Monday, June 27, 2011

Week #24 Matthew 22:37 "It's All About Love"

"Jesus replied, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." "

Listen to these thoughts and ask yourselves if any of this sounds like you. "I don't know how God can bless and use a person like me." "I wish I knew God's will for my life." "How am I supposed to live the Christian life? It's impossible to do!"

Sound familiar? If you're like me, I have found myself saying these things on more than one occasion. A Christian life that is pleasing to God can be a tough one. Sometimes I feel like giving up. It all seems so complicated!

But, wait. Before I throw in the towel and sit out the Christian walk, I need to ask myself the old adage, "What Would Jesus Do?"

Look at the above verse. What DID Jesus do, and what is He telling US to do?

Matthew 22:37 is often times referred to as The Greatest Commandment. It's easy to see why. Jesus summed up (basically) the entire aim of the Christian life in this one sentence. We who call ourselves Christ Followers are to do exactly what Jesus would do: Love God.

Wow...can it really be that simple? Well, yes, it can. Love God. Period.

While that may be simple, it isn't easy. Loving doesn't always come naturally for me. I become selfish. I want to control my life and my surroundings (including the people in my life) to suit my own purposes. I don't always feel loving. I get lazy and can't always do the loving thing. And that's just a picture of how bad I am at loving people.

Loving God is even harder. He's invisible. He can seem silent and distant. He's hard to understand. His ways are not my ways. Sometimes He asks us to do hard things. But Jesus doesn't let us off the hook. He tells us to love God with our entire being. Our hearts, souls and minds are to lead the way.

I can't say that I entirely understand what loving God means. But, God Himself gives us a few clues. As His beloved child, I have experienced what it means to be loved BY God. God always forgives me. God accepts me for who I am. God believes in me and patiently teaches me a better way. Sometimes God disciplines me when I need it. All of these things suggest a logical and natural response from us. That's a good place to start.

And Jesus....He's the greatest role model in history for what it means to love God. He obeyed God unto death...even death on the cross. He is united with God in purpose and lived to please God and do His work on earth.

I am not perfect, I cannot love perfectly like Jesus could. But I can make love my aim (1Cor. 14:1). I can focus on learning to love God better.

So, I guess it's all about love, and the things that love leads us to do and to be. What is God's will for my life? How will God use me to do His work on earth? By showing me how to love.

I can start right now. Even as I write this blog entry, I am experiencing the blessing of being with God, of hearing His thoughts and sharing them (in love!) with others. I can't give any of you specific steps toward achieving The Loving Life. But I can tell you that you, too, can start right now. Spend a little time with God today. Tell Him you love Him and you want to learn to love Him even more. He'll help you. That will give Him joy.

It's that simple. Once you start on your journey toward loving God, He will lead you. All you need to do next is to follow. Then, you will be on your way to understanding God's will for your life and how He can use you for His kingdom. It's all about love, my friends.

Thank you, LORD.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Week #23 Jeremiah 29:11 "Always the Loving Father"

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

I love this verse. I love it so much that I have a framed copy of it hanging on my wall in beautiful calligraphy with the words "Be Encouraged" at the top of the picture.

Yes, this is one of those bible verses that we believers like to quote when the chips are down, when we need to know there is hope and more prosperous times ahead. This verse can indeed be quite encouraging.

But wait. Before we run away with visions of wealth and financial freedom, there are a few important questions we need ask first.

Is this prophecy from Jeremiah too good to be true? Does God really promise all believers prosperity and an limitless future? Is this one of those biblical promises that we can "take to the bank?" Just what is Jeremiah saying here, and to whom?

I think it is helpful to remember that Jeremiah was speaking to the Children of Israel during the time of their exile in Babylon. The Israelites had lost their homes, their freedom and (for some of them) their faith. Due to their chronic disobedience toward God, the LORD allowed their enemies to conquer them and take them into captivity.

But, despite their unfaithfulness, God showed Himself to be ever faithful and always the loving Father. He tells them that His plans for His people hadn't been cancelled. His love for them hadn't changed. Their future as God's children was still intact.

During a time when Israel felt they were at their lowest point, when their unfaithfulness resulted in mass incarceration, God went out of His way to tell them how much He still loved them. His plans for "prosperity" didn't mean financial gain, either. Instead, God was promising them an end to their time of trouble and restoration to their land and to Himself. And no, it wasn't a "get rich quick" scheme. Israel's captivity lasted 70 years. Not exactly instant gratification.

So, if God isn't necessarily promising all Christians prosperity and a great future in this verse, why do I love it so much?

I love Jeremiah 29:11 because it reminds me of God's faithfulness, no matter what. I, myself, have been in bad situations, many times due to my own poor choices. Although I end up paying a price for those life choices, God has never abandoned me. Yes, I've gone through tough times, and I expect that more tough times may be in my future as well. But this verse is God's encouragement to me during those times.

I know I won't get rich by becoming a Christian. I know that my trials and times of trouble may last a long time. But, I know that, no matter how much I've fallen short of the Glory of God, I am always welcome to sit at the feet of my LORD and rest in His presence.

He loves me all the time. I never want to forget that.

Thank you, Father.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Week #22 Proverbs 19:22a "Blessing Others"

"What a man desires is unfailing love."

About a month ago, my son and I visited a church that my dear friend and her husband are pastoring. At their church, they have an unusual custom that they practice. When visitors come on a Sunday morning for worship service, they hand each visitor a two-dollar bill. They tell the guest that the bill represents a blessing from God. It is their way to wish each guest God's best, with the hope that the two dollars will either bless them or someone else.

I asked my son today if he still had his bill. He told me, "No, I spent it long ago."

That's okay. The modest amount of money obviously blessed him. He needed it for a good reason.

I still have my bill. I told myself that I would give it, perhaps, to a homeless person or someone else in great need. So far, I have had at least two or three panhandlers approach me asking for a couple of dollars. One person was given two dollars, but it wasn't the two-dollar bill I received at church. Quite honestly, I had forgotten about that two-dollar bill. So, I gave the person two one-dollar bills instead.

But, the desire to bless someone with that two-dollar bill still rests in my heart. What am I waiting for? A directive from God? A burning bush, or a voice from above? Maybe.

This verse in Proverbs tells us that one of the best desires to have in our hearts is the ability to show unfailing love (translation: kindness). As Matthew Henry's commentary so poetically states,
"It is far better to have a heart to do good, and want ability for it, than to have ability for it, and want a heart to it."

This is great news. Most of us feel we have limited means to give, but God tells us in this verse that just the DESIRE to show kindness and charity is the real blessing for us. He doesn't judge us according to our ability to give, or the dollar amount we contribute. He looks at our hearts, not our bank accounts.

So, when I received my two-dollar bill, I accepted it as God's call to me to be kind, generous and to find creative ways to bless others. The blessing I pass on might be money, or it might be my time, my undivided attention or my friendship.

I know I won't always be successful in this. There are times when I feel too busy, too self-involved or too scared to step out and serve another. But, overall, I know I want to bless others. That two-dollar bill reminds me of that. It encourages me to bless. It motivates me toward kindness.

So, I guess I won't be giving away that dollar bill any time soon. I need that reminder, for now. I need to open my wallet and remember to look for ways to bless someone. I need to know that I am investing in God's work, not just in the supermarkets or coffee houses that usually receive my cash.

My friend and her pastor husband showed a bit of brilliance that Sunday morning. They handed me two dollars, with the hope that someone would be blessed with that amount of cash. As it turns out, that two dollars will probably be worth much more. God willing, over time, multiple persons will be blessed with gifts worth much more than a mere two bucks.

But the person with the biggest blessing will be me. I will have had the privilege of giving and showing kindness. God has entrusted me with much. The opportunities that lie before me to bless someone makes me smile already. What joy!

Thank you, LORD.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Week #21 Proverbs 17:10 "When Discipleship Hurts"

"A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool."


Here is a verse that I really didn't want to reflect on and blog about. Rebukes, lashes, fools...what a verse.

But, the LORD puts His word before us for a reason. That includes not only the "Promise Verses" (the ones we like) but also the "Warning Verses" (the ones we'd like to avoid). This is one of the latter.

When I gave my life over to God many years ago, I expected to experience a multitude of blessings, deep fellowship with the saints and (to be honest) the euphoria of a new believer. I can attest to the blessings and fellowship, but somehow missed out on the spiritual high of the insanely cheerful believer.

That's probably a good thing. My periods of greatest growth as a Christian have been during times of deep fellowship and even deeper wrestling with my faith, my life, my sometimes faulty assumptions and with God Himself. It isn't always "fun" or "cheerful" when this happens. Many times it is downright painful.

So, when a rebuke (I'd rather call it "corrective advice") comes my way, it isn't easy. I am an insecure person by nature. Correction isn't always welcomed in my fragile world. With people offering advice, counsel, rebukes or complaints that touch on sensitive areas of my life and identity, it is easy to ignore, become defensive or shoot back in anger. I have done all three.

But, upon close examination of Proverbs 17, it is important to read the word "discernment." A person of discernment will take a rebuke to heart more deeply than a fool takes 100 lashes. What this also tells me is that a man of God will be discerning when a rebuke is from the LORD and when it is simply from man.

When being corrected, I must remember to put aside my injured ego and ask God if this correction is from Him. If it is, then I must listen, despite the hurt, and take it to heart. If it is not, then I must be gracious to the well-intended person, regardless of why they corrected me.

We've all been led down an unfortunate path when we've listened to erroneous rebukes. We've also been down this same unfortunate path when we've failed to heed godly advice.

Here is my take-away from this verse: 1) Ask the LORD if a rebuke (or any piece of advice) is from Him and 2) if the rebuke is godly, then thank Him for His correction. It doesn't mean that God is mad at me, or is punishing me. It means that He loves me. It means I am His child.

Oh yes, there is a step 3. When I receive a godly rebuke, I need to remind myself that the hurt will take time to stop hurting. Even well-intentioned pain still hurts. I heal slowly. That's my sensitive nature. It doesn't mean I'm any less spiritual than a believer who recovers quickly. But, praise God, eventually I do recover.

Thank you, LORD.