Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

This Road to Love

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By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1: 3-8 NLT)

I have read these words from 2 Peter on many occasions, but they never cease to strike me as a clear roadmap to the kind of life that truly reflects a belief in Christ.  Still, no matter how clear this roadmap is, it also involves steps that we can only survive if we take them knowing we need God every step of the way.

So, let’s begin by spelling out the steps on the road to “love for everyone” that should be the end goal of every Christian.  As Peter makes clear, each step on the path to love leads to the next, as skills build upon skills to reach the greatest skill of all.  Here, then,  is the list of these skills:

  • Faith
  • Moral Excellence
  • Knowledge
  • Self-Control
  • Patient Endurance
  • Godliness
  • Brotherly Affection
  • Love for everyone

I just completed a trip to Disney World that proved my secret plan to spend the last decade or so of my life as a missionary in some country where my paltry retirement might actually keep me just above poverty level went up in smoke about as quickly as you can sing the Mickey Mouse Club theme.  Besides having no physical stamina, I ran out of patient endurance after the first three hours in an overcrowded theme park.  Self-control drifted skyward as I sighted the first Mickey sandwich ice cream trolley.  The only love I had for everyone was the kind where I would have loved for no one else to be in the park!

So, how do we achieve the seemingly unachievable?  Peter tells us we are able because of God’s promises to us: These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires (2 Peter 1:4).  Becoming a Christian is as easy as admitting to God that you are a sinner who needs redeemed.  Becoming Christ-like is a daily, conscious practice of making one’s Christianity not a mantle to be put on and off, but the very act of being.

Because of faith, I seek moral excellence.  I want to say only what is uplifting and/or holy.  I strive to do what is right always.  As I grow in my ability to be right more than I am wrong, I gain a kind of knowledge that can’t be found in a book, the knowledge of ways to act in belief and the knowledge of the superior path of righteousness over worldliness.  As we realize that doing right feels better than doing wrong, we increase our ability to control the self.  When we can control ourselves so that we do not give in to the human desires that lead us further from the ways of God, we are more likely to actively be patient with our circumstances and with others.

A Godly person reflects the daily practice of sowing seeds of righteousness in good soil.  When we join like-minded people in our enthusiasm for living a Godly life, we approach the brotherly affection to which Peter refers.  Our brothers include all those who believe in Christ like we do (including, of course, our sisters as well).

When we can love those who think as we think (which is the easiest way to love), we may just be ready to step out in faith to love even those who do not believe what we believe.  Loving everyone else means turning the other cheek, as Christ instructs.  The Golden Rule is Golden because, not only does it make this world more bearable, it stores up for us the treasures in heaven that Jesus says are our end goal instead of the treasures on this earth where moth and rust can and will destroy.

Like the Fruit of the Spirit of Galatians 5:22, the steps to love of everyone in 2 Peter is your roadmap to a healthier relationship with Jesus, our Lord.  Remembering that our relationship with God must be on the right track for our relationship with other people to have a chance of growing is especially important.

As we enter the busiest time of our holiday season, I hope to bring to mind the lessons of 2 Peter as I wrangle through the increased traffic and crowds.  I will begin by remembering why we have this holiday in the first place: because our loving Creator chose to sacrifice a piece of Himself for the sins of all of us so that we all have the opportunity to grasp with both hands the promise of eternal life.

Now, that’s a road to love that I will gladly travel.  I look forward to seeing you on the journey.

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Posted in Christian Living

Leaning on Prayer

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Rejoice always; pray without ceasing;  in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

One of my biggest problems is that I seem to be always thinking.  Even when I pray, I often have undercurrents of the day running through my head behind the words I am saying out loud to God. If my mind is never still, will I ever really know that He is God?
That leaves me looking for the empty spaces in my brain.  I know they are in there.  God orders moments of rest for us.  He tells us to be still.  He spoke to the prophets, not in the whirlwind, but in a whisper.  In the quiet places of my mind, I’ll find the message of the Holy Spirit.

But where are my empty spaces?  I know where they are not.  Not in front of a blaring television or a flashing computer screen.  Not gossiping on the telephone or shopping in the mall.  Not fretting about chores that need done or stories to write.

There are times and places for all of these things (though some of them should have none of my time at all).  But there should be a time in each day when I can be still, stop thinking, concentrate on my breathing and wait for God’s whisper.  It will take practice, like all things worthwhile, but in a world full of information and distractions, it is necessary.

I know this to be true because in the last two weeks, I have had so many stressful things going on that I haven’t had time to find any quiet places.  Let me correct that.  I have let my anxiety rule me instead of following the Bible’s advice to thank God and pray to Him unceasingly.

If you get the opportunity to listen to those who have much practice in prayer, do so in gratitude.  Those who pray often have a way of pouring their whole selves into what they have to say to God.  They may use Bible verses or quote famous people.  But what all of them do is speak truthfully from the heart to a holy God whom they love.  The results are eloquent and uplifting.

We have the ability to be uplifting in this way every day, for even our mumblings are understood by God:

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. . . . (Romans 8:26).

I hope to do a better job of leaning on prayer in the coming weeks, beginning with asking for God to help me clean out the clutter in my mind and create some empty spaces for His presence.  Have you found your empty spaces lately?

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

The World’s Greatest BackUp Plan

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My computer hard drive crashed earlier this week.  I knew I was in trouble when I woke up to one of those blue screens filled with white type in a language that I know is English but doesn’t mean a thing to me.  I rebooted to get an even worse message.  My writing and all my business work were in the proverbial wastebasket.

And I hadn’t even had my morning bowl of cereal yet.

Twenty years ago, when we all accessed the fairly new internet through our phone lines, FTP’ed everything, and experienced conversations in semi-real time on black screens with just words and symbols, I loaded a new program onto my new computer without first creating a directory for it, thereby giving my computer a signal for two executables that left it confused.  I was in tears, literally.  I managed to remove all the files of the program I had just installed improperly (there weren’t so many files to a program back then), and my computer was up and running again.  But, I was a basket case.

In contrast, Monday morning’s fiasco was just another day in the life of me.  Why?  Well, for one thing, I use an online backup service that constantly keeps all my files up-to-date, just in case.  So, staring at a computer screen that wasn’t going to operate, I knew that, worst case scenario, I would be able to download everything that I needed if I had to start over.  My second backup was the knowledge that I have a great guy for working on computers who has gotten me out of more than one mess.  Before the day was out, I had a new, cloned drive and hadn’t lost a thing!

The moral of the story?  Experience and a backup plan are the key to facing life’s challenges with the kind of calm demeanor we see portrayed on the big screen by great teachers like Yoda, or better yet, with the utter peace Christ, our greatest Teacher, demonstrates in the Bible.

Experience is one thing that time itself takes care of.  The longer you live, the more things you have to deal with.  As my Dad is always reminding me:

“90% of the things you worry about don’t even happen, and the 10% that do are never as bad as you thought they would be.”

With a growing body of lessons learned through actually living through problems or challenges, you discover as you age that, even though life always has curves to throw you, your growing arsenal of problem-solving skills makes those curves much more manageable.

Life’s backup plan works a lot like my own online backup subscription.  All we have to do is “sign up” by knowing in our hearts that Christ died for us and then come before Him to ask for Him to be our Savior, repenting of our sins and taking on the guardian of the Holy Spirit who will guide us in our new life.  With Christ as our backup, we cannot lose!  He took on our sin so we would not be condemned by it to eternal death.  He has in mind our ultimate best interest, which is glory in the eternity of Heaven.  Jesus has our back.

Make no mistake: a Christian life still has problems.  In fact, that is part of God’s design.  Paul explains:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long;    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  (Romans 8:35-37)

We are going to face problems, in the name of Christ and as just a part of living in a fallen world.  But God has a plan to bring us out on the other side of those problems.  The better we get at leaning on Him during times of trouble and triumph, the more we will feel Him catching us even before we have time to get too worried about the problems we are facing.

Kind of like my reaction to a crashed computer Monday morning.  Truly, I took the problem as a sign that I needed to take a break from the electronics for Monday and reflect on my own relationships with God, my family, and myself.  It was a nice “break” that really helped me set up a happy, productive, and calm week.

Paul emphasizes the bonus of our backup plan:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

So, as you face challenges this week, remember that you have the greatest backup plan on the planet.  And you not only have a lifetime subscription, but an eternal one:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future,nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

The Promise We Carry

A Christian Treasure Map (clipartlog.com)
A Christian Treasure Map
(clipartlog.com)

It was a sunny, summer afternoon, but a cloud of sadness and worry and death hung over our house like the proverbial monster in the closet that nobody wanted to talk about. My grandfather had died eighteen months earlier at the young age of 52 in a faraway hospital in the big city. My grandmother had lived with us for a time, gone to help my aunt on her mission trip in Mexico, and was now going to live in the used but serviceable mobile home we could afford to get her with the small proceeds from the sale of my dad’s “ancestral” home and the pittance of a widow’s salary from social security, which for a carpenter who charged just what he thought a job was worth came to a whopping $400 a month in 1981.

In prepping the lot beside my great-uncle’s house for my grandmother’s trailer to set upon, my uncle, just 33, developed what appeared to be an appendicitis attack. When the doctors opened him up in the nearby Lamesa hospital, what they discovered was cancer, an overwhelming amount of it. They sewed him back up and sent him home with pain medications and hospice care. He had a three-year-old son, a four-year-old marriage and a handful of months to live.

When you are 11 years old, these things tend to happen more around you than to you, swirling around you in black clouds of that which cannot be defined. On this particular afternoon, alone at home with my sister somewhere in the house, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to do something.

I knew just enough about the Bible to be dangerous. I believed in God. I prayed to God. I had often wanted to go forward to be a part of what the preachers were talking about at the end of every sermon I attended. But, as my dad explained to me, I wasn’t old enough yet to really understand what it was I was stepping forward for. You’re fixing to agree with him.

Because what I knew about God included the use of sacrifices, I figured, why not give it a try? I thought about what meant a lot to me. My practically-flattened teddy bear, “Sugar Bear,” came to mind. (My sister to this day takes great delight in comparing her plump version of this same bear to the one I slept with and on, apparently, each night, as he resembles my sister’s version on permanent Weight Watchers). So, with not much assurance of what I was doing, but with the optimism born of ignorance only youth can bring, I snuck into the back yard with Sugar Bear, placed him on a pile of cinder blocks, and offered him as an exchange for my uncle’s improved health.

This take on theology was bad on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin. Also, note that since I wasn’t allowed around matches, I didn’t even think to light the teddy bear on fire, so who was I kidding? I thought the sacrifice would work by God just reaching down and taking my teddy bear? It may have been the most egotistical moment of my life. (Unfortunately, for me, it probably wasn’t the most egotistical moment in my life. I’m sure I’ve done worse.)

Luckily for me, I have since learned much more about the meaning of sacrifice in our relationship with God and the exact role of Christ in that relationship. Within a year of my ill-fated attempt at “miracle making,” I was indeed baptised into the family of God. And then the real learning began.

In my first adult Bible, a KJV from 1977, I have marked the step-by-step guide of verses to share with somebody who is ready to be led to Christ. I want to share those verses with you in case you have never seen them in this particular order before, or if you yourself have been wondering what all this Jesus “stuff” is all about. We begin in Romans 3:10:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

Romans 3:23 reiterates:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

After establishing that none of us are blameless before God, we need to understand why blamelessness is so important:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:(Romans 5:12)

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23)

And how is Jesus a gift to us? Turn to Romans 5:8:

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Now, we understand why we needed something to get closer to God, which is because we all have sinned, and we see that God’s plan was that Christ’s sacrifice would wash away that sin once and for all. So, what do we have to do? The next steps come in Romans 10: 9-13:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Even 31 years later, I can remember sitting in class with my Sunday school teacher, Patty Taylor, who had us all mark these verses in our Bible, including our starting point and the verses to go to next, like a treasure map to the greatest prize of all time! I have quoted this treasure map in the KJV from the original Bible where my young hands marked this all out, full of anticipation of being able to share this very map with somebody else some day.

Today, I’m sharing it with you. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I talk about God all the time because He is a part of my life (though, believe me, I am NO saint). However, in 31 years, I think this is the first time I have actually shared the treasure map I have offered to you today. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity.

I grew up in the era of fire and brimstone from the pulpit, and I tend to lean in that direction way too often, seeing the cup half empty instead of half full. But, the whole point of our Gospel Treasure, this thing we carry within us every day and everywhere, is that our cup is overflowing! What a wonderful gem to shine. No wonder Christ emphasized His role in casting Light into the darkness.

So, I say to that 11-year-old trying to pray away a teddy bear in the cool breeze of a summer afternoon many years ago, focus on the promise we carry, which is the love of God. The ultimate sacrifice has already been made. Now is the time to pay it forward.

Posted in Christian Fiction, Faith, Love

Thank GOD we don’t get what we deserve

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Our Father’s mercy and generosity toward us has not been what we deserved, but what we desperately needed. Surely, then, those who have received such grace are called upon to deal with others, not on the basis of what they deserve, but what they need.
–Paul Earnhart, Invitation to a Spiritual Revolution, p. 136

If God gave you what you deserved, what would your judgment day look like? If you had to live every day of this life knowing you were going to get exactly what you deserve when you pass into the next life, how would your perspective on living change?

These are the questions that popped into my mind as I read Earnhart’s section on the Golden Rule in his book about the Sermon on the Mount. I also realized that, too many days, I subconsciously work off a different definition of deserve, the one in which I see the world through the rose-colored glasses where my sin does not keep me from thinking I deserve better things: more free time, the latest technological toy, a new purse.

Thankfully, God, in His omnipotence, knows the real difference between what we need and what we deserve. He loves us enough to give us what we need when we ask for it in faith, including our own salvation, and not to condemn us to what we deserve.

When was the last time you asked yourself if you really needed something, or just thought you “deserved” it? How much more often do you tend to think of others in terms of what they deserve instead of what they might need?

I think this distinction between deserve and need is partly what made Christ accepted even among the “lowest denominations” of His society. When Christ told the truth to prostitutes and tax collectors, He did it in such a way as to speak to the sinner’s needs, not to make the person feel small because they had sinned.

If we could master this love of others in such a way as to see them only in light of their needs, not what we think they need but what we would need if we were in their shoes, certainly we would be as close to following the Golden Rule as we are going to get.

In the way of wondrous things, my Bible reading this week also helped me out with the deserve versus need dilemma. In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes:

. . . we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (10:5b). . . . But he who boasts is to boast in the LORD. For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the LORD commends (10: 17-18).

If we see ourselves rightly through eyes that are obedient to Christ, knowing that any good thing we do is through the grace of God and not by anything remarkable of our own accord, then we will do away with the thoughts that make us contemplate what we “deserve” and blind us to what we and others really need.

I have to admit to some bad days this week, but I am happy to report that pulling out my copy of Psalm 143 and reading through it helped me pass through the valley and back up to the mountain. In this Psalm, David is running from very real enemies (his own king wants to kill him). For me, the enemies mentioned in the Psalm are not people, but the anxieties, fears, and “deserving” temptations that plague me on bad days. David begins the Psalm by praising God’s goodness. Then, he cries out his pain to God, followed by remembering all the good works God has done. In studying the Psalm, it strikes me that David’s equation for deliverance runs something like this:

my servitude + His majesty = my deliverance from my enemies!

So, what I need is to love God with my whole heart, first and foremost. I may deserve the anxiety and emotions that are a combined result of my sin and genetics, but what God gives me instead is what I need, His love, as long as I have the faith to open my arms wide and lean.

Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning;
For I trust in You;
Teach me the way in which I should walk;
For to You I lift up my soul.
Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies;
I take refuge in You.
Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.
Psalm 143: 8-10

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Why Easter Trumps Christmas

Happy Easter 2013  Christmas and Easter each have different reasons to bring about celebration.  Why both of them are vitally important to us, I would argue that Easter’s reason edges out Christmas.  And, yes, I know we actually couldn’t have one without the other.  Still, here are the reasons that I think Easter gives us just a smidgen more to celebrate.

On Christmas, we celebrate the fact that God loved us so much, He came to earth to live like one of us in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Some people have trouble with the concept of God in the form of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I read recently a really interesting metaphor to help us understand this concept (sorry, I can’t remember where I read it to give full credit).  Think about the sun and all the power and life it brings to our planet.  The sun itself is visible in the sky.  The rays that we can’t see give life to plants.  We also feel the heat the sun provides on our skin.  The Son and the Holy Spirit are functioning like the heat and UV rays of the sun as far as the relationship between all three are concerned.  Like the sun and its physical properties, almighty God exists in the three forms we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

As Christ walked on this earth, He referred to Himself as the Son of God.  He also told us that He would send the Holy Spirit to be with us when He no longer was physically walking the planet.  God, despite what the deists or materialists might say, is in everything and about everything that we experience in this world, if we will just open our minds and hearts to let Him in.

So why is Easter about so much more than bunny rabbits and chocolate eggs?  Easter celebrates the triumph of Jesus, God-made-man, as the culmination of His walk on the earth sees fruition through His resurrection from the grave.  If Christ had not allowed Himself to be taken prisoner by the Roman authorities,to be beaten and mocked by soldiers He could have called a legion of angels to defend Himself from, to be nailed to a cross to die an ignominious death, to have suffered the humiliation, pain, and torture of that death as a sacrifice for all of us, when He Himself was perfect and required no sacrifice on His own behalf, then there would be no hope for salvation for the rest of humanity.

In order for the promise of Easter to be true, Christ has to be the divine living as a man, dying as a perfect man for the sins of all, rising as a triumphant God who has set all sinners who are willing to believe free, and making Himself continually accessible for those believers through the strength of His Holy Spirit made available through the gift of grace.

Easter celebrates the faith that lets us believe without seeing.  It celebrates the truth that the omnipotent God, whom no one can fully understand, makes Himself available to us in multiple, wondrous ways that open to us as easily as the plastic, pastel eggs that will hold prizes and candy on Sunday morning, as long as we open our arms in faith and believe.

Yes, Christmas celebrates the miraculous birth of God-made-man.  But Easter celebrates the awesome gift of grace that became available when that same man rose from the grave to offer salvation to all who believe.

Have you accepted this gift of grace?  Does your life reflect an Easter-every-day attitude?  You don’t have to wait until this Sunday to accept the gift of grace and live the kind of love that spreads that gift to the rest of your world.

Now, that’s something to celebrate.

 

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Are You Really In It?

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Last week, I discussed how we are not meant to “know” God through any capability on our part, that is through any ability in relation to what we humans refer to as wisdom. Human wisdom is generally limited to what we can see, hear, touch, or “prove” in one of our scientific experiments.

Paul discusses this truth in his first letter to the Corinthians, a church founded in a city with one of the worst reputations of its era. In his first letter to these challenged believers, Paul also has to address the level of growth these Christians were experiencing, or lack thereof.

The admonitions Paul gives the Corinthians are quite understandable. What an easy trap lay before these believers to fall into: if you lived in the most carnal city of your time, wouldn’t it be hard to release yourself from the carnal nature of everyday life that surrounded you, even once you had accepted Jesus into your heart? Wouldn’t it also be just as tempting to think you were doing just fine because when you looked around you, it wouldn’t take much to do better than just about anybody else you chose to compare yourself to?

Paul’s words to the Corinthians apply to any Christian at any point and time in their Christian walk, for we are all meant to grow in Christ, not just rest on the laurels of belief. Growth takes practice, work, prayer, study, fellowship and faith–all of which can be encroached upon by the demands and temptations of the world in which we live. That is one reason why we are so often encouraged to be in the world but not of the world.

Here, then, is how Paul lays out his arguments against giving in to the flesh for his Corinthian audience. First, he gives the foundation of “proof” for the difference between worldly wisdom and the Spiritual knowing that is our gift when we accept Jesus as our Lord.

“For to us God revealed them [the things eye has not seen nor ear heard of verse 2:9] through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God,” Paul writes (2:10). He goes on to explain that, just as only the spirit of a person can truly know the person, so too the Spirit of God is all-knowing of God. Paul concludes, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God (2:12).

To the non-believer, the person who has not received this Spirit, what Christians like Paul talk about seems like “foolishness” (2:14). However, for those who believe, the Spirit’s wisdom is the basis for potentially wonderful growth, helping the believer live more of the Spirit than of the world.

Alas, the Corinthians, in a world filled with corruption and temptation (sound familiar?), were really struggling not to be of that world. Their spiritual growth was so stunted, in fact, that Paul was writing to them to encourage them to get back on the road to growing spiritually. He explains how he had begun them on “spiritual milk,” knowing that they were not ready for the “solid food” gospel (3:2). And despite the time they had had in the Spirit, the Corinthians were still not ready for solid food: “for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (3:3).

Because the Corinthians lived in a reality much like our own, the challenges they faced and the ways that Paul addresses those challenges give modern-day Christians many valuable lessons to learn from studying the two letters Paul wrote to this troubled church. Perhaps this first lesson is one of the most important of all. If we fail to mature to solid food, how can we hope to achieve good fruit for the work of Christ, work to which we were called the moment we accepted the gift of grace?

We only know God through the Spirit that enters us when we step out in faith. But once we take that step of faith, we still have an obligation to ourselves and to God to work to be good shepherds of the present of grace Christ so freely gave to us. Being in the world but not of it is a daily struggle, one we may never master. It is also a skill we will only master with the help of the One who sacrificed all and who deserves the submission of our complete will. When we are in the world but not of the world, surely fruitful things will happen for the heavenly kingdom.