Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Love

Even as He Loved Me

love one another photofunia

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.

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Posted in Christian Living, Faith

The Trouble With Masks

20120706-202356.jpgWe all need a little bit of protection now and again. For example, if my sister figures out I posted this picture of her all geared up for some winter horseback riding, I will need some full body armor. 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 Christianity, Faith

Knot-tying

Tied up in knots. We use the phrase to describe that state of being in which we feel so anxious or confused that we cannot move forward. Our bodies agree with our brains. Muscles are also “tied in knots.”
But knots can be good things, holding things in place, keeping our shoes on tight or mooring a boat in rough waters.
In a world full of information, it is very easy to find our brains tied up in knots. From the internet to television, the radios that play as we wait in traffic, the smartphones that let us drown in messages wherever we are willing to take them, we are not only surrounded by information, we’re practically breathing it like oxygen.
When images and messages become this prevalent, it takes real persistence to keep the negative information out. We have to consciously choose what information we are willing to believe. Have you ever found yourself picking a box of cereal off the grocery shelf, telling yourself that this cereal is supposed to taste great or help you be healthy, only to realize that where you garnered that information was from a commercial, not from any real data?
The same kind of slippery slope happens all the time concerning our own self-image and, more importantly, morality, if we don’t have a clear definition of who we are and what we stand for. The moment we tell ourselves a certain action is OK because we’ve seen it portrayed as such so often on television, despite what the Bible has to say about the matter, we have truly let bad information tie us into knots.
The worst things about knots are that when we are tied up in them, we aren’t doing the one important thing–loving others. How can we be concerned with other people when we are tied up in our own selves?
So, how do we keep ourselves from being knotted? The “simple” solution would seem to be to think about the welfare of others more than we do ourselves, read our Bibles to be certain of the path of righteousness, and pray. Some days, those solutions seem to be working for me. Other days, I choose the wrong information, or too much information, and the knots make my brain hurt.
You would think on days like this, I would turn to my Bible or prayer even more than on normal days, but I have to admit that I do a grand job of knowing what I should do but not doing it more times than not (pardon the pun, had to do it at least once).
Jesus understood the threat of being tied up in knots. He told us to pray for deliverance from the evil one (and who would be better at tying a person up in knots than the devil?), prayed Himself for the strength to follow through on God’s will, even when He knew the outcome of His earthly existence, and sought moments to go to the quiet places where He could be still and know God, despite the masses making demands of Him all the time.
Seek your own quiet places. Turn off the television, the smartphones, the iPads and laptops. Choose to hear God’s voice, not the marketing bandwagon or your own self-reproving hangups. Look outward more often than you look inward, seeking to love others. The more good we do for others, the better we’ll feel about ourselves.
It may not keep us from knotting ourselves up every once and a while, but it certainly will keep us from staying tied up in them, useless to ourselves and, more importantly, to God.