More of Him, more of me

I know the usual expression is “more of Him, less of me” . . but this blog is going to be about “more of Him, more of me.”

More and Less directions.  Opposite traffic sign.

What do I mean by that?

Just this: the more of Him there is, the more of the actual me, the good me, the new me there is.

When we are saved in Christ, we become new creations (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).

The Bible talks about our work as believers being comparable to gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).  The more we follow God’s will, the more we build on our lives with desirable, lasting qualities that are like gold, silver, and jewels.  So the more we know God, the more beautiful our lives become.

When we say, “more of Him, less of me”, what I think we usually mean is “more of Him, less of my sin nature”.  This is true, too.  The more we know Christ, the less we will build with worthless materials that will be burned up in the fire of judgment.  But knowing Christ–following after Him–doesn’t mean I become less and less of a “person”.  Rather, I become more and more who I was intended to be.

Following Christ doesn’t mean giving up my identity.  Rather, it means finding my true identity in Him.  In giving up my dead old “life” for Him, I receive His alive, new Life (see Mark 8:35).

I love the analogy of building in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.  I had Legos as a kid, and I think of building something with Legos.  The more I submit my life to be restructured into building blocks for His Kingdom, the more of the eternal I become.  The more I do things my own way and hold onto my old ways of sinning, the less of the eternal I am.

It’s incredible the contrast in what people build with Legos.  A building can be as tiny as two blocks placed together, or as massive as the imagination allows.  In the same way, we can build for God’s Kingdom as much as our spirit yields to His.  What we find when we obey Him is that we become more and more of who we were meant to be . . not less and less.

In the book The Velveteen Rabbit, in probably the most famous passage, the Skin Horse describes what it is like to become real.  The Velveteen Rabbit thinks the process sounds terrible: his fur will be worn off, his whiskers will fall out, his stuffing will become limp–things such as this.  But what he discovers is that, only when he becomes real (when he is truly loved by the boy who owns him) does he experience the outlandish joy of becoming a real rabbit.

We don’t have to be afraid of losing our value as we open our arms to God’s love in our lives and as we yield to His will for us.  Rather, we are discovering our value in Him!!!  And we are building on an everlasting, unimaginably wonderful Kingdom.  In the process, we ourselves become real–new creations full of eternal Life.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (Jesus, quoted in John 10:10b, NASB)

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Published in: on August 4, 2014 at 11:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Housebuilders

In Jesus’ parable about two housebuilders, one man discovered that his life mattered . . and the other man discovered that his life didn’t.  One man found his faith solid in the worst time of trial he’d faced.  The other man found his faith eroded in the same trial.

One man had his faith in the real save.  The other man had his faith in the false save.

Here’s how it went down:

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great! ”(Matthew 7:24-27, HCSB)

There is no man in this parable who didn’t hear the words of Jesus.

The two men in the parable heard the same message from Christ.

They had the same opportunity for salvation.

They both made decisions.

And then they both continued on with life.

But this is where their commonality ends.

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Since the one man—we’ll call him Bill–made a decision to follow Christ, his entire life’s work changed.  He moved land plots.  Rather than building a house in the ever-popular neighborhoods of Career Cul-de-Sac, Rebel Road, Acheivement Alley, Lust Lane, Popularity Park, Family Farm Road, Amusement Avenue, Indulgence Isle, Materialistic Mile, or any of the other popular real estate plots, he picked up and left all these places for the Rock of Christ.  It wasn’t a very popular place, and he wasn’t sure his family would join him, or that his friends would ever pay him another visit, but he moved there anyway.  He was sure about where he needed to build.  He’d listened to the words of Christ and he believed.

In the meantime, since the other man—we’ll call him Joe–made a decision to passively listen to the words of Christ, maybe even respect Christ and feel sentimental about the preaching he’d heard, but not really let the message penetrate him, he didn’t move from where he was already building.  After all, he had a lot of time and resources tied up in that house.  He didn’t understand why Bill had abandoned his prime real estate.  It looked like a lot of wasted effort and inefficient use of resources to Joe.  And besides, hadn’t the real estate agent promised that the property would triple, even quadruple in value in the next fifty years?

Joe did what everybody said was the smart thing.  He stayed steady and true to the home he was already building.  His children loved him, his wife adored him, and he had cookouts every weekend.

Bill did what everybody said was the stupid thing.  The halfway built house he’d started before his new life in Christ crumbled over time.  The foundation cracked, and spiders and snakes and foxes lived among the ruins.  Bill’s wife had left him to start a house on prime real estate property with somebody else.  He got to see his children every other weekend.  Most of his old friends never answered the phone when his name came up on the caller id, and nobody ever came to his house for a cookout.

Bill only had a few neighbors, and they were all broke like him, buying strange building supplies that nobody else used and following building plans that none of the engineers in town understood.  The Rock of Christ seemed like a lonely place, and the real estate agent had warned everyone who built there that it would never go up in value and was worthless.  Some did wonder if the agent said this just because there was no money to be made on the property–it was free to Bill and anyone else who built there.  Others never stopped to think about it, and made fun of Bill whenever they saw him out and about.

Then one day, fifty years to the date the two men had heard the teaching of Christ, something happened.  Something neither man was expecting.

They both died.

Bill was driving home from work when he got in a car accident.  Nobody was too clear on the details, just that a young driver had accidentally hit him head-on.  He died instantly, the paramedics said.

Joe, on the very same day, had a heart attack.  Nobody even knew he had heart trouble, although the doctor had warned him about high cholesterol.  Although he was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, the damage was just too massive.

Both men’s funerals were on the same day.

Bill’s friends from the district of the Rock of Christ came.  His children were there–one even decided to build his own home in the same neighborhood where his father had lived.  Even though it was well-attended, there was only a small service since Bill never had much money and his friends didn’t have much to donate.

Joe had a bunch of coworkers come to his funeral.  He’d been really successful at work, and he had a lot of acquaintances who showed up out of respect.  His family was there, and there was a beautiful ceremony.  Everyone said it was very professionally done.  There was even a few police officers to direct traffic when the service was over.

Twenty years went by, and not many friends were left who had known Bill or Joe.  Their children remembered them, of course, and their spouses (or in Bill’s case, ex-spouse).

Another fifty years went by, and a few of Bill’s descendents took an interest in ancestry.  They did some research on the internet and found out his name, but they didn’t really know anything about him.  One of Joe’s great-great-great-great grandchildren did a family tree project.  She found Joe’s name in an old photo album and included it on the tree.

Even though Bill and Joe had faded away from the history of the town, there was a memorial to each of them.  No, it wasn’t their gravestones.  Bill never afforded one and Joe’s gravestone, though it was a mighty monument, only got flowers on Memorial Day when the dutiful boy scouts came by.

Yet, there was something of theirs that had remained in town.  Something the townspeople passed by every day.  Though they didn’t know who the houses belonged to, there wasn’t a person in town who hadn’t walked or driven to at least one of their houses.

Bill’s house–well, it wasn’t known as Bill’s house anymore.  Currently, it was Jim and Kate’s house–they’d moved in with their four kids after elderly Mr. and Mrs. Rogue had died.  Before that there’d been newlyweds Paul and Christine, and, let’s see, before that there was Jamar and the backyard club he’d started.  It’s hard to really remember everybody who, when they decided to build on the Rock of Christ, build an addition onto Bill’s house.  Of course, they didn’t know whose house it was, but, over the years, the small house had become one of the marvels of the neighborhood.

I think it was Harriet, who’d first owned the house after Bill had died (she was Bill’s daughter, and she’d come to Christ at her father’s funeral) , who’d expanded the kitchen.  It was her husband, Peter, who re-shingled the roof.  Their children, Tom and Larry, mowed the grass every week until they went off to college.  When Harriet and Peter died, Tom moved in with his wife April, and they’re the ones who cultivated the garden out back.  They didn’t have any children, but a boy they’d mentored–that was Azad, I think, built the sun room on when he moved in.

Over the years, families kept building onto that house.  The kitchen was updated, the living room refurnished, the walls repainted, the fireplace converted from wood-burning to electric when that was the phase, and then back to wood-burning when it came back in–but the foundation was never touched.  Extra rooms were built on–including that extra big living room Jamar added for the college kids to have their Bible study.  Mr. and Mrs. Rogue took out the skee-ball machine and sold most of the board games at a garage sale, and they added carpet and paintings of flowers and turned the room into a Bible study for widowed women.

Yes, the house went through change after change as each new generation added something to Bill’s home, but there was one thing no one ever, never once, had to change.  That was the foundation.  Even hundreds of years later, the house stayed as strong as it had been the day it was built.  Whenever any of the kids or younger couples in the neighborhood worry about termites or earthquakes or wildfires or, worst of all, the bad flooding that came through the valley every now and again, the older residents will reassure them they have nothing to worry about.  It is, after all, the Rock of Christ.

People are influenced by Joe’s building, too, but not in the same way.  The year after Joe died, there was a terrible flood, and the house completely collapsed.  No one in the neighborhood said they’d ever seen anything like it.  The real estate agent apologized, but said the other houses were better built than Joe’s had been.

But Joe’s house–or, really, the lack thereof–is still effecting people.  People scavenged his demolished house for a while.  He’d been a rich man, and he had lots of nice nicknacks.  But since they’d gotten soaked in the flood, only vagrants ever took off with them.

Kids used to walk through the ruins as a shortcut on their way to school.  The ground eroded so many times, it became terribly unsafe.  Nobody seemed to notice until a first-grader fell into a surprise sinkhole.  If his brother hadn’t gotten ahold of his arm in time, it would have been too late.  Since then, there’s barbed wire around the old place.  That hasn’t stopped ne’er-do-wells from dumping their trash there, of course.  I’ve heard all manner of unsavory animals live their now.  The city council was trying to figure out what to do with the old lot until the wildfire came through and left a mass of charcoal and scrap metal in its path.  Now the council’s voting on what to do with the scrap metal.  And I think they’re planning to put a concrete wall up, to keep children out.

__________________________________________________________

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great! ”(Matthew 7:24-27, HCSB)

KWL

A way of “thinking about thinking” is the KWL chart, which asks:

  • What do I already know?
  • What do I want to know?
  • (And after information is given) What have I learned?

In theory, the KWL chart sounds like a great way to teach people.  And it kind of is, if what you want is for them to know something.

There’s a surprising thing about knowledge, though.  You would think it would be the key to right living.  But is it, by itself?  For example, do we say:

  • “If she only knew how people felt about her rude remarks, she wouldn’t say them.”
  • “If he only knew the damage he was doing, he wouldn’t abuse his wife.”
  • “If they only knew what foods were nutritious, they would eat healthy.”
  • “If they only knew that downloading music was illegal, they wouldn’t do it.”

Most people would laugh off or otherwise dismiss the suggestion that knowledge would be enough in these situations.  People usually know already.  Like, I know the benefits of exercise.  I could probably write a book about exercise.  I could even come up with fantastic exercise tips.  But none of this seems to have much transfer, because I’ve been to the gym all of . . 3 times I think this month.  And its the 21st.

In our hearts, we understand that just knowing isn’t what we usually need.  Yet we play games with ourselves like:

  • I didn’t “know” any better.
  • I didn’t “know’ what to do.
  • I “know” Jesus.

In how many cases can I really say I did not “know” any better?  A few.  I did not know any better when I thought Mr. Rogers could see me from the TV.  When I was four.  But most of the time, I do “know” better.  I “know” the benefits of exercise.  But I still don’t exercise much.

How often do I really not “know” what to do?  Sometimes.  When I don’t know what to do, it’s usually because I rush to make a decision.  Most of the time, I do know what to do, there is just something else I would rather do.  Only rarely do I really come up against a situation where I really don’t know what to do, and that is almost always because I have gotten myself into some kind of convoluted mess.

What do I mean when I say I “know” Jesus?  This is the most important question of all.  What kind of knowing is it?  Is it the kind of knowing that would fit on a KWL chart?  Scripture says,

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

(1 Corinthians 8:1b)

We aren’t being told here to try not to know anything, but we are told that knowledge on its own is only good for making us feel more important than we really are, like a full-o’-air puffer fish.  We have to love for knowledge find its purpose.

A puffer fish puffs itself full of air to be impressive & scare away its enemies.  Christ followers aren’t to use their knowledge to impress anyone or scare them away.  Instead, we are called to use our knowledge to humbly draw others to Christ.
[Photograph by Jon Connell]

Do we marry somebody because we know them or because we love them?  I hope it’s because we love them!

Of course, we have to know them first.  I wouldn’t look across the room at a coffee shop and think, You know what?  That guy is really cute and he’s not wearing a wedding wing.  I think I love him!  I’ll marry him!  

On the other hand, I wouldn’t marry someone just because I’ve known them my whole life.  Knowing someone doesn’t have anything to do with loving them.

Here’s my challenge to you: Do you “know” Jesus just because you’ve heard about it all your life, or do you know Him and believe in Him?  Salvation is an action experience.  It’s not just knowing someone.  Believing is aligning yourself with someone.

Now it’s super important to understand: believing in Jesus isn’t the same as believing in a friend.  I can believe a friend when she tells me she’ll meet me for lunch at one o’clock.  But believing in Jesus is accepting His claims, and they are not run-of-the-mill meet-you-at-one o’clock claims.  They are life-upside-down change-you-forever claims.  Believing in Jesus is believing He is the Son of God, that He saves you from your sins, that He expects you to give up everything in the way of following Him, that He expects you to work for Him, and etc.  These aren’t optional claims.  Believing in Jesus is accepting all of what He says and does, because if He said or did even one wrong thing, He couldn’t be perfect, and if He’s not perfect, He couldn’t save us from our sins.

The claims of Jesus are all-or-nothing.  We can’t pick and choose.  He either is the perfect sacrifice, or He isn’t.  And because Jesus affirms the Old Testament Scripture in His teachings, we receive the Old Testament as His Word, too.  And because He said that He would give Peter as a rock to build the church on (the foundation for the church is Jesus), we believe everything Peter wrote, too.  And because Peter said that all Scripture is from God, every bit of the Old and New Testament belongs to Jesus.  (Peter also directly affirms Paul’s writings.)

Do you “know” Jesus the way you know George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (a KWL chart)?  Or do you know Jesus in belief, following Him in whatever He commands (a lifetime pursuit and an eternal commitment)?

There’s a big difference.

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:26, NIV)

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Photograph by Jon Connell, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/ciamabue/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Valentine’s Day, dishwater love, and does my love prove to the world that I am His disciple?

I clicked on my daily email verse and–to no surprise since this is Valentine’s Day–the theme was love.

A lot of the time with daily Scripture verses, I peruse them quickly, click back out, and keep browsing my email.  I find my real listening to God in devoted devotion time, not in 15-second glances of verses.  But tonight, when I started to semi-speed-read through the verse, I found the words much too heavy to toss aside.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (Jesus, quoted in John 13:34-35, NLT)

Does my love prove to the world that I am Jesus’ disciple?

Wow.  Gulp.  Squirm.

For the past two and (still counting) weeks, I’ve had a cold.  I haven’t felt much good.  There’ll be times I feel like I’m getting over it, and then I feel all dragged down again.  I’ve felt discouraged, weary, and deary (discouraged and weary both at once).

Something nearly always invariably happens when I get sick anymore.  I start thinking about what God really wants me to do in this life.  I have more heart-to-hearts.  I pray more.  And I get more serious about recognizing my days are numbered.

Love—love is a hard thing for me.  There are so many ideas orbiting my head about love—I bet you have a lot, too.

I think about the ups and downs of love.  I have always been a “love surfer”, I think—quick to love when the tide is up and everything is great, and way gone when the tide is down and conflict or messes appear.

And I think about how love is like chocolate chip cookies to me.  I can’t get it out of my head.  When I want to show someone I love them, I either praise them or buy something for them or hug them.  Love is so abstract that I try to paint it into a concrete present.  As if, somehow, I can show the full meaning of love by buying someone ice cream or liking something they said on facebook.

The quick turn of love to hate.  I can be moody.  Really moody.  It doesn’t take much for me to change my mind temporarily about someone—and even though it is temporary, a great deal of damage can ravage in the wake.

The difficulty of love.  Love just seems plain hard sometimes.  Lots of work.  Effort.  Maybe even drudgery.

The forgivingness of love.  Forgiveness is like the nectar of love here on this earth.  We are fallen, broken, messed-up–and to love anyone else down here, you have to find some way to get past the bad things they’ve done.  This seems hard enough for us—we’ve got plenty of talk shows to try to cope with it—so it just seems like it would be just impossible for God.  After all, God doesn’t have this problem.  He is perfect.  He is not fallen, broken, or messed up.  It seems impossible that He would even want to bond with us.  We’re dangerous, volatile, untrustworthy.  Look at what we did to God when He gave us the opportunity: we crucified Him.  How could that God want friendship with us?

And I think about love, and I try to sort love out in my own head—but, no, that’s not really true.  Really, I know what love is.  As confusing and distracting as all the theories and memories orbiting in my mind, I do know what love is: it’s Jesus stretching His arms out on a cross to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually trapped for the sins of the world.

Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. (John 13:34b)

How can that be, Lord?

I know the kind of love I am capable of.  I can hand out brownies.  I can bake cakes in my oven.  I can reach out and touch a friend’s hand.  I can get up when I’m tired and do the dishwasher.  I can smile when I don’t feel like it.  I can write a friend when I want to go to bed.

I can look like I’m loving.  I can feel like I’m loving.

But is any of that really love?

And even if it is, is it anywhere on the love level of Christ?

I know that instantly.  It is absolutely not.

My “love” is mostly made up of me looking good, doing things to arrange for conditions I want, building beneficial relationships, quieting conflicts.  In other words, my love is really mostly about social advancements.

It is rarely the kind of love that does something regardless of whether anyone sees or whether or not it helps me climb the approval ladder of the world.  It’s mostly about me thinking about myself on video camera, and asking, How do I look to this person I am “loving”?  How do I look to the people who are watching?  What is everybody thinking?  Am I getting my point across?

Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. (Jesus, quoted in John 13:34b)

You know, there’s this crazy thing about when you see pure love.  It really stays with you.  And then you realize, it’s not about what was performed, but about what was given.

I had this time in college when my dad was dying and I was a real mess.  I remember talking to a professor and—I can’t remember how it got started—I think maybe I asked if I could have $8 for lunch money and pay him back later.  He gave me the money and absolutely refused to ever receive the money back.  But it wasn’t the $8 that stayed with me.  It was the way the professor gave it to me—freely.  Not like, “I’m doing this so God can see how good I am”, but “I’m doing this because God has done something so spectacular in my life that I think it’s worth giving $8 away to illustrate it.”

That stuck with me.

I had one of those rare moments of love last summer, I think it was.  It’s kinda crazy, because it was so small.  But it has stayed with me, too.

I was at an elderly friend’s house—a woman who has become like a sister to me.  I love her.  I really love her.  I was over at her house and she was eating lunch.

She is old-school, and doesn’t like her dishwasher.  To me, this is sheer madness.  I am pretty obsessive about clean dishes, and in my mind, dishes did not get clean by any amount of scalding water or dishsoap, unless it’s like a flood and bubbles.  I could not possibly get dishes clean enough satisfactorily by my own doing.  I trust the machine to do its job.  Die germs, die.

But I was over at her house, and I was taking away her plate, and I had this urge to wash her dishes for her.  I felt like Jesus was giving me the freedom to wash her dishes.  I know, I know, it probably sounds crazy.  But it’s true.

I do not like dirty dishwater.  Dirty dishwasher is any water in which any plates which have been eaten off of have been laid in for any amount of time.  Dirty dishwater is a festering bed of disease and soggy food (in my mind).  This is yet another reason why I do not wash dishes by hand.

And yet, with this feeling of giddyfying love—even though I was very uncertain God knew what He was doing—I stuck my hands in the dirty dishwasher and went ahead and washed her dishes.

It was something I’d wanted to do for her before, and I’d even sort-of done for her before, reluctantly, regretfully.  But this wasn’t like that.  This was joy.

And so, sticking my hands in the lukewarm, dishy sinkwater, I found love.

I remember almost shaking from the after-effects.  It wasn’t about how amazing it was that I’d stuck my hands in dirty dishwater.  I could make myself do that—I am that disciplined.  And it wasn’t about that I wanted to, ‘cause that wasn’t exactly it either.

It was that I loved her while I was doing it.

I rarely love people while I’m doing things for them.  What I am really wanting is for them to approve me, applaud me, or love me (or love me in the way I love them, the “handing out brownies” kinda way).

But when I plunged my hands in the dishwater, I loved.  The crazy thing was, it wasn’t really a love for my friend, as much as I do love her.  It was a love for Jesus.  And in that was a love for her deeper than I’d ever had.

A love that just swamped all my fears and normal adversions to dishwater and how good I’d look doing this and all the other gunk in my usual faux-love -giving world.  Not that I was perfect in any instant—far from it.  But I got a taste of love.

It was that love that literally besieged me to become a Jesus follower.  It was like a barrage on my fortress of panic, doom, and guilt.  And it came totally by surprise, in the middle of a long night of a life.

Now the funny thing is, what I’ve been thinking about—what I think God has been teaching me through this rather dreary little spell of mild sickness—is that when I was saved, I realized Christ’s love for what it was and then I went back and tried to show people His love the way I show “love”.  How in the world does that happen?

Rarely, rarely, have I had dishwater-love moments.  Instead, I’ve tried very hard to show the love of Christ to others in the way I know to show “love”—the kind-of nervous fidgets of a puppy who wants a hug.  That hasn’t been very effective.  It’s made me look just like I’ve always looked—needy.

But, really, I am not needy.  When Christ’s love crumbled the walls of my old life, I lost that neediness.  That needing others to think this of me, or do this for me, or give me a thumbs up.  But I am still so confused about how to show the love I’ve seen raining down in big boulders of forgiveness and grace, that I think I’ve pretty much tried to pick up the broken stones of my old, pathetic wall and rebuild.

This Valentine’s Day, I have a new goal.  Not to figure out who I’m going to marry or multiply my facebook friends, but to have more moments of dishwater love.

Dishwater love is when I don’t try to translate Jesus’ love through my barricade of false knowledge and my wall of past experience and my obstacle course of common sense.   Jesus isn’t going to let me try to give His love away when I distort it through the lens of my way of seeing things, anyway.  He’s going to wait for me to give the love I actually receive.

–I don’t know how to give the love I receive.  The love of Christ is so awesome.  It’s pure.  It’s divine.  It’s miraculous.  It’s unmissable.  And it’s seen as the most ridiculous thing in the world to those who don’t want it.  The love of Christ is in the vulnerability of God becoming man.  Of the Holy healing the unholy.  Of the Unbreakable breaking for the broken.  Of the Hero dying for the rebel.  Of the Physician crushing Himself to be the medicine for the uncurably sick.

But then I realize—my love can’t be that.  That is why Jesus is only Jesus.  But what my love can be—what my love can be, what my love must be is “as He has loved”.

Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. (Jesus, quoted in John 13:34b)

“As He has loved”, a professor got $8 out of his wallet to pay for a college kid’s lunch.

“As He has loved”, I stuck my hands in dirty dishwasher to wash a plate and fork.

Not the depth.  Never the depth.  Not the breadth.  Never the breadth.  Not the expanse.  Never the expanse.  Not the infinitesy.  Never the infinitesy.

But as Jesus loved, I can love, I will love.

He has shown me how.  God’s Valentine’s Day came about 2,000 years ago on a wretched hillside from an abandoned man gasping out His last hours on a cross.

That’s the love that proves everything the world has ever needed to know about God’s love.

And that’s the love that can prove, even in a life so historically loveless as mine, that God’s love is real.

I have been eternally changed by the love of the Lord Jesus.

I want to live my life proving it.

Valentine’s Day—every day.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35, NLT)

Oil, Smoil

The Perils of Penelope Pitstop is one of my favorite retro cartoons.  (I got my “retro cartoon watching” from my daddy.)

Only 17 episodes of Penelope were ever made, but the reruns are still shown today on Boomerang.

The concept of the show was not particularly original: an orphaned heiress (Penelope) is in “perpetual peril” by a villain who wants her money.  While the concept wasn’t anything to write home about, the twist was: Penelope, at some point in her life, had made friends with the “Anthill Mob”, seven tiny men who had dedicated themselves to protecting her.

The Anthill Mob have a wholehearted commitment to Penelope.  While they weren’t always successful at rescuing her (and she had to rescue herself), they always gave it their all.  Sometimes, they’d rescue her only to end up in the same predicament.  They’d be the ones who’d fall off the cliff or get exploded into the air.  Although they cared about themselves, their first focus was always protecting Penelope.

In one episode, while they’re digging a tunnel to get into the house where Penelope is trapped, they strike oil.

“What a time to strike oil,” one of them says.

“Oil, smoil,” another says.  “We’ve got to find Penelope.”

Not one of them is worried about the billions of dollars they could make.  They get off the oil fountain as soon as they can and go back to their digging.

The story never tells why the Anthill Mob decided to give their lives in service to Penelope.  But they for sure have no desire to back out.

It makes me wonder . . how does my love for God compare?  God is never in any danger . . but billions of lost people around the world are . . and God calls His followers to bring more followers.  We are a family with a Father who will adopt anyone and everyone who comes to Him in the name of His Son.

What am I willing to do for God?

If there was an oil well shooting up from the ground that could be mine . . would I give up the chance to become an instant billionaire for the opportunity to follow God instead?

Will I recklessly follow God wherever He leads me?  Or will I just . . hope someone else hears His call?

I want to be part of an Anthill Mob for God.

Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God. (1 Chronicles 22:19, NIV)

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

On Following Jesus, my story for 2011, my goal for 2012

I am a minute miser.  I did not use to be so, but I am now.

I feel like (no, actually, I know) I wasted so many years of my life (and, since they were my teenage and early twenties, I often feel the best years), that I must now devote myself wholeheartedly, 24/7 to God.

This is something I want to do.  If I could go back, I would have started this way as an 8-year-old and never stopped.  But it’s not what happened.  And so I’m left with these years in a vacuum that I look back on as a dry, bombed-out gulch . . and a resolve to do much, much better in the present and with any future God gives me on this earth.

I sometimes get caught up in, well, legalism about the things I want to do for God.  I put minimum “factory requirements” on myself for how many blogs I will produce, for example.  I want to plan out each minute of the day.  I want to dissect seconds to make sure they are ministry minded.

The problem with this is, I sometimes get, well, a little out of whack about it.  I’ve been on winter vacation, and I wanted about, oh, I don’t know, 300 blogs to transpire over the break.

Counting this blog, I think I’ve only fallen about 294 blogs short or so.

I wanted to deeply minister to about, oh, I guess maybe 12 people.

I am way short of 12 people.

I would have really liked to have brought at least one person to meet Jesus.

And that did not happen.

It’s discouraging.  I failed myself.  And, while I am sure there are people already sitting back with arms folded pronouncing legalism upon me, I hope you’ll hear me out.

I’m not trying to get to Heaven on my good works–well, there are moments, I’ll confess, when I get out of whack about that, too, and I think I do have to contribute a tiny bit here and there–but for the most part, that’s not why I want to pour every second of my life out for God.  What really drives me is the love of Christ.

It frustrates me that there are billions of people around the world who have no idea that they could be loved like no one has ever loved them, that they could find peace like they have never found peace, that they could even be released from the guilt of everything they have ever regretted.

I know what’s coming.  Someone in their mind right now–and very validly–is thinking, “Like you?”

I mean, haven’t I just explained, rather elaborately, that I am still, in many ways, a mess?  That I get out of sync with God’s will and get wrapped up in perfunctory duties rather than following the grace of Christ?

But don’t you see?  Don’t you see?  This is why I have such a fire in my soul to tell others about Jesus!  If Jesus can love me, even though I have always fallen short of giving Him the hundred percent devotion I long to give Him . . . even though my mind gets all crackers sometimes when I try to express my love for Him, because the love I feel for Him is bigger than the breadth of my entire being . . . and even though I do get caught up in sins that Satan is so fond of offering me, such as legalism . . . Jesus is for everyone.

And I see that so clearly sometimes that I can hardly stand that everyone doesn’t know it.  I want to scream it from the rooftops.  I want to fly (with an experienced pilot beside me) a plane through the sky trailing a huge banner of John 3:16.  I want to dance through the streets singing of His love (with someone else’s singing voice so as not to scare people away–and maybe somebody else dancing, now that I think about it).  I want to tell everyone, everywhere that Jesus is alive and He’s here to save.

But I don’t always show that Message in the way I follow.  Not nearly always.  Way, way away from always and I hate it.

I fail in my quota and in my quality control.  I don’t always remember that Christ has given me everlasting peace or that I’ve been freed from the guilt of that valley of nothingness and sin that used to be my life (and that I sometimes still visit).

I worry about my vulnerability, that it will drive people away from God, that they will look me and be disgusted rather than see that God must really be a God of mercy to have invited me in, too.

I wish, wish, wish I could do everything I want to do to thank Jesus.

But I am not everything I want to be     .     .     .     .     .

And so here I am, right here, Jesus.  I’m struggling, I’m bungling, I’m disappointing my own self, and I’m full of imperfections that drive me batty.  But here am I, loving You.  And You tell me that is enough.

Wow.

You tell me that is enough.

Every standard, every requirement, every quota, and all quality control, has been met and answered in Your walk on earth and Your death on the cross, because You are not like me.

And that is why You came. 

I love You.

Help me to give You my every second.

And my goal for 2012?  I don’t right now have the faith to believe I can be the 100-fold servant in Mark 4:20, with as much of my life as I wasted before I loved Jesus and with the ridiculous mess-up I know myself to be.  So I want to be the 60-fold servant.  I want to be that 60-fold servant desperately.  I want to be planting seed.  I want to show how happy I am to be on God’s farm and in His family.

. . . But I can’t do that by placing quota on myself.  And I won’t be able to manage even my own quality control.  It’d be something like that scene from I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ethel try to work in a candy factory.

Instead, my goal is to cling to 2 Corinthians 5:17, my verse for 2012.

I believe You, Jesus.  I’m ready to close down the 2011 factory of my me-centered efforts . . . to join You on the fields of 2012.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

Keeping Track

I think it was part of getting into kindergarten.  A lead teacher showed us 20 objects.  She said over and over, “You need to remember these things.  I’m going to ask you later what you remember. You need to remember them.”

Girls giggled all around me.  I stared at the platter of objects.  The teacher asked us, “Do you think you can remember all 20 of these things?”  All around me, girls promised they could.  I was a little worried.  I wanted to take longer to look at the things on the platter, but with all of them already so sure, turning away to go play again, I thought I must know, too.

“Are you sure?” I remember the teacher asking.

I gave my confident, “Yes,” like the other girls and turned away.  There were a bunch of teachers playing games with us, asking us questions, and I couldn’t wait to find out what was next.

We did other stuff.  And then the lead teacher called us back.

And I knew what was coming.

The lead teacher said, “Now I’m going to ask you what you can remember seeing.”

There were more squeals of protest than in a bathtub with pigs.

“But I didn’t know!!!” the girls whined, and then together, “But we didn’t know!”

The lead teacher looked like she’d heard this one before.

“But I told you I was going to ask you what was on the plate,” she said.

She had us there.

I remember one of the teachers pulling me off to the side as we broke into small groups again.  I badly wanted to remember all 20 things. I was sure I could do it.  But two things were working against me: I hadn’t looked for long enough when I’d had the chance, and I hadn’t kept reviewing what I’d seen.

I’d blown it.  I couldn’t go back and take another look at what was under that platter.  It was over.  Now I was stuck with a frighteningly vague recollection of the memory I needed to get into kindergarten.

I told her what I could remember.  I tried to hear what the other girls were telling their teachers.  And I guessed on a few.  And my teacher said something like, “All right, that’s pretty good.  You got 5 or 6.”

5 or 6.  Out of 20!!!!!!!!

I wanted another chance.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .    .     .     .     .     .     .     .

Following Jesus isn’t simply memorizing what He wants me to do with my life.  But for me to ever be able to follow Him, I desperately need to pay close attention to His Word.  Everything I need for my journey to Heaven is given to me in the Bible and by promise of Christ’s Spirit.

The question is, Am I listening?  Am I remembering His holy Words in my life  . . or am I losing track?

Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (Jude 1:21, NIV)

Body, mind, soul, and why I now disagree with what I used to think

This is something I wrote years ago when I thought I knew what I was talking about but I really didn’t:

We are banks.

Sometimes people invest in us, sometimes they withdraw from us, sometimes they borrow from us, and occasionally they rob from us.  Sometimes we deposit to ourselves.  And sometimes we withdraw funds to give to others or simply to squander.  Sometimes we borrow from others, sometimes we withdraw from them, and occasionally we even rob from them.  Life is a constant give and take, a perpetual balancing act between how much we devote to our mind, our body, and our soul.

When you see an emptiness in one of more of your vaults, where can you go for help?

Resources for the Body

  • 64 ounces of water per day
  • 7-9 hours of sleep every night
  • Vitamins, herbs, and supplements
  • Balance of the food groups
  • Pure, natural foods
  • Daily exercise
  • Teeth care (brushing, flossing, and fluoride)
  • Comfortable clothes (some fabrics are very soothing, others chafe skin)
  • Toxicity programs (under guidance of a health practitioner)
  • Regular dental and doctor exams
  • Massages
  • Acupuncture

Resources for the Mind

  • Friends (especially conversation)
  • Family get-togethers
  • Christian fellowship
  • Word games
  • Journaling
  • Vocabulary building problems (for self-expression)
  • Inspirational books, movies, and music (what inspires you)
  • Variety in life
  • Positive life changes

Resources for the Soul

  • Ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ through the Word, prayer, and devotional time at a personal, small group, and church level

When I wrote this, I thought I was in the business of helping people.  In reality, I hadn’t even made a commitment in my own life to following Jesus Christ.  I thought I was saying the right words.  I thought I was a sage.  But really, I had painfully little clue what I was writing about.  (By the way, I did not even go to a small group at this time and I would barely go to Sunday morning church.  I don’t even know if I had even begun reading the Bible–heart reading–at the time I wrote this or not!)

Thank God, He revealed Himself to me, and I now know what a lot of nice-sounding nonsense most of what I wrote was.  The only thing I had right, I had right in the feeblest sense: that is, the ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ.

But I knew so little, because I linked that with devotions and prayers and church as if the actual relationship was only one link in the chain.

I want to rewrite.

We are not banks.

This life isn’t about stockpiling “good coins” and keeping circumstances and people from robbing us of those coins.  It isn’t about how many deposits people make, or how many withdrawals we make, or how many times we’re robbed.  Life is not a constant give and take, and there is no balancing act involved between our mind, our body, and our soul.  That’s a load of junk.

Our life is about our soul.  Period.

I don’t “balance” my soul with my mind or my body.  And I don’t “give” and “take” from one to give to the other.  That’s total nonsense.  If I even try to do that, what I will be doing is starving my soul.

The purpose of my body is to hold my soul.  The purpose of my mind is to determine where my soul will go–and that opportunity is only possible because of a gift, the gift of Jesus Christ.  Without Him, the only thing I can ever give anyone is sin and the only thing I can ever take to “add” to my “coins” is sin.

The things we do for our body and mind are ultimately only meaningful for the consequence they have on our soul.

There have been probably thousands of books written on ways to take care of your mind and your body or how to have warm and fuzzy feelings for your soul, but all of these are utterly, totally pointless if they do not change where your soul is going.

The only–the only–Person who can change where your soul is going is Jesus Christ.

The first thing you or I will care about on the day we die and wake up to eternity is whether or not Jesus claims us as His own.  The next thing we will care about will either be, if Jesus does not claim us, that we are going to Hell, or, if Jesus does claim us, how we used our time on earth to bring as many souls to Him as possible.

In eternity, we will either be given a new body or not based on the state of our soul.  And in eternity, our mind will be unable to make any further decisions about whether we spend our time in Heaven or in Hell.  If we are in Hell, we won’t go to Heaven if we change our mind about Jesus–and of course we will change our mind, because we will see Him as Lord wherever we are.  But it will be too late because, during the time we were in our body, we made up our minds about where we would go.  And if our choice was Hell, we are stuck.

I now understand there is no exercise, no diet, no homeopathy, no medicine, no friendship, no family member, no social function, no community, no environment, no act of citizenship, no volunteerism, no politics, and no “good deed” that will save us . . . and even if these things help us feel better, in the end, it will be absolutely purposeless in our eternity.

Only one can save us, and He is Jesus Christ.

There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12, NLT)

Refused?

“We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”

I found these word on a restaurant menu.

I was pretty surprised.  But a friend told me this is a common restaurant policy.

What if Jesus had reserved the right to refuse service when He came to earth?  Could anyone have blamed Him?  Certainly not!

The perfect Son of God was born in our world, but for what reason?  None of us could know for sure unless He told us.  But He did tell us!

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10, NIV)

Are you lost?  Do you realize that Jesus will not refuse you?  I was lost, and He did not refuse me!  Throughout His life, Jesus healed all sorts of people . . .many of the hated sort!  In fact, He never once refused healing  to anyone!

Let us listen to His incredible invitation He gave during a festival in a crowded city,

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”  (John 7:37-38, NIV)

Anyone?  As in, anyone?

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”  (John 7:37b-38, NIV)

Jesus had the right to refuse service, the genuine right.  He is God, He is the ultimate authority.  What He says goes.  He has the power to judge in any way He wishes.  And yet, how does He judge?  Scripture tells us again and again He judges with righteousness.

God could use His authority any way He wishes, and yet He chooses to use it for righteousness.

Jesus had the right to refuse service, and because we have fallen from righteousness,  He also has the righteousness to exclude us from His healing power.

But what is Jesus saying in John 7:37-38?

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

He is waiving His right to refuse us service, but is He waiving His righteousness, too?  Is He saying it doesn’t matter that we’re not righteous?

Not at all.  God is righteous, and He isn’t going to step outside of His righteousness to accept us.  But He has created a way for fallen people to come back into His righteousness.

That way is Jesus.  So Jesus had the right to refuse us, but He chose to waive it.  Without giving up His righteousness, He created a way back to Him and that was through His mercy.  He knew He was going to die for His people, and that was why He could say,

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”  (John 7:37b-38, NIV)

If we don’t go to God through His mercy, we will be refused Heaven, for His righteousness will remain.  But if we go to Him through the mercy of Jesus, we have His promise that He will never, ever refuse us.

And when we go to Jesus, as my Sunday school teacher said today, Jesus says,

Follow me (from Matthew 4:19, Matthew 8:22, Matthew 9:9, Matthew 10:38, Matthew 16:24, Matthew 19:21, Mark 1:17, Mark 2:14, Mark 8:34, Mark 10:21, Luke 5:27, Luke 9:23, Luke 9:59, Luke 14:27, Luke 18:22, John 1:43, John 10:27, John 12:26, John 21:19, John 21:22)

Because  He has paid for all who believe in Him to go to Heaven, and as we follow Him, He will lead us there.

He does not refuse.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

Photo by Septillion (Peter Stetson), profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/septillion/

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

God’s Will . . . Follow

These cows know the path they are following home. But do I know my path?

 

There’s real danger in trying to discover God’s will for my life.  I might misunderstand.  I might mess up.  And—oh, this is very scary for me!!!—I might find out His will is for me to do something that isn’t an accomplishment by the world’s standards, isn’t well received by the majority, isn’t complimented, or, worst of all, is tossed aside with contempt or openly jeered at.

Jesus warned His disciples about this:

Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master.  Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master.  And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names! (Jesus, quoted in Matthew 10:24-25, NLT)

Jesus calls me to follow, not to lead.  And in that following, I might get hurt or confused or scared.  I might make mistakes, but then . . . aren’t I making mistakes when I refuse to follow, too?  I might find the path leads to humility rather than pride, danger rather than safety, even sadness rather than instant gratification.  But how can I complain, how can I hesitate, when I remember who I am following?  King of kings and Lord of lords!  The very God who became man, who witnessed even to people who hated Him, made fun of Him, slandered against Him, and handed Him over to be tortured and killed.

I would rather fail abysmally doing God’s work than succeed at not doing it.

In the words of Oswald Chambers, God is worthy “my utmost for His Highest”.

Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me. (John 12:26, NLT)

Photo is (c) Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons License

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.