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, Faith

The Hero, Re-defined

Jesus is my superhero

Believe it or not, I’m walking on air.  I never thought I could feel so free.  Flying away on a wing and a prayer.  Who could it be?  Believe it or not, it’s just me.  The Greatest American Hero  theme song

If you are old enough, you remember the short-lived series starring William Katt and Connie Selleca from the early 80s, about a kind-hearted high school teacher who reluctantly becomes a super hero who gets sucked into helping out the government catch bad guys.  “Ralph” is a sweet guy who discovers an alien suit that gives him super powers he can barely understand.  When he is matched up with special agent Maxwell, played by Robert Culp, Ralph faces a series of bad guys.

Ralph wasn’t born to beating bad guys.  In fact, he is known to even apologize for having to knock a few of them out!  He cares about his students, struggles to juggle his new duties with the time he needs to do his day job and maintain his relationship with his lovely girlfriend, played by the beautiful Connie Selleca, and gets into philosophical arguments with his foil, Maxwell.

We Americans tend to like more forceful heroes.  We want the Marvel Avengers, flawed characters who nonetheless wind up beating all the bad guys, even if they get a little banged up in the process.  We like our heroes to be the strong, silent type, like the archetypal image of John Wayne as he stands outside the house framed within the doorway, alone, at the end of The Searchers.

I was reading the book of Acts this week, and I was struck by a particular incident with Paul where he seemed to me to be more like our American version of the tough, ultimately triumphant hero who “takes out” his enemies before they know what has hit them.  Paul is in Jerusalem, and the crowd he gathers gets stirred up, especially when he says that he has been called to witness to Gentiles.

The crowd becomes so stirred up, that the Roman contingent actually takes Paul into custody, assuming that he is beginning a riot:

As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” (Acts 22:23-25)

Immediately, the centurion pulls back and calls his commander, who is horrified to discover he has come so close to punishing a Roman citizen without first giving him the proper hearing according to Roman law.  As I read this passage, I was struck by the kind of “cool customer” Paul was.  He didn’t start yelling about his citizenship as soon as the soldiers laid hands on him.  Instead, he waited until he was fully stretched out, and then he calmly asks them about flogging a Roman citizen!

Of course, why am I surprised that Paul would act this way?  He was, after all, a man with enough courage to admit his mistakes in persecuting the Way in the first place, with the courage to go to Peter and ask for permission to preach the Word, a man who began each visit to a new city by preaching in the synagogue, the one place he would least likely be accepted.

In these respects, Paul is the kind of hero any American audience can sink its teeth into.  But in so many other ways, he exhibits the kind of attributes that Christ wants from all of us, and that we don’t often see in our heroes of the big screen:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  (Galatians 5:22-25)

The same Paul who holds his Roman citizenship close to the vest, only using it when necessary, is the same Paul who thanks God for his afflictions because they bring him closer to the Almighty, the same Paul who uses the years he spends waiting for a proper trial in jail continuing to write letters to the churches he has begun on his mission trips, the same letters we use today in our churches to help us better understand the narrow way that is the walk with Christ.

Christ Himself was not the kind of hero we like to see in the movies, even when He walked the earth.  Even John the Baptist, who heralded His coming, wondered why Christ, the Messiah, did not come wielding a great sword and freeing the Jews from the oppression of their Roman overlords:

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?'” (Luke 7:20)

In His answer, Jesus offers an insight into the kind of hero He was always meant to be:

So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.(Luke 7:22)

Love instead of hate, forgiveness instead of revenge, these are the qualities that Christ showed us and that Paul encourages us to cling to if we are to truly live by the Spirit through our belief in Christ.

Our heroes are mostly tough guys and gals who use their muscles and weapons and brains to make villains pay for their bad deeds.  But God uses heroes whose weakness shows His strength.  Those who wake every day submitting to His will are the meek who shall inherit the earth–the greatest heroes of all.

Boom 8x10

 

 

Posted in Christianity, Faith

How It’s Easter Every Day

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Tomorrow is the day the secular world takes a moment to at least inadvertently acknowledge the TRUTH that we Christians celebrate every day: HE’S ALIVE.

The history of humankind is this–we were created by a loving God in full grace, we fell from that grace, and we were doomed to stay out of grace because no matter how many sacrifices we made, we humans would always fall into sin.  And sin separates us from God.

But then, God came to earth in the form of man, His Son Jesus, lived that life as a human and without sin, and then allowed Himself to be sacrificed for the sins of all of us, once and for all.

When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we step into what Paul explains as

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20)

And that life, fully lived in faith and the Spirit, bears a fruit that is

 love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

As we Christians attempt to bear the fruit of the Spirit, waking up every day knowing that Christ rose again and is alive in us is what gives us the impetus to want to do the often hard work of walking the “narrow path that leads to eternal life” (Matthew 7:14).

Of course, we do not earn our salvation through what we do (beyond admitting to Christ that we are sinners and need Him as our savior), but when we truly accept Christ as our Savior, then we are filled with the desire to want to be what Jesus asked us to be–“perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

So, move over bunny rabbits and colored eggs.  And may those who take the time tomorrow to hunt for hidden treasures take more than a moment to realize that the real reason for the holiday is a life-changing decision that is actually the greatest treasure of all:

Christ Lives

Posted in Christian Living, Love

The Challenges of Abundance

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When I was still in junior high school, my sister and I asked our grandmother about what it was like when she finally had things like vacuum cleaners and washing machines to use in her household chores. Had the new gadgets made life easier?

Without batting an eye, my grandmother, who had grown up the daughter of a sharecropper in East Texas during the Depression, lived in one-room houses with packed-dirt floors, and raided pack-rat nests for pecans to sell to the grocer for thread, gave us a quick and emphatic, “NO.”

Instead of reducing her workload, the advent of these electric aids to housework only gave my grandmother more to do!

Today, smartphones are supposed to make our lives easier as well. But, if you are like me, you know that a device that allows you to easily take a phone, email, internet connection, banking interface, social network, endless library, and gaming center wherever you go doesn’t simplify anything at all.

I have finally “smartened up” and put a hiatus on my electric devices after a certain point in the evening (unless I am writing my blog or a novel, of course) in an attempt to reduce the constant strain on my neck. With increased access to everywhere, I am also experiencing increased and unceasing stress!

Our consumer-driven society has given us an addiction to abundance that makes us less likely to slow down, be still, and feel the power of God around us. The challenge of balancing work, family-life, friendships, responsibilities and relaxation may just be the major crisis of our century.

But there is another kind of abundance that brings with it a different set of challenges. I’ll tell you right up front that I like these challenges much better.

The abundance I am talking about is the love of God for us, a love so great that Jesus died for us, accepting the punishment for all our sins when He Himself had done nothing to deserve punishment, so that we might have a chance to accept Him as our Savior and thus achieve salvation.

Christ’s love for us is an abundance that we must be willing to accept with the faith of a small child, and that we should desire to share with others. Christ’s love is a way of being when we interact with it on a daily basis.

How do you meet the challenge of the abundance that comes with a God who loves you so much, He comes to earth in the form of man to be humiliated in the end and crucified for you?

If you really accept this abundance, you will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul describes it to the Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

This abundance of love is something that we humans can so easily take for granted, which means we aren’t as patient with others as we ought to be, we gossip just a little, we watch more television than we spend time in the Word, prayer, fellowship.

In other words, we are very good at proving over and over just how fortunate we are that Jesus was willing to die for us. None of us are perfect. But God’s love for us should make us want to be.

How do we take advantage of the abundance of God’s love? All we have to do is ask:

“Ask and it will be given to you;” Christ tells us, “seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

But we can also practice the disciplines of love: studying God’s word, praying, being still to listen for God’s direction, being in fellowship with other believers who can help us be accountable to God’s truth, paying attention to our actions and repenting of our sins to God.

Abundance can be as bad as it is good, but in the case of God’s love for us, the abundance of the gift of salvation is certainly uphill all the way.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

Legacy: What will you SOW?

20121104-181234.jpg As I have tried to explore over the past several weeks, a Christian’s definition of legacy should be very different from the world’s view of legacy. As always, the challenge is being in the world but not of the world. Being in the world, we look around and see people lauded for accomplishments like hit movies, amazing touchdowns, or making loads of money. It is so tempting to fall into the trap of defining our own success by these definitions, putting our emphasis on having a house that looks like the ones on HGTV or driving a car that is just as nice as the one in the driveway next door. Sometimes, these things in the world are so ingrained in the subconscious that we don’t even realize that what is driving us is world-like and not God-like.

But being in the world yet not of the world is something very different, the core challenge, really, of what it means to be Christian. Christians, in being Christ-like, are encouraged to be fruitful, to sow the seeds of Christ’s love in their everyday lives, in the world, in such a way that the Light that is Christ shines to show the way to a better kind of life.

In Galatians, Paul defines the fruit of the Spirit, which is actually a series of characteristics that together complete the picture of a Christ-like life, the qualities you should be able to see in a person who is really living according to the guidance of the Spirit within him/her, the Spirit Christ promised would come to us when we are baptized in Him. This person sows “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22-23).

I don’t think it is an accident in duplication that Jesus’ many parables ask us to consider the fruit of the vine, encourage us to bear fruit, and even admonishes those who are unfruitful, and Paul’s description of the final result of the indwelling Spirit in a believer likewise using the concept of fruit. Even though we do not gain salvation by our actions but through grace, once we are Christians, we should want to leave a God-like legacy, at the core of which is living by letting the Spirit guide us.

Paul makes it clear where the Spirit will guide us, if we will only listen, as he tells the Galatians, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (5:13).

A legacy that reflects Christ is a “hard row to hoe” as they say in my neck of the woods, but, fortunately, we are not meant to hoe that row alone. The Spirit of God in me gives me the strength and insight to fulfill the opportunities God gives me, if I will only let that Spirit work.

I have the list of the fruit of the Spirit posted in several places in my house, trying to remind myself of what I should be concentrating on. But, the evil one is always there to push me in other directions, make me concentrate on my inner issues instead of looking out toward other people, keeping me from letting the Spirit help me with my problems as I try to control my world all by myself. I needed Jesus to be saved, right? So, why do I think I won’t need Jesus to live out my salvation, including improving on things like being more patient, having self-control, and, of course, loving others.

Will your legacy be the fruit of the Spirit, not just for your own loved ones, but for every person you come in contact with? We will reap the Spirit only if we sow it, and we can only sow the Spirit with the Spirit’s help.