.” They went away and found a colt tied at the door, outside in the street; and they untied it. Some of the bystanders were saying to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They spoke to them just as Jesus had told them, and they gave them permission. They brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it; and He sat on it. And many spread their coats in the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting:

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David;
Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late. (Mark 11:1-11).

If you're like me, this is a familiar passage. But today I wondered about the bystanders and owner of the colt. "Jesus has need of it." Jesus didn't steal it. He didn't pay for it. He didn't keep it. He used it for His purpose and returned it. The owner, and those who lent it, trusted Jesus. They didn't know how long He would need it or why. But if Jesus said He needed it, it was for a good purpose: prophetic, incredible, wonderful, historic, God-ward. Temporary.

Too often we balk at doing things for Jesus--or giving them up--as if it's for the rest of our lives. But in giving, we not only find joy and deep satisfaction, we may discover He has a simple, short-lived purpose. His plan always glorifies His Father in Heaven. The question is, do you trust Him? Do I?

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." (John 15:1-11)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Come to Me

In our world of do-it yourself, the gospels speak clearly, "You can't."

When it comes to Jesus, the only way to receive His mercy and grace is in brokenness and humility. Whether you're a child dragged along by your parents, a blind man sitting at the gate, a paralytic carried and let down through a roof by friends, or a sinner in a tree, Jesus is ready and welcoming. If you're a self-righteous hypocrite, a self-seeking do-it-yourself-er, or someone determined that God is out to get you, you will get what you have earned (see Matthew chapters 20-21).

"Self-made Man"

Need mercy? Come. Forgiveness? Grace in time of need? Compassion?  A cup of cold water? Jesus offers that and more. He offers Himself--and He is limitless. The peace He offers is not your style of peace. It is His peace. The joy He gives is not a human joy; it is His deep, unending joy. The fruit of the Spirit are His gifts to you, gifts without limit or measure; gifts that multiply and abound as we abide in Him and His words abide in us.

To fill that space with myself, my thinking, my desires, my dreams, and my abilities is to forfeit all He has, all He is, and all He can give.

In seeing the proud, demanding heart of people surrounding Him,

Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Good Gifts

We live on a farm, so as they say, "Nothing goes to waste." I set aside vegetable peelings, egg shells, and organic matter for the chickens. Meat scraps, drippings and spoiled food goes to the dogs and cats. As I go out the back door, I drop the dogs' goodies in their bowl then call the chickens, who come tottering and flying from every corner. Almost without exception, the dogs follow to see what the chickens have that they don't. Dumping out celery tips, cantaloupe rind, and apple cores I tell them, "There's nothing here for you. You won't like these. Your food is in your bowl," shaking my head because we do the same thing.

God heaps blessing in my lap, but my eyes follow His blessing on another and I start snooping through their goods, leaving mine behind. How incredibly ungracious and foolish! No matter what God has chosen to give others, He has given exactly what He intends me to have--not because He is unfair or unkind--but because He knows and loves me. He will give me exactly what I need when I need it. He is, and always has been, good, loving, generous, kind and wonderful!

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:13-17)

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:11-20)