Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Get Off the Political Bandwagon

In God We Trust

In these past weeks of Supreme Court rulings and inexcusable church burnings, I have been disappointed but not astounded, disenchanted but not disenfranchised.  Like many, I have purposely refrained from a knee-jerk reaction and have instead taken these days to reflect and pray.

As one who longs to live a life worthy of the me Christ’s grace has already made possible, I am obligated to approach all the craziness of this world with two overriding principles:

  1. To make God the first and greatest priority in my life.  Everything else comes second.
  2. To love everyone else the way I too want to be loved.

If I make God the first priority in my life, that means I spend time in His Word, and that time means that I will be able to test what others say against what the Bible actually proclaims.  I will not agree with whatever the media says is OK or all my “friends” think is right without first testing the correctness of a stance against what God’s Word actually has to say about it.

In order to do that well, I have to be regularly and often in the Word.  I also have to understand that Word in its totality, not just pick and choose the verses that best serve my own interests.  For example, I need to understand that many of the verses that speak out against homosexuality also are against any form of sexual immorality.  That includes sex outside of marriage and people who are married to spouses who were not Biblically divorced.  In other words, the Bible is against a slew of activities no one has been too riled up about for far too long.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul gives a focus for what the Christian church should concentrate on not doing as well as doing:

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:19-23 NLT)

Notice that, to God, any and all of this comprehensive list of “don’ts” are on equal footing.  We humans want to put sin on a sliding scale, but God does not.  In other words, if I really take Christ’s admonition to take care of the moat in my own eye before worrying about the speck in anybody else’s, I have much too much to worry about improving in my own behavior to get into the business of anybody else’s.

This concept doesn’t mean I consider any behavior by someone else OK.  From a truly Christian perspective, there is no “live and let live.”  If I am not acting in alignment with the Word of God, I want my fellow Christians to gently point this out to me.  I want them to go so far as to shut me out of the community for a time if that is necessary in order to potentially bring me back into alignment with God’s Word.  I want them to pray for me unceasingly.

For those who do not walk with Christ, I can disagree without condemning.  I can hold to the Truth without leaving a feeling of hatred in the hearer.  But I can only do these things if I am actively seeking to see the non-believers around me through the eyes of my loving God.  Just as Jesus held those around Him to God’s truth through compassion and a firmness for that truth, I too can seek to do the same.

 

If Christ is our Savior, then we strive to be loving, patient, joyful, kind, good, faithful.  We also strive to stay away from the behaviors that displease God, from lying and being jealous to hating and being sexually immoral.  These times we live in are challenging, which means that now, more than ever, we Christians must live our faith.  And if we are really doing that, we will be much too busy to get caught up in the political machinations of this world that detract us from what is truly important–the potential relationship with the Savior of the world each one of us has the right to claim.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Love

Even as He Loved Me

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Do you ever read a verse you may have seen a hundred times before and suddenly see it in a different, clearer light?

Besides underscoring the importance of continual Bible study, these moments always take me one step closer to understanding the Spirit in me.  As I become more knowledgeable about my relationship with that Spirit, I find myself more comfortable in my own skin.  The “peace that surpasses understanding” is always there, these ah-ha moments remind me, we just have to push away the cares of this world that keep us from seeing and feeling our connectedness to the One and Only.

I grew up in the ’70s in the Bible belt.  My first Bibles were hard core King James Versions.  When I read the Bible through for the first time, it was with a King James version book.  It took me until well into my twenties to “trust” any other version of the Lord’s Word.  Besides, the poet in me loved the lyricism, the alliteration, the rhythm and the language of the King James Word, even when the phrasing that I loved sometimes made the meaning in a modern world more difficult to comprehend.

For example, even though, “When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17) has a rhythm and parallelism that any writer can truly appreciate, when I read the New Living Translation version of these words, I see an even fuller picture:

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

When Jesus came to sacrifice Himself for us, ALL of the people around Him needed it.  Always before, when I would read the KJV of this verse, I would think to myself that the verses meant Jesus came to call those who had not already been following the Word of God, those who weren’t going to believe what Jesus was saying at that time.  But the NLT version of these words makes it clear that this verse speaks to all of us.  Jesus came to heal those of us who are willing to admit that we are sinners and thus are in need of Him.

Knowing I am a sinner as opposed to thinking I am righteous is also a daily reminder of my need to be on my knees in humility before the God who made me.  In that position, I cannot judge others or think I am better than a task I have been called upon to do.  On my knees, I know my sin and have a chance to repent of it, be healed daily if necessary by the cleansing power of Jesus, and keep moving forward in my relationship with the Holy Spirit that became a part of me the moment I accepted Christ as my Savior.

Because of the power of the salvation of Christ, I am not only delivered from a damned eternity, I am delivered from the vise grip of a life filled with sin.  This is the freedom that Paul writes so frequently about.  This is the element of the salvation story that we tend to spend the least time on, but that we need the most on a day-to-day basis.  We need Jesus every day to help us not step into the darkness but rather to shine His light.

But, I still haven’t shared my verse in a new light for this week, and it is a doozy!  Turn to John 13:34 and read a verse I am sure you may already know by heart.  Jesus is speaking to His disciples as His coming crucifixion approaches.  One of the things He tells them is this:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (NASB).

In the past, I have read this verse and assumed it to be another way to say the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  But the footnotes in my Ryrie Study Bible helped me to see that this commandment takes the Golden Rule to a completely different level.

Think about the implications of the phrase, “even as I have loved you.”  How did Jesus love His disciples and all of us, for that matter?  He, being God, was willing to be abused, mocked, and even slain for sins He didn’t commit.  He loved us so much, He died for us!

How many times do we turn the other cheek, not in the way that Christ turned His cheek, but to keep ourselves from seeing another person in need?  I live in a big city where people make a living by holding a cardboard sign asking for money at every other corner.  I have gotten good at turning another cheek, justifying my action by deciding that a con artist doesn’t deserve a quarter.

Jesus, on the other hand, took the servants’ role and washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, the disciple Jesus knew was going to betray Him, even as the Lord knelt at Judas’ feet at the Last Supper.

From us humans, blanket statements are dangerous, so don’t think I am trying to interpret this one verse to mean that women who are in abusive relationships are just supposed to keep getting hit or anything like that.  We always have to take the Bible in its totality, not just in the one or two verses that seem to serve our purpose.  It is the veracity and consistency of the Word that is part of the reason that we KNOW that we worship the one, true God.

Besides reminding me just how much God loves me, my ah-ha moment in the Word this week also has me thinking about ways I can up my game in the loving others department.  I am a far cry from achieving Christ’s level of love, but He promised that the great Helper, the Holy Spirit, is in me to guide me on this narrow path that leads to the Light.  I may stumble; I may fall; but Christ will always pick me up.

Through true repentance, I can continue to grow in God.  Because of how He loved me, I may fall, but I will rise again.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Why Don’t I Learn?

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As I’ve mentioned recently, my Bible reading currently finds me in the cycle of stories of the Old Testament, where God’s people love Him, forget Him, mock Him, and turn back to Him again in waves of joy and grief that often leave me wanting to scream at my Bible as I might yell at the television set–“What do you think you’re doing?  How can you be so stupid that you would worship a man-made idol or other people’s gods when you have a history of covenant with the one and only God?”

But, I usually remind myself how easy it is to armchair quarterback history.  A perspective from thousands of years in the future, after all, can easily see where others stumble, especially since my perspective includes knowledge of the New Covenant, which was completed when Christ came and sacrificed Himself for us.

Before Christ, the closest any individual came to God was through the High Priest, who was allowed to cleanse himself and enter the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in the Temple, the place where God dwelled, only once each year in order to offer sacrifices that would give the people a way to forgiveness from God.  When Christ died on the Cross, that curtain that separated the rest of the people from that Holy of Holies literally split in two!  From that moment on, those who ask Jesus to be their Savior have entrance into the Holy of Holies through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which means that we can call on God anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

But, since human nature really never changes, how often do we also cycle through loving God, forgetting Him, and even mocking Him before we remember just how special the gift of Grace and Salvation are and return to Him again?

Modern culture likes to concentrate on a kind of non-religion where everyone can feel good about him/herself so long as we give everybody enough room to believe whatever they want, and we don’t get in anybody else’s way.

Even though Christ loves all of us so much that He died so that we all would have the chance to choose everlasting life with Him, He did not negate following God’s commands:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.   (Matthew 23:23)

There is no way to God the Father except through our belief in Christ the Son.  Christ commanded that we love God first, with everything that is in us, and to love others as we want ourselves to be loved.  Between these two commands, He covered every other rule laid out for human behavior in the Holy Word.

Yet, despite the simplicity of God’s plan for our salvation, don’t we manage to make everything so very complicated?  We judge when we should be silent.  We offer disapproval when we should be extending a helping hand.  We let ourselves off the hook when we should be listening to the voice of conscience that tells us we just messed up.  We hold onto our pride when we should submit to God’s ultimate power over us.

Despite the many downs in the history of the Jews, theirs is the ultimate victory in human history because it is through them that God chose to make Himself known to the rest of us.  I feel sorry for those who stubbornly refuse to believe that God is because, in the end, they miss out on the pinnacle-moments of knowing a loving Creator.

Through his many psalms, David, the man after God’s own heart, expresses as well as anyone the joy of knowing, truly knowing, God’s love for us:

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. (2 Samuel 22:2-4)

Like intersecting circles in a graph, we humans may have different perspectives about the world, but the one thing that should center us is coming back to our true center, which is Christ.

So, even though I want to chastise the people in the stories I read in the Old Testament, I know that I, too, am constantly on a path of winding toward and away from God, even though I have Jesus in my heart.  The main lesson I have to learn is to keep going on my knees and asking God to keep guiding me and bringing me back to center.

Posted in Christian Living

Get a Life: Get Your God Perspective

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How many times have you ended a day thinking, boy, am I lucky God didn’t give me what I deserved to get today? 

How many more times do we go through a day thinking, when is God going to give so and so what he/she deserves?

The key to a full, happy, fulfilling life isn’t a 60-inch television and a Mercedes in your driveway.  Ask a Syrian Christian who has watched his baby slaughtered for refusing to deny Christ (if internet reports are indeed correct), or a single mom working three jobs to put not even enough food on the table, and they’ll tell you truthfully the value of material things.

The key to a full, happy, fulfilling life isn’t making sure that everyone around you is following the rules you’ve been taught or that you’ve decided were the right ones along the way.  Just like commercials can lead us to pick up a package of cereal at the grocery store, we can too easily be led to believe that purple is red and right and wrong have middle ground in this capital-driven culture where we are bombarded with information always.  Information distractions make it easy to point the finger at others’ wrong-doing, while we give ourselves a pass.

The key to a full, happy, fulfilling life IS knowing the word of God and concentrating on standing in the truth of that word, regardless of what the rest of the world is doing.  When we stand in that truth, we know that we don’t deserve anything, especially not the love that God showed by offering His Son as a sacrifice for our sin.  The knowledge of our own guilt should make us treat others more kindly, as fellow children of God.  We all have sins we would rather hide.  We all are known by God.

A God perspective not only sees through the eyes of love, it knows that God is infinitely patient and desires to have all of us in His Kingdom through our acceptance of Christ as our Savior.  A God perspective doesn’t look for the faults in others, but encourages the good in all of us.  It looks for ways to be the hands and feet of Christ.  It even sees how television and social media might just be equated with Baal worship and Asherah poles if we are not careful.

We can never be too careful.  The Jews of the Old Testament thought they were careful.  But over and over again, they failed to follow all of God’s instructions, and inevitably, they paid for their failure to maintain the singularity of God as God.  Eventually, they even lost the temple where He had dwelled among them.

But God’s patience is persistent.  If you read the history chapters of the Old Testament, you see time and time again that God gives people generations to straighten themselves out, but when He hands down a sentence, it is eventually carried out.  The wrath of God that is so vividly depicted in the Old Testament may make modern readers cringe and give those who are looking a handy excuse to forget about trying to apply God’s edicts to their lives, but they do so to their own detriment.

Fortunately for us, we have a Saviour who was willing to take the wrath we deserve upon Himself.  Because God’s perspective sees us through the loving eyes of Jesus, we don’t get what we really deserve.  We get life eternal with the One and Only God.

See the world through that perspective, and nothing will stop you.  Walk in God’s truth and know the kind of peace that surpasses understanding.  It is a life-long journey to completion, but we are not alone.  Keep listening for the Holy Spirit every day.  Keep praying to be guided by the Word of God.  And be patient.

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

Posted in Christianity, Love

Unmask Yourself

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We all need a little bit of protection now and again, a face we put on for the world at large to keep our innermost self from being wounded. But I wonder how often the protections we put on daily, those invisible masks and personality traits that we have used to wall ourselves away from the potential hurts of this world, actually keep us from truly reaching out to others as God intended us to do? After all, He is more interested in us showing love to others than in keeping our sense of pride in tact.

Actually, God is quite against pride, a fact I seem to often forget. Pride keeps me from saying “I love you” to people who may need most to hear it. It keeps me from sharing my doubts with others when realizing that we all have similar questions about this world and our places in it might have been just what somebody else needed to hear. Pride lets me fall into the trap of thinking that I am doing a pretty good job in my Christian walk, blinding me to my own sin and making me judgmental about the sin it is so easy to see in others. I believe Jesus said something about a log and a toothpick.

I learned the value of stripping away masks when I began my yoga class several years ago. Having never been an athletic person, I pre-determined that I was going to be the worst student in the class and that THAT WAS GOING TO BE OK. Approaching my exercise in this way freed me to concentrate on what was most important for my yoga, which was paying attention to what my own body was telling me as I tried the exercises. This decision to strip away my masks also allowed me to share when it was asked of me in a way that would benefit both me and my sharing partner. I have become a more open person in all aspects of my life, just because I decided to be myself in an otherwise intimidating exercise class.

As for the protection part of masks, Paul gives us directions for a far superior form of protection, available to us through the grace of God. In Ephesians 6, he writes that we should put on the full armor of God:

14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Our enemy isn’t really each other, after all. We are all in this same struggle together, and none of us escape the ultimate destiny of every human existence. Instead of masks that cut us off from each other, we should be banding together against our true enemy, the evil one who would keep us from the Ultimate One.

No mask is worth keeping someone else from the love of Christ. Next time your pride or insecurities tempt you to put one on, think about that. Loving others may mean looking a bit silly sometimes, but the ultimate goal of salvation far outweighs any indignities we might suffer.

Posted in Christian Living, Love, Self-Help

Pitfalls of Perfectionism

Others may find perfectionists hard to live with, but we are no harder to live with for others than we are to live with ourselves. Nothing is ever good enough. No compliment is ever really deserved. Peace of mind is an ever-elusive state, just out of reach of a mind that can always find something else that needs to be done, or edited, or tweaked. Who can rest when there exists some problem that still needs solved, or when one never feels to have found one’s purpose, much less fulfilled it?
Add to this self-incrimination, the endless onslaught of perfectionism applied to a flawed world, and you wind up with a very busy mind indeed. Perfectionists can always find things wrong with the way other people choose to live their lives, even when those lives are none of the perfectionists’ business. We can solve problems all day long for people who haven’t asked for it, barely curbing out tongues as we have learned from years of rejected advice that when someone wants to hear our opinion, they’ll ask for it.
But we still think it. All the time, our minds repeating like a CD in our car stereo, and burning just as hot.
“Judge not that ye be not judged” may be the most important verse for we perfectionists to take to heart if we ever hope to kick the “perfection habit.” If we can truly quit judging others and ourselves, just think about how much time we will free to do the true work of Christ, which is to love ourself and others, not judge them.
When God, who is the only true Judge, looks into our souls, He does so from an all-knowing place of perfect righteousness. He alone can read our hearts, knows our motives and can offer grace. God’s judgment is pure, healing and meant to bring us into closer relationship with Him.
When we, who have flawed hearts, judge others, we are not looking into their souls at all. In the moment that we judge, we stop loving them, if we ever cared for them at all. We are incapable of proper judgment. Did Jesus not say to remove the beam from our own eye before trying to extricate the splinter from the eye of another?
Just because we shouldn’t be judging doesn’t mean that we don’t have an accounting to make of ourselves each day in the face of God’s code of ethics. But, we need to make sure that what we are calling God’s ethics are truly His and not our own dressed up to look like Godly righteousness. Is what I am chastising myself for really a sin I need to confess before God? Then confess it and stop the action. If it isn’t a sin in the eyes of God, then why am I torturing myself with chastisement?
If I can only learn to be perfect in love, God’s greatest commandment, then perhaps I can reduce my obsession with judgments about myself and others and sever my ties with perfectionism once and for all.
In the end, the forever elusive “perfection” just isn’t worth its pitfalls.